Many moons ago I relocated back to the UK from sunny Californian.
Blue skies and palm trees became a distant memory once winter in the UK descended with its short days and inky black mornings along with snotty noses and endless bouts of vomiting bugs that the children would pick up.
I would spend the winter months gritting my teeth and waiting desperately for spring to arrive whilst dreaming of escaping to Cabo and drinking margaritas by the pool like some Bravo housewife. I realized that this was not making me the most delightful person to spend time around and that flights to Cabo were not going to materialize anytime soon. I soon realized that a change of mindset was needed if I was going to be able to cope with winter.
I started by applying some mindfulness techniques, such as being more present in the moment and not spending my days wishing for a different reality. I began by taking in the changes that were happening all around, simple things such as noting the changes in light or temperature from day to day, or being able to see the sunset with my children each afternoon. Spending time in nature, urban nature too is linked to better mental health, lower stress levels, and even improved energy levels.
I also started eating seasonally, seeking out brightly coloured fruits and vegetables that were more in tune with winter than the rather cold, sad salads I’d been eating.
These days I’ve become quite the winter convert. I love summer with its balmy days packed with seeing friends and bouncing from one activity to another but there’s a lot to be said for the winter with quiet nights by the fire, nourishing foods and crisp, winter mornings. Taking a cue from nature, I now like to think of winter as a time to slow things down and let my body catch its breath.
If the dark afternoons and even darker mornings are starting to wear you down here are my tips for learning how to get through it. It goes without saying that SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is a recognized disorder and that if you are experiencing a noticeably lower mood and a general loss of interest in life, it’s important to reach out for help.
- Eat seasonally
Of course, as a nutritionist, I’m going to start with this one but honestly, it can make such a difference. There’s such a wonderful bounty of foods available during the winter months, from parsnips and beetroot to squashes and cabbages. This can be a good time to try foods that lend themselves to this season and provide some heat to the body, from dahls and broths to stews as well as herbs and spices such as paprika, ginger, and cinnamon which can add depth and warmth to your food. See if you can seek out winter cookbooks if you’re in need of some inspiration, Nigel Slater’s Christmas Chronicles is a lovely read at this time of year.
Try and shift away from eating too much sugar if you can. To support a buoyant mood our body needs plenty of vitamins and minerals from food to synthesize all the necessary neurotransmitters to keep our brain happy and functioning optimally.
- Get some early morning light
This is such an important one. SAD is thought to occur as a result of a lack of exposure to sunlight which induces a jet lag effect as a result of disruption to our natural circadian rhythms as well as a lower production of neurotransmitters such as serotonin. Taking a 30 minute walk outside before noon helps support our circadian rhythm as well as production of melatonin, our sleepy hormone, helping you to sleep better too.
- Spend time in nature
This goes hand in hand with the above tip. Spending time in nature is known to have a restorative effect upon us. Try taking a mindful walk one morning, noting things such as the temperature, the feel of the cold air against your skin, as well as the light and sounds around you. Take a look at this walking meditation from headspace for more guidance. https://www.headspace.com/articles/walk-into-a-mindful-moment
- Invest in warm clothing
Spending time outside with your teeth chattering and lips turning blue is no fun for anyone. Investing in some thermals makes all the difference, I live in them during the winter months. It makes being outside in the cold more enjoyable. A decent coat too, one that covers your bum, basically a duvet, is always a good idea. As the saying goes; “there is no bad weather, only bad clothing”.
- Decorate your home for winter
Coming inside from the cold, to a house that’s warm and inviting and offers you a space to relax and unwind during the winter months, is also one of the ways I enjoy winter more now. It doesn’t take much, add in some candles, maybe a throw for the sofa, some gentle lighting, perhaps some seasonal flowers. Adding in a few decorative touches that denote a change in season can be a lovely way to remind you to down tools and take some much-needed rest during this season.
I hope that’s been helpful. Do have a look through the recipe section on this site for seasonal inspiration to keep you fit and healthy over the winter months.