When I lived in Portland I’d chuckle at announcements for an annual cycling event called The Worst Day of the Year Ride, which is held sometime around February. There’s a ride with the same name in Ann Arbor, Michigan. We’re coming up on that time of year, folks. Humorous equations have even been created to predict the worst day, such as this one, where W=weather, d=debt, D=monthly salary, T=time since Christmas, Q=time since failing our new year’s resolutions, M=low motivational levels, and Na=the feeling of a need to take action.
Sorry to all those who have February birthdays and everyone who loves winter (for the record, I love all the seasons, I just don’t love long periods without sun). It’s a challenging time for many, as it’s often cold and dreary, the holidays are over, the lights have been taken down, you may have lost your resolution motivation, and of course, there’s COVID.
A few weeks ago I wrote an article called Meeting With the Spirit of Winter, which I encourage you to check out if winter is a struggle for you. This week I want to talk about some of the physical things you can do to have an easier winter.
- Reach out to friends and family.
I know it’s hard when you’re feeling melancholy or sluggish, but it’s good medicine. Get on a video chat or take a walk together. If you struggle to get it planned and then weeks or months pass before the next one, try setting it up as a weekly thing, or always schedule the next one before you say goodbye.
- Take advantage of the light.
Get outside, even if the weather sucks. On a clear day, the brightness (measured in lux) is about 10,000 lux outside. On an overcast day it’s closer to 1,000 lux. Typical home and office levels are about 250-500 lux. Grocery stores are often around 750 lux. So a cloudy day is still brighter than most indoor environments. And simply being outside and connecting with nature is also therapeutic.
Most people with low winter mood and energy notice a boost from exposure to bright light – whether by getting outside, working next to a window, or supplementing with a full spectrum light. It used to be that you could only approximate daylight with a fluorescent bulb and full spectrum light systems were somewhat expensive. Nowadays there are cheap, super-bright full spectrum LED lights available. It’s best to use these when the sun would normally be brightest, to help normalize your circadian rhythm.
- Get enough vitamin D.
Most of us produce insufficient vitamin D in the winter, even if it’s sunny. Supplementing may help boost your immune system. I typically recommend people take about 35 units per pound of body weight per day. If you’ve been tested and have low vitamin D, you might need higher doses for a while to get yourself to an optimal level. Numerous studies have shown a correlation between low vitamin D levels and more severe cases of COVID-19. If you take high dose vitamin D over time, it’s worthwhile to supplement with a little vitamin K also.
- If you live in a damp home, get it managed.
A study in the American Journal of Public Health showed a link between depression and living in a damp, moldy home. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, environmental dampness is considered to have a stagnating and congealing effect on the flow of energy through the body. This is also why many sufferers of chronic pain conditions, such as arthritis or fibromyalgia, complain that they feel stiffer and tighter in rainy weather.
When I lived in Portland, I saw patients with mold exposure all the time. I thought when we moved to Colorado I wouldn’t see it in this dry climate, but it’s prevalent here, too. Besides depression and achy joints, mold can cause a host of other health problems. If you suspect there may be mold in your living space, it’s worth testing for it and getting it remediated if it’s present. A dehumidifier may help in moist spaces.
- Keep moving.
Exercise is essential at all times of year, but especially in the winter when the combination of cold temperatures, dry air, shorter days, less nature exposure, and more resilient viruses all work against us. While I feel it’s important to tune in to the energy of the season – which is, after all, about dormancy – 20 to 30 minutes of some kind of movement each day is still a good idea.
I hope these tips and those in Meeting with the Spirit of Winter help you enjoy this season more. And remember, the days are already getting longer (by about 2½ minutes each day)!