Wellbeing blog: getting through the winter months

Christmas cheer has resided, New Year celebrations have dwindled, and snowfall was fleeting at best. Now that we’re faced with wintry doom and gloom, nationwide stormy weather, and some difficult news on the TV, how can we get ourselves through these dark winter months?

January blues are a typical feature for many returning to work, but we’ve come up with some tips to keep your mind and body fighting fit during the first months of the year. As we head into February, stick to these tips for your winter wellness.

Looking after your physical health

Often in winter we can feel sluggish and going out in the cold, wind or rain isn’t too appealing. Neither is venturing out during the dark evenings. But regular movement is critical for health and wellness, and we need to keep it up during winter.

It doesn’t mean we have to run or endure a 6-hour cycle ride, walking counts! In fact, a light stroll can help flush out winter bugs from the body. It also improves your circulation and stimulates your lymphatic systems. This helps keep you healthy and removes harmful bacteria and viruses from the body. This is particularly important at this time of year when colds and coughs are rife.

The joys of a winter walk

Winter walks can be quite atmospheric. There’s something comforting about wrapping up and getting outside. Getting out in nature is nourishing and forest walks are a great place to shelter you from the elements. It’s nice to spot the early signs of spring with fresh shoots coming through and bird spotting is easier now that the trees are barer, and birds are less camouflaged. If the countryside isn’t in reach, a brisk walk to the shops can do the trick.

The shorter daylight hours mean it’s not too much of a stretch to get out and enjoy the sunrise or sunset in winter. They are especially beautiful at the turn of a season.

Take care of your diet

Limiting sugar intake can also keep your immune system stronger. Bulk up on immune-boosting foods such as garlic, turmeric, ginger, citrus, kale, spinach, broccoli, pumpkin, sunflower and chia seeds, goji berries and almonds to help give your system the extra boost it needs. Winter is also a popular time to take additional supplements due to the lack of light we get during the day, such as vitamin C and D.

Staying hydrated and getting good quality sleep are both equally important. Try to limit your screen time before heading to bed to help with a clearer night’s sleep, and make sure to drink plenty of water during the day.

Mental health

Keeping your body moving is important, but many feel exhausted after returning home from a long day’s work, even if they’ve been sat at a desk for most of the day.

One way to improve your mental health is by focusing and honing your own patterns. Humans are natural drawn to rhythm and routine, and it’s partially down to our biology. There are two elements you can focus on: exogenous zeitgebers, and endogenous pacemakers.

Those might sound like some long jargon-y words, but they can frame our human rhythms well.

Exogenous Zeitgebers

These are external environmental effects that can completely transform our biological and circadian rhythms, which can easily determine our mood. Zeitgebers can include light, temperature, eating and drinking patterns, and even social interactions. They help determine why you feel active during the day, and restful in the night.

Typically, adults have a built-in day that lasts approximately 24 hours in line with the Earth’s daily rotation, and lighting can inhibit or help regulate these rhythms. For example, many will have experienced jetlag after flying across different time zones, which desynchronises your regular cycles of sleep, appetite, and your emotion, often leaving you groggy and unsettled.

Light is the answer! Or not…

One commonly cited zeitgeber is light. You may think that the days ending earlier will reduce your ability to function, as light zeitgebers keep you active in the day. However, in the absence of light zeitgebers in the daytime, alternate zeitgebers can replace and uplift your routine.

If you lack the sun, attempt to set yourself a regular time for meals, or times to see people (social zeitgebers), that align to an obvious routine. These can help set your circadian rhythm, reducing fatigue, and improving your mental health. For example, always aim to eat by 7pm daily, to regulate your rhythm and extend your wind-down time in the evening.

Endogenous Pacemakers

These are our internal (endogenous) rhythms, understood as our circadian rhythm. Disruption of our pacemakers can have damaging effects on our physical and mental health. Physically, cycle misalignment has associations with cardiovascular disease and hypertension.

Mentally, a lack of synchronisation can reduce cognitive abilities, making us prone to making mistakes and putting others in danger. That’s why sticking to a solid sleep and eating schedule are vital – they help keep our rhythm intact.

Prioritise your mental and physical health

Many will rejoice at the days getting lighter, but despite the light-dark hours shifting, try to not uplift any routines already in place; reduce artificial lighting during your rest hours, attempt to sleep during a fixed period, eat meals at a set time and make routine plans to socialise with others or leave the house.

Everyone is busy these days, and prioritising routine can feel difficult if, for example, you work in shifts. If you can’t keep a routine like sleep constant, try to keep other ones you have regular. And ultimately, remember that the cycles of the earth are attuned to your internal self.

We are part of a planet, and solar system, much larger than ourselves and our issues. Many will find that connectiveness to others, and the environment around us, comforting in the colder months where feelings of isolation can worsen our health. By following the tips above, you can look after yourself and your health in a way that is in tune with all the factors of the world around us.

Want more tips and tricks on keeping yourself well? Read our Autumn wellness blog for further insights.

Eve Dickie