Wintertime is a time for self-reflection, turning inwards, and often spending less time outdoors and being social. For some of us, it can be a time of stagnation and with shorter daylight hours, it can lead us to feel funky.
For years, I've suffered with seasonal depression. Whether it be due to the fact that my hormonal birth control was secretly sabotaging my dopamine levels in my brain, lingering sugar-induced mental fog from holiday cookies, or the fact that mental health disease run in my family, I found myself falling into a funk so deep that I couldn't snap out of it. Year after year.
Lack of sunlight left my energy low. Sabotaging myself with eating foods that lead to inflammation, and getting down on myself after the new year of "not doing enough" for my business, on top of spending more time "relaxing" and curling up on the couch lazily in the winter months really crippled and depleted me.
Even in my early years as a Holistic Health Coach, I couldn't kick these feelings. It's like a dark cloud came over me, and then it snowballed to a point where I really couldn't get through to myself. There were days when getting out of bed felt impossible. Where sitting alone with myself was scary because my thoughts were just so far from a place of love. Times where I questioned my direction of my future, and I beat myself up for every single thing. Even the littlest daily routines felt astronomically more difficult and unenjoyable. My emotional affect was flattened.
Over the past year I have been able to understand the types of underlying hormonal imbalances that affect your mental health, and the fact that what you ate, and how you lived your life were all intricately connected. I ended my relationship with hormonal birth control, and learned self-care tools and ways of nourishing my body and supplementing depleted vitamins that my body needed to support me.
I put off writing this post until now, nearly the end of February, because to be honest, I wasn't sure how this winter would go for me. But, I am so happy to say with confidence that this was the first year in a very long time that I have NOT suffered from seasonal depression. And here's why: inflammation is one of the most prevalent causes of depression and disease. It contributes to depression, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer's and more. Inflammation can be triggered by stress, poor diet, and lack of exercise and sleep. So I've taken it upon myself to correct inflammation, improve my mood and my overall vitality. Here's how:
Meditation I cannot be more grateful for my meditation practice that I've developed over the past two years. I can tell you without a doubt this has changed my life. Spending time with yourself can be hard, and awkward, especially when we feel funky. Quieting our mind can take practice. But I assure you now, taking time for myself in the morning before my work day begins helps my mental clarity, improves my resilience to stress, and helps me stay positive throughout the day. Even just two minutes of time can radically change your reactivity in the face of stressful situations. If you're curious about meditation, but don't know where to start, check out this one-minute meditation from my favorite spiritual teacher, Gabby Bernstein. Meditation can improve your neural pathways and lengthen our telomeres- the tips of our genes that when shortened, can cause cognitive decline and aging.
Movement When it's cold outside and there's nothing more appealing than hitting the snooze or staying snuggled on the couch, making time for exercise and movement in your day can be on the bottom of your priority list. However, exercise is CRUCIAL for fighting off depression. On days when I don't have enough time to hit the gym, I make sure to move in other ways. Taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Going for a walk during my lunch. Doing my 50/50/50- sit-ups, push-ups and squats- which takes less than 10 minutes. Even just taking time to stretch your body and care for yourself is movement. Our bodies were not designed to be stagnant. Sitting still for too long can hinder the energetic flow throughout your body and is often when stagnant thoughts can continue to cycle and rear their evil heads in our mental space.
Self-care: One of the key things missing in our busy society we live in is time for self care. "Me time" can seem selfish and difficult to carve out, but taking time to relax and rejuvenate is absolutely necessary to maintaining a healthy mental state and avoiding burnout. After all, you cannot give from an empty cup. Make time for adequate sleep, relaxation and recharging will help you fight off anxiety and depression, too.
- Infrared saunas when exposure to natural light is limited, infrared saunas can provide healing for seasonal depression. Infrared saunas work to help you sweat out your toxins, and are notable for helping reduce stress levels, boosting immune system and increasing energy. Plus, it's quiet time to relax the mind. Color light therapy can further help enhance cognition, stimulate circulation to the brain, balance the nervous system and create deep relaxation.
- Sensory deprivation tanks I remember my first experience in one of these- alone with my thoughts. Terrified at the thought. But float tanks boast over 600 lbs of epsom salt inside- which removes toxins that build up in your body, and provides you with peace, quiet and full neural rebooting which can do absolute wonders for your mentality. I've made this a staple in my winter self-care practice!
Balancing my blood sugar I would notice my winter depression creep in typically after all of the extra Christmas cookies were finally eaten. My blood sugar was overloaded, and this usually stimulated cravings for MORE sugary foods. Blood sugar balance can lead to heaps of illnesses, including diabetes, PCOS, thyroid trouble, obesity and yes, depression. Sugar depletes vitamin and mineral stores in our body that help our brain to functional optimally. Blood sugar imbalance persisting over time can lead to brain fog, decreased immunity, and you guessed it-inflammation. Introducing more fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, and getting the proper amounts of healthy fats, omega 3's and complete protein; while eliminating processed foods and sugar will keep your blood sugar in balance and you feeling mentally well.
Nourishing my gut health Our gut is on a constant feedback loop of communication with our brain. It's where our "feel good" neurotransmitters and produced that help us feel happy, and where over 70% of our immunity lies. So, it's crucial to keep your gut healthy so that you can feel that way mentally, too! When our digestion becomes sluggish and our bowel movements aren't regular, that's a sure sign that our gut is not healthy. Incorporating probiotics, via food and supplementation that feed the healthy bacteria in our guts and prebiotic foods that probiotic bacteria feeds on (garlic, cooled sweet potatoes, artichokes, etc...) will help your gut stay healthy. When the bad bacteria takes over in our gut (which feeds off of sugary, processed foods) that can lead to inflammation in the gut, more sugar cravings, and leaky gut- where undigested food and toxins can leak into your blood/brain barrier causing, you guessed it- inflammation of the brain occurs!
Supplementation During the winter months, vitamin D stores get depleted. If you're not able to get out into the sunlight and don't have access to an infrared sauna, it's highly recommended to supplement with vitamin D. B vitamins can also get depleted from sugar consumption, hormonal birth control, stress and can be low if you're not consuming animal protein. I would also recommend supplementing with complex B-12. My personal favorite is the Thorne Research brand. Probiotics as mentioned above and also fish oils (omega 3 fats that fuel your brain) are crucial for your mental health- especially if you're not getting adequate amount in your diet.
Staying focused When the winter months onset and we turn inward, it can be so much less appealing to be productive. However, I've found that staying busy whether it's personally or professionally, focusing on projects and having events to look forward to (hello- keep in touch with your friends and a support system that lifts you up!) can really help you stay focused on the positive, as opposed to getting stuck into a rut of negative thinking and self-sabotage.
Getting outside in the sun Sunlight gives us energy and vitamin D (which, as mentioned above is crucial for brain health). So if you're not getting outside in the sun, it's totally understandable that you would feel mentally depleted! Even on the coldest of days, I like to make a point to take a walk in the middle of my work day and spend at least 5 minutes with the sun shining on my face. I always find myself feeling a little bit happier and restored. (And again, when it's not sunny- cue infrared sauna time!)
Improving the quality of my conversations with myself Perhaps one of the hardest lessons and self-improvement areas was rewiring my self-talk. Treating myself a little bit nicer by changing the conversations I have in my head. It's amazing how cruel we can be. But I often found that I would beat myself up the most when I was not taking actions to fulfill parts of my life that I wanted to see change. Or when I would compare myself to others. How would you talk to a friend who was going through a hard time? You would treat them with love, patience, and kindness. So remember, when you're starting to feel depressed and down- send yourself some love. Seek guidance through meditation and prayer- to whomever that spiritual guidance comes through for you. Stop yourself in your tracks when you notice self-sabotaging talk happening. Instead, ask yourself "how can I make this more fun"? or "what can I learn from this?" asking yourself better questions will give you better answers.
While I may not be a full-on expert at treating seasonal depression, I can tell you that these tools will dramatically help improve your mood if you experiment with them. hey certainly did for me. Doing is often the hardest part. Putting one foot in front of the other can seem impossible when you're in such a deep, dark place. But I promise you, you're not alone. I hope that the more I speak up and share my story, the more people will help to feel connected and understood.
So when it comes to making these changes, start small. What tools that I've shared sound interesting to you? Start there! Having someone to talk to always helps, and while it may not always be easy to talk to your loved ones, that's often where I come in as a coach!
If you'd like to learn more about how you can better your mental health, diet and lifestyle- let's chat! I would love nothing more than to support you in this self-care journey.
With love, light and support
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