THE WINTER BLUES
The Winter Blues are A. Thing. Bleak weather, motivation dips, and post-Christmas financial struggles are thought to contribute to this less than joyful mood.
However, in this blog, I want to inspire some positivity and say we do not have to just accept this with a stoical shrug of the shoulders. Because we CAN do things to help ourselves with our wellbeing during the Winter.
But first I want to delve into the Science, using the wisdom of DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince to get me started.
YOUR BODY CLOCK ROCKS
“Summer, Summer, Summertime…” I am going to guess there are not many of us who are not immediately transported to a positive mental space of fun, beauty and abundance when the classic Summer vibes of DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince come on the radio. That song is 30 years old this year btw!!!! Outside of the catchy and feel-good beat, there is another reason why the thought of the transition from the cold, dark, Yin months to the light, warmth, and Yang of Summer makes us feel more positive and generally lighter.
And it is all to do with our circadian rhythm. Which is not another musical reference, but the natural physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a 24-hour cycle – often called the “body clock”. Or, put another way, our body clock is the 24-hour cycle that regulates all our biological and physiological processes.
The circadian rhythm responds primarily to light and dark and affects most living things, including animals, plants, and microbes. In ideal situations, the circadian rhythm will naturally rise in the early morning, promoting wakefulness and alertness. And will reach a peak in the evening; as it gets dark, the circadian rhythm drops to the lowest level and helps maintain sleep.
Increased exposure to bright sunlight in Summer means that our brains are stimulated to produce more of the “happy hormone”, serotonin. Studies published in the medical journal “The Lancet”, have shown that the rate of production of serotonin by the brain is directly related to the length of exposure to bright sunlight. So we feel happier and more positive in Summer because we are exposed to more sunlight.
In Summer, our circadian rhythm gifts us a natural boost to our wellbeing by prompting us to wake up earlier to go outdoors and enjoy the abundance of colour, food, new growth and opportunity that nature provides.
In contrast, as it gets dark our brain produces more of the “sleep hormone” melatonin, encouraging, surpriiiiseeee, sleep! With less sunlight hours in Winter, the sensation of wanting to hibernate or “hunker down” and spend time in relative stillness is totally natural and in keeping with the circadian rhythm affecting humans and the natural world. After all, we don’t see trees bursting with life in Winter; they go into a form of hibernation called dormancy. Since there is less sunlight in the winter and the tree can’t produce as much food (through photosynthesis), trees must conserve their energy.
Certainly, in my clinic, I work with patients who complain of feeling tired and lacking in their normal levels, energy, and motivation a lot more in Winter than Summer. And particularly during this Winter of Lockdown, the Winter Blues seem more widespread than is “normal”. Most of us are spending more time than ever in our homes, with minimal time spent outdoors due to restrictions. Walking to/from the office or taking a trip to the sandwich shop at lunchtime is not happening. Nor is the plethora of other seemingly insignificant opportunities to spend time outside in daylight is either not happening or happening far less than is usual.
Trying to ignore your body clock is also not advisable because the constant disruption of your circadian rhythm can detrimentally damage your health. Alarmingly, obesity, type 2 diabetes, depression, peptic ulcers, heart disease and cancer have all been linked to insomnia. Insomina is one of the major side effects of a circadian rhythm that is out of sync.
Furthermore, scientific studies provide further evidence for the theory that changes in release of serotonin by the brain can underlie mood seasonality and seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
AN ALTERNATIVE PERSPECTIVE
Interestingly in Traditional Chinese Medicine, each “organ” of the body is attributed to certain times of the day and night. Furthermore, it is believed that each organ has its point of highest energy and lowest energy throughout the 24-hour period. This 24-hour cycle is believed to help us know when to exercise, eat, have sex, rest, and sleep.
For example, sleep disturbance between 1-3am is the time of the Liver and a time when the body should be alseep. During this time, toxins are released from the body and fresh new blood is “made”. Consequently, if you find yourself waking during this time, you could have too much Yang energy or problems with your liver or detoxification pathways. Also, this is also the time of anger, frustration and rage so be aware when you feel yourself “boiling over” about the perceived injustices of the day, it might just be the time of the night influencing how you feel.
5 WAYS TO BEAT THE WINTER BLUES
- Get outside – put on warm clothing and spend time in natural daylight as much as you can; outside of the serotonin boost, the benefits of fresh air are endless.
- Have a caffeine-free day – caffeine suppresses serotonin….enough said.
- Invest in a SAD lamp – these plug-in lamps work to mimic the sun and are thought to boost levels of serotonin and melanin.
- Review Your Sleep Hygiene – Make positive changes to your routine such as removing stimulants, do a meditation and invest in a decent mattress and pillows. Getting good sleep helps you get up at a reasonable time to make the most of the daylight hours.
- Exercise – physical exercise releases serotonin!
These are just a few ways to beat the Winter Blues, I work with my clients to understand what else might work for them. After all, there is no one size fits all for human health and wellbeing! Please do get in touch for a virtual consultation if you would like to discuss your wellbeing this Winter.
Kate Morris-Bates – Clinical Therapist | Acupuncturist | Coach | Founder of InsideOut Wellness Centre.