Almost everyone feels the "winter blues" at some point. It's hard when the days are so short, especially if your mental space is like wee sprout that depends on the light and heat of the sun to thrive. For some people, the winter blues can break bad into Seasonal Affect Disorder (SAD) - a recognized form of clinical depression that can cause all sorts of drama, including:
difficulty concentrating that makes you question if you have ADD
poor motivation, extreme fatigue, and a deep desire to rot in your bed
weight gain from substituting carbs for joy
Awareness and proactivity are key when dealing with winter blues or SAD because:
you can't help yourself unless you know what is wrong
it's easier to prevent if you get ahead of the problem.
One of the tenets of Vets Against Insanity CON is owning personal responsibility for our wellbeing. If you suspect that you might have either of these unwelcome visitors then it is time to take action (and get help if you need it). When it comes to the winter blues, it is much easier if you take action before the problem starts (aka when you are still feeling happy...ish). Now I know it's easy to coast on holiday energy and continual sugar toxicosis during December (I mean really....sooo many treats at the office), but come January your wellbeing can take a nose dive unless you've taken some steps to safeguard. So let's start now!
For some people the hardest part of self care is granting themselves permission to prioritize their wellbeing. There are so many demands on our time and energy - family, work, friends, the Golden Bachelor - the list goes on and on. Furthermore, many of us have been conditioned to put ourselves last.
But I am here to tell you that way of life no longer serves you or your wellbeing.
Starting and maintaining a wellbeing practice requires internal motivation and dedication to yourself and self discipline. And I'm here to tell you that BABY YOU ARE WORTH IT. You are your greatest project and your most important asset, so invest accordingly!
Now that we are all motivated, here are some tips to beat the winter blues. I've ordered them starting from easiest to hardest, and then share some additional resources at the end of the post. Start implementing these strategies NOW. Your January and February self will thank you.
Magnesium and Vitamin D
Ensuring that you aren't magnesium or vitamin D deficient is probably one of the easiest tasks on this list! Most people in the northern hemisphere are deficient in vitamin D, especially during the winter. The good news is that it is easy to supplement, and taking magnesium and Vitamin D together enhances the absorption of Vitamin D. So go get some magnesium gummies and a good Vitamin D supplement. Aim for 10,000 IU a day of vitamin D, and take them first thing in the morning.
Early Morning Sunlight
The sun is FREE! And there is good research that shows getting sunlight within an hour of waking can in the morning can improve sleep, raise serotonin levels, balances female hormones, helps with depression, and so on and so forth. It is important to NOT wear sunglasses, and try to get 30 minutes if possible. Here is some more information, if you want it.
Take a Long Winter's Nap
Part of what we experience when the days are short is nature telling us it is time to slow down. Take a nap. Hibernate. We humans like to resist nature and push ourselves to the edge, even when we should be resting and listening to our bodies.
So go ahead and go to bed early - like...grandma early. We here at the Wooten household try to hit the hay at 8 p.m. on school nights, which allows for 9-10 hours of sleep if you get up at 6 a.m.
Move Your Meat Skeleton
Movement does so much for mental and physical wellbeing - your endorphins and feel good brain chemicals get all juiced up!!! Yes, I know it's cold, and you don't have a lot of time, and we would all rather just cuddle on the couch with egg nog, but try to get in 30 minutes a day. It can even be a 30 minute walk outside - I'm not picky. Weight training, pilates, jogging, hiking, skiing, whatever just make like Nike and do it. Remember you are worth the effort.
Slow Your Sugar Roll
I am well aware that December is the month when we humans consume incredible amounts of sugar - and I am STILL asking us to be mindful about what we are putting in our bodies. We all know that sugar and refined carbs are pro-inflammatory and wreak havoc on our bodies and minds...but gosh darn it is hard to say no to instant gratification and that dopamine hit that sugar gives, especially when Mrs. Jones brought in Christmas cookies for the staff. Darn her.
I am not asking you to give up sugar altogether. I'm just asking you to mindfully consume in moderation. Same goes for alcohol. It is easier to say no if you are proactive about your nutrition (because again...you are worth it) and remember the purpose behind your choices.
How about trying the high protein trend? People say if they load up your protein and fiber, especially near the beginning of the day, that they feel fuller, more satisfied, and can more easily resist the 4 p.m. munchies in the breakroom. Also water. Loads of water.
Talk to Someone. No, Really.
If you've already tried to make modifications and still feel the winter blues, then it is time to talk to someone. Most clinics have employee assistance programs and/or mental health benefits, so take advantage! There is no shame in therapy. I've had loads of it. Adulting is hard, humaning is hard, working long hours in the winter is hard, dealing with clients is hard, and it more than ok to take your psyche to the mechanic.
Now, there are more things you can do to enrich your enclosure, like get a light or a house plant -
and these all help, but at some point self care gets so complicated that even the self care itself becomes stressful. So, start simple with the suggestions I gave you above, and then, if you want more, then go for it. In fact, the good folks at IDEXX hosted me for this same topic - so here it is
if you want more.
We here at Vets Against Insanity know that knowledge without application is useless, so if you've read to the bottom of this post, congratulations on investing some time in yourself! Now it is time to take action.
What is one thing that you can implement RIGHT NOW from the list I gave you?
Can you commit to that one thing for the rest of December?
Let's not over do it - just pick ONE and commit to finishing it out through the end of the month. Then, evaluate how you feel and adjust for January.
Please let us know what you are doing in the comment section so we can cheer you on (and you can get a wee bit of accountability).
One last thing. As you embark on the journey of creating new supportive habits, have grace and patience for yourself (like you would for a small child) as you go along your journey. You will have set backs and times when you binge an entire container of Pringles, and that's ok. It's all ok. Just laugh it off, renew your dedication to yourself, and try again the next day.
From our slightly scandalous hearts to yours….
Sarah J. Wooten, DVM, CVJ (and the CON crew)