While the UK Summer broke more records than most Olympics in terms of how hot this country got, the cold season has finally arrived: grey skies, frequent soggy rain, the crackle of radiators, and more tea and coffee to sip trying to feel a warmth from the inside that warm socks in my drawers. I love Autumn but once the clocks go forward and you can catch sunrise without trying at 8 AM, two thoughts plague me:
- the end of the year in sight and the thought that life goes by ever faster and
- the winter blues and how to cope.
It has taken me many years of being pretty good at not letting the winter blues get to me but now, after more than a decade of living in the UK, I finally realised that I actually need to work at ducking the seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
SAD is a fancy term for winter blues: a condition when someone becomes low in mood and energy during the colder months. According to the NHS website, winter blues symptoms include:
- a persistent low mood
- a loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities including sex
- being easily irritable
- feelings of despair, guilt, and worthlessness
- feeling lethargic (lacking in energy) and sleepy during the day
- sleeping for longer than normal and finding it hard to get up in the morning or feeling you still need more sleep
- craving foods and putting on extra weight
The cause of SAD is unclear. The theory behind it is that lack of sunlight may affect your hypothalamus which leads to lower serotonin levels – the happy hormone. And, changes in the light cycle also play havoc with our circadian rhythm. Winter blues seems to be both genetically and environmentally caused as some cases run in families but those who were born and raised in warm countries seem to suffer from it worse than natives. I left sunny California many years ago. However, I have been raised on regular seasonal cycles of New York finest weather, including massive snow blizzards that bring the city to a halt and give kids extra days off from school. I thought I was immune. But apparently not.
If you read my blogs you will know that I’m interested in practical solutions. As I found myself facing SAD this year – I got to work on me!
Below are my top 7 tips that I have tried so far to combat SAD and which are making a positive difference to how I feel.
- Tunes – Give me them tunes…Music is a proven way to cut straight pass the higher cortical areas and move your body into action. I’ve discovered that to make me want to do 3 sets of push-ups Techno music work best! But work for example suits a mixture of Chopin and Reggae. I regularly surf Spotify to locate tunes for my various music lists. Now I have an anti-SAD list. Top 2 tracks are Milk and Honey by Prince Fatty and Into the wilderness by Burning Hearts. On our last retreat, we discovered people found it a lot easier to meet each other to Nigh Fever by Bee Gees. I bet you’re not surprised.
- Staying cozy but with blasts of fresh cold air. What seems to work so brilliantly in summer is not having to wear much and the feeling of a breeze on the skin. To recapture the same sense, I recommend investing in cozy, comfortable clothing that makes you feel good. Having it be loose is an extra plus as you can hit those push-ups anytime you feel like it. Then set an alarm and zap yourself with cold, crisp air just long enough to feel that invigorating cool feeling. Amazing! Your immune system will get stimulated and your brain will thank you for the oxygen boost as you gasp for air. Switching your hot shower to a cold setting does the same. Super refreshing.
- Early rise! This is a must in winter. I know it’s counterintuitive as your body has still not caught up with the time change. You wake up and it’s dark and your first visible cue is – it’s night, except it isn’t. This is where a little automatic light switch gadget will help loads. Set it so that your bedroom lights come on at 5:30 or whatever your chosen time for waking up is. It beats any alarm clock and allows your body to do the rest naturally. Once you’re up, blast your bathroom, kitchen with full lights too. It may be dark outside but make your space feel like day-time.
- Exercise and stretching. This is a double whammy because you will feel good from getting stronger and be able to enjoy all those Christmas mince pies, extra cocktails and turkey stuffing guilt free. I’m a real fan of 8fit app and their Tabatha fast and powerful workouts. Plus I can’t wait for the day when I can do the one-legged Russian squat my father used to show off in his thirties. For a gentler day, aim for three sun salutations or any form of stretching. Those of you who, like me, have an overactive immune system – your benefits are even bigger! Stretching has been shown scientifically to reduce inflammation which is linked with cancer and neurodegenerative diseases.
- Bring a memory of your favourite activity from the summer to life! One of my favourite things from my holidays in Portugal this year was rediscovering the amazing taste of Hendrick’s Gin tonic with dry rose petals and fresh cucumber. It just so happens that Picture House in town makes a delicious version. One sip and I am literally transported to a sandy beach and ocean waves of Caparica. So while everyone else is sipping heady reds this time of year, I’m lost in the sparkle of Fever Tree Tonic and priceless friendships. Discipline training means stopping at 1 cocktail and heading home to collect cuddles from my partner.
- Laughter – I mean the out-loud kind. Humour is amazing. Did you know that when we laugh we can’t be stressed or feel anxious at the same time? Knowing this, I’ve invested in a 3-months free trial of Audible and Stephen Fry’s Mythos which is a great way to remind me about Greek mythology brought to life with laugh out loud humour. You can also find the same in a good Netflix series, although I recommend keeping to one that has short episodes of less than 30min. My current favourite is The Kominsky Method with Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin. The two characters are dealing with the fear of death and other daily life trials that can make one sad. They succeed with humor and friendship. The show has given me a whole new and lighter perspective on life and I can’t wait for season 2.
- And the fail-proof British pick me up – a cuppa char! Whatever your brew, a cup of tea drank mindfully and enjoyed to the fullest is a true pick me up booster. It just so happens that at WeWorks where we house Make Time Count, they serve fantastic tea. I can avoid being a total caffeine addict while enjoying mindful breaks before hitting work time!
As winter often means we spend more time indoors, I want to recommend you try our online Da Vinci programme. In the comfort of your home and favorite device, you could be developing an approach to life and work that can really transform how you feel for the long-term. Because of how the course is put together, you can achieve great results from the moment you start and in just 2 hours per month.
Here’s what one of our Alumni had to say about it:
“ The Da Vinci journey has been interesting.
I liked the Tutorial videos the best.
As a result of the programme I have become more accepting of myself and others
and I realize that we are all doing our best.
Made up as we are of body, heart, mind, and spirit we are often conflicted
and realizing this has been both a release and an incentive to think, feel and act more holistically.” – Pam
If you’re after even quicker results and are prepared to take bold steps, try our best-selling 30-day goal setting course in collaboration with Psychologies Magazine. This 30-day programme helps you create your best life, work, career and how you feel on the inside through short, practical daily missions. Who said wait to ask your boss for that raise. Never wait but get your intel first. This and many other useful tasks will really stretch you in this short course.
Whatever you do, don’t be sad.
And you can make time count!
So common, let’s do it!