I ran into a neighbor the other morning, as I was walking in after walking my dog and she was just walking out with hers.
“You look so refreshed!” she said, “Not like me, I can’t seem to wake up.”
Then we went on to talk about how cold it was (in the 20s, which is unusual here). She said, “Well, is it always like this in the winter? I mean it’s not raining!” Ah, I remembered. She is new to Seattle.
“Not always this cold, but it is this grey. It’s not really the rain you have to worry about, it’s they grey.”
“Ah,” she said, clearly beginning to understand. And we parted ways.
It dawned on my when I got back to my apartment that I hadn’t told her the tricks I’ve learned to stay happy and healthy over the winter. Whoops! I looked for her as I went back out for my walk to work, but she was gone.
Well! Here is what I would have said had my brain not been so frozen that morning…
Ten Ways To Help Stay Awake and Happy in the Winter
1. Take Vitamin D supplements. You get Vitamin D from the sun (UVB), so when there isn’t any sun, or when you always wear sunscreen, you can very quickly become D deficient. It’s now standard practice for nearly all doctors in the Northwest to recommend D supplements. D deficiencies can lead to MS, TB, fatigue, depression, seasonal affective disorder (go figure), osteoporosis (D helps regulate calcium), diabetes, liver, and kidney disorders. I take 2,000 IU/day – my doctor told me to take 1,000 at minimum.
2. Make sure you go outside in a sunny part of the day for at least an hour every day.
3. If you can’t do #2, or if that isn’t enough light, use a light made for light therapy. These are bright full-spectrum lights (usually 8,000-10,000 lux), and you sit within a foot of it, so that your eye catches the light indirectly, for 30-60 minutes per day usually (this is easy to do at work). Which part of the day you use it depends on your current sleep/fatigue schedule – some lights come with instructions. Your doctor can provide further information.
4. Stay on a regular sleep schedule. Go to bed at the same time, and get up at the same time. Let your body stay on regular circadian rhythms.
5. Drink caffeine in the morning, but don’t drink it past about 2pm. I know it sounds crazy, but it makes a huge difference. For me this is especially true with coffee – whereas green tea seems to be ok.
6. Don’t drink more than one drink at night before bed. Counterintuitive, but you actually sleep more soundly when you’re not under the influence of alcohol.
7. Eat four small, protein-rich meals per day. We often crave more carbs in the winter – resist the urge, as they can make us feel lethargic. Eat whole grains rather than refined flours, stay away from the sugars, and so on.
8. Exercise regularly. It’s more difficult to keep up our exercise routines in the winter, but of course we will feel lethargic if we aren’t getting our blood pumping and muscles flexed! Find an exercise buddy, make it a part of your daily routine, and just do it.
9. Do things that make you happy – on a regular schedule. Matt and I have to make ourselves go out every weekend, because our desire to hibernate is so strong in the winter. But once we get out there, we never regret it! Go to an outdoor museum, walk through the paths at your local wetlands, do something fun outside if you can. If you just can’t go outside due to the weather, go somewhere stimulating, with lots of windows – or even take a train ride across town. And at night, watch happy movies, read happy books, and play happy games with the family!
10. If you are more than mildly depressed, however, do consult a doctor right away. There may be easy remedies he or she can provide.
How do I know? Years, and years, and years of living in the Pacific Northwest with seasonal dysphoria. Factors that may increase your risk of SAD (according to the Mayo Clinic): being female, living far from the equator, and family history. Check, check, and check for me!
I know I’m not alone in feeling the blues over the winter. Anyone else have suggestions to add?
Cheer up! Spring will be here in no time!