If your mood, sleep quality and energy levels all tend to dip along with the temperature, you’re not alone. Many people find themselves feeling extra cranky and sluggish around this time of the year. When the Earth’s northern hemisphere is tilted away from the sun, our days become shorter and darker. This lack of sunlight can mess with our circadian rhythms and throw our bodies out of whack.
While you can’t change the Earth’s tilt, there are plenty of things you can do to cope with the shorter, darker days ahead. Read on for a few helpful strategies to keep your spirits up during the fall and winter months.
1. Maintain good sleep hygiene
Fewer hours of daylight in the fall and winter can wreak havoc on your body’s sleep-wake cycle. That’s because the sky darkens earlier in the fall and winter, which triggers the production of melatonin and makes you feel more tired and groggy than usual.
To counteract these symptoms, focus on maintaining good sleep hygiene with these simple tips:
- Keep a consistent bedtime.
- Stop using your electronics at least one hour before bedtime.
- If you toss and turn at night, try sleeping with a weighted blanket to see if it improves your sleep quality.
- Make your bedroom pitch black by using blackout blinds or wearing a weighted eye mask to bed.
- Avoid taking long naps (i.e., more than 30 minutes).
2. Prioritize your physical fitness
Between the darkness and the cold weather, finding the motivation to stay active can be extra challenging around this time of year. Rather than brave the cold for a quick workout, most of us would probably prefer to curl up on the couch and snack on comfort foods (hello, human hibernation!).
Pumping yourself up for a run in the rain or snow may be difficult, but getting regular exercise is vital in the autumn and winter — especially if you struggle with the “winter blues.” According to one study, working out for just 35 minutes a day can significantly reduce your odds of depression, even if you’re genetically predisposed to the condition.
The key to staying active in the fall and winter is finding an activity that makes you excited to get moving. Consider taking up a seasonal activity like strapping on a pair of snowshoes or going sledding with the family.
3. Get more light exposure
The type and the amount of lighting we get in the colder months can have a huge impact on our mood, sleep, appetite, concentration and many other facets of our daily lives. According to Harvard Health Publishing, a lack of light can cause an overproduction of melatonin and serotonin, causing a chemical imbalance that makes you feel low and lethargic.
Fortunately, research has shown that exposing yourself to early morning light can go a long way in helping reduce depressive symptoms. To sneak more sunlight into your day, open your blinds first thing in the morning and take a midday stroll on your lunch break.
If you live in an area that gets little to no sunlight in the winter, consider talking to your doctor about light therapy. These days, there are many inexpensive light therapy boxes that are designed to mimic outdoor light and give your body the light it craves.
4. Balance social time with alone time
Spending time with friends and family is a tried-and-true way of lifting your spirits during the colder, darker months. And yet, many of us get so wrapped up in social media that we end up neglecting our relationships. This year, make it a point to schedule time with the people you love and nurture your relationships. You’ll feel much better for it!
On the other hand, the cold season also coincides with the holidays, which can be a stressful time due to increased family obligations and holiday activities. If you’re stressed to the gills, be sure to schedule some “alone time” for yourself. Alone time gives you a much-needed opportunity to recharge your depleted batteries so that you can look at things from a more positive perspective.
5. Train yourself to think positively
Speaking of positive mindsets, training your brain to think positively during the cold, blustery months is key to staying sane in the fall and winter. Research shows that positive thinking can provide a myriad of mental and physical health benefits, including lower stress and better immune responses.
Here are a few ways you can train your brain to look on the bright side:
- Keep a gratitude journal.
- Try to find the good in adverse situations.
- Practice reframing (e.g., instead of stressing about the cold weather keeping you inside all season long, think about how cozy your movie nights will be).
- Take action and learn how to move forward from adverse events.
6. Eat the right foods
Once summer comes to an end, many of us start reaching for carb-heavy foods such as pasta, mashed potatoes and dessert breads. As delicious as these comfort foods may be, they’re often loaded with sugar, fat and refined carbohydrates that can cause your blood sugar to spike, which can negatively impact your mood and energy levels.
The good news is that there are plenty of comfort foods that can satisfy your cold weather cravings without derailing your diet. For example, a winter stew that’s light on meat and potatoes and heavy on vegetables can be a healthy way to warm up on a cold day. Pair it with a slice of whole-grain bread and you have a nutritious comfort meal that delivers the optimal nutrients your body needs to stay healthy.
7. Take up a new hobby
Are you the type of person who dreads the colder months? Try finding a hobby or activity that makes you look forward to autumn and winter. For instance, maybe you could organize a holiday cookie exchange with your friends or coworkers or work on your baking skills solo while listening to relaxing music. Do you love being outdoors? With its beautiful foliage and crisp air, autumn is often considered the best season for hiking. Find an activity that gets you excited for the colder months, and the shorter days of fall and winter will go by in a flash!
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