Winter is here, and with it comes cold season, less sunlight, more layers and for many of us an overwhelming urge to hibernate with a hefty dose of comfort food. The winter months can be even more stressful than usual, with dreary days and cold weather just making everything seem a bit less bearable.
The good news is that there are plenty of things we can all do to feel a little better over winter.
Here are our top tips:
Take a vitamin D supplement
We get 90% of our vitamin D from sunlight, so during the winter months we all suffer. Vitamin D can affect as many as two thousand genes in the body; we need it to help us absorb calcium, and to help us resist certain diseases.
In fact, some studies have shown that vitamin D can play a part in regulating our mood and keeping depression at bay. Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency include general tiredness, aches and pains and a general sense of just not feeling well.
Does that sound familiar?
The problem is that these days most of us spend a lot of time inside. Even for those of us who do get out regularly, sunlight in the winter months doesn’t contain enough UVB radiation for our skin to be able to make vitamin D. Taking a supplement is a great way to ensure we’re getting enough vitamin D and hopefully give our wellbeing a boost.
Get outside whenever you can
Yes, we’re aware that we’ve just told you winter sunlight isn’t strong enough to allow your body to produce vitamin D - but vitamin D is not the only reason to be outside. Getting some fresh air can work wonders for your mood, and natural light also helps with the production of serotonin, the “happy hormone.” Added to this, there’s the well-known fact that a little exercise can improve your mood and general fitness.
A quick walk around the local park at lunch time will do; a longer walk on the weekend will really blow those cobwebs away. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you could try outdoor swimming. Some studies have shown that an exhilarating plunge into freezing cold water can actually be more beneficial to lifting our mood than an antidepressant.
Avoid going into hibernation mode It can be really tempting to come home from work and slump onto the sofa, and to spend the weekend wrapped in a blanket. It feels nice for the first couple of hours but in reality it will do you more harm than good. The more we move, the better we’ll feel.
If you really can’t face the weather outside, find things to do inside, whether that’s sorting through a cupboard or playing hide and seek with the children. While at work, take the stairs rather than the lift and be that person who goes to someone’s desk for a conversation rather than sending an email. It can be a good idea to wear some sort of fitness tracker as a reminder to reach the recommended 10,000 steps every day.
Use bright colours
This sounds really silly, but just give it a try and see for yourself. We can trick our minds into thinking it’s still bright and warm outside by using bright colours. Things like having a vase of fresh, bright flowers on the table or wearing a brightly coloured top really can make a difference to how we feel and will definitely brighten up those endless grey days.
In the summer we eat lots of salads and fresh fruits, and getting our five-a-day can be relatively easy. In the winter though, when we just want to fill up on carbs and stodge, it can be disappointing to realise that a potato doesn’t count as one of our five-a-day.
Did you know though, that in many other countries the recommended number of portions of fresh fruit and vegetables we should consume each day is more than five? In Canada they recommend between 5 and 10; in France the recommendation is 10 and in Japan they are advised to have up to 13 portions of vegetables every day, as well as four portions of fruit.
The fact of the matter is that if we replace some of those stodgy carbs with fresh vegetables, we will feel better in ourselves. Sitting down to a salad can feel unappealing on a cold winter evening but look at adding steamed vegetables to your meals, or dust of the slow cooker to make a nice, hearty stew for the family.
Increase your water intake
Another thing that seems easier in the summer. The general recommendation is to have 8 glasses or two litres of water every day, but that should really be seen as a minimum. This is usually the point where someone pipes up with a horror story of someone dying from drinking too much water during a marathon, but realistically you would need to be doing a lot of physical exercise and drinking a lot of water for that to happen.
For most of us, drinking more water just means more trips to the bathroom - something that will taper off as your bladder gets used to holding more fluid. Getting enough water on a daily basis will help you to feel more energetic, improve your digestive function and even improve mental clarity.
If you’re one of those people who finds plain water “boring,” try spicing it up a little by adding fruit or even a slice of lemon or lime. There are hundreds of things you can add to your water to make it more appealing and if you really can’t cope with drinking that much water every day, why not have a few cups of herbal (non caffeinated) tea as well.
Even when you’re late because you had to rush back for a forgotten PE kit, and your toes are wet because you didn’t spot that puddle until it was too late, and now the coffee machine at work is broken and you’re due in a meeting any second… smile.
The way we use our bodies physically can have an amazing impact on the way we feel mentally. Faking a smile until we feel happy is just one thing we can do. Did you know that if you place a pen in your mouth lengthwise, so that your mouth is forced into a smiling position, it can improve your mood? A smile - whether real or faked - compresses the blood vessels in the face, sending more blood to the brain and creating a genuine happy response.
Accept that illness happens
It is inevitable, especially for those of us with school-aged children, that we will at some point get a cold or a bug or something a little worse. When you’re feeling run down, bunged up and overwhelmed, don’t fight it.