How to Keep Your Mind Warm During the Colder Months

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From the words “And when October goes the snow begins to fly…”, “Look around, leaves are brown, and the sky is a hazy shade of winter,” to “Oh the weather outside is frightful…,” this time of year often brings with it energy sapping, mood depressing, appetite increasing, sleep jumbling, thought muddling, and unsettling feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, and helplessness.

For some it may be “the most wonderful time of the year,” but for about 5% of the population largely in the northern half of America, it’s “the Seasonal Affective Disorder time of the year.”
The “most wonderful” news though, is that we can prevent this distressing clinical condition and reduce its disturbing, disheveling symptoms when it does show up every fall and winter.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder

What causes this potentially holiday trashing disorder? Well, let’s look at two chemicals we may be familiar with, melatonin and serotonin. When we turn our clocks back, we shift our body’s internal clock and with less sunlight we push these two hormones, as well as vitamin D, into an upside-down tailspin. Melatonin is linked with sleep. When it’s dark, the brain makes more melatonin, which causes us to feel sleepy and less energetic. Serotonin is linked to our level of energy and happiness. The more sunlight we are exposed to, the more our brains make serotonin. More serotonin, more feelings of wellbeing and happiness. Less serotonin leads to more depression. So, when we turn our clocks back and create shorter daytime and longer darkness, we create more sleep and more depression. This is the biological condition that sets off SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder).

How to combat SAD

OK, now the good news. There is always good news to add light to your life. Not just from a 10K lux light box, “phototherapy,” early in the morning for 20-30 minutes, which is a common recommendation for those with SAD, but a warmer perhaps even more important light, one that warms your thinking, your mind, and your heart. So how do you tap into this positive, energy boosting, mind warming light? The first thing that’s needed is the right mindset. What do you enjoy about the fall and winter months?

1. The link is in what you think. That’s right, think about what can go right, what advantages do you see when you “practice the pause” to see the good swirling around you? That’s right, “practice the pause.”

2. Time to try something new?

3. Think “activity and movement” more than “exercise.” How can you increase the intensity of daily activity in your routine? Don’t just watch your kids practice their sport, walk across that bridge to work, resist the shortcut, walk to dinner, and take two steps at a time.

4. Move it indoors. Colder weather is never an excuse to avoid healthy activity. Exercise equipment such as the Total Gym is readily available for purchase.

5. Sometimes making small changes in your life are an excellent way to pull yourself out of a funk. The following ideas are very simple, and they can make a big difference in your day and in your mood:

● Add some new decorations in your home

● Surround yourself with aromatherapy and candles that you enjoy

● Treat yourself to a massage or warm bubble bath

● Prepare a special meal for your family or significant other

● Listen to a favorite music as you walk outside

● Journal to reflect on your grateful emotions or day’s activities

● Pamper yourself with healthy food, good books, movies, and other favorite activities

● Call an old friend

● Organize your living space (clearing clutter can be calming for your mind)

● Catch, challenge, and change your negative thoughts…remember, the link is what you think about your sadness, regardless of the time of you.

● Ben Franklin reminded us, “lost time is never found again.” So regardless of what time it is, how light it is when you wake up, or how dark it is when you leave work, focus on what’s going right, fill yourself with gratitude for another day, be active, and pack it with the best you that you can bring.

Think it’s a great opportunity to try new activities, to enjoy the crunch of falling leaves under your feet, to have snowball fights, to do some hiking or jogging in the crisp fall air? Think instead that it’s too cold, that you’ll freeze to death, that you’ll get injured, that there isn’t enough daylight to be active, and you’ll surely believe it’s inevitable to put on some weight and be more sedentary. “The link is what you think.” I want you to think rationally, logically, and accurately about the coming months wherever you live and use the fall and winter to think outside the box to keep your health, fitness, and wellness levels up and move into next spring, feeling great!

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