Apparently, yesterday was ‘Blue Monday’. The day when, typically, many of us are at our lowest ebb, given that Christmas and New Year celebrations are well and truly over, and we are back to the routine, without even an inkling that Spring is on its way.
I have to be honest; I’m usually not great in the winter months. I’ve always had a feeling of dread this time of year – nothing I could put my finger on, but I’ve never felt at my best. However, this time it feels different. I think that’s because, over the last year, I’ve made some relatively minor changes to my routine, but I believe they have made a huge difference to my overall wellbeing, and I think they could help you too.
Diet, exercise, sleep, and daylight exposure affect our mental health
I’ve recently been working with a variety of different businesses, helping their employees deal more effectively with the stresses and strains of everyday life by teaching simple tools for increasing mental toughness and resilience. One thing that’s struck me is the almost complete lack of exercise, healthy eating, quality sleep and daylight that has become the norm for so many of us. The results of which often get reflected in our poor mental health, with those dreaded ‘Winter Blues’ or even a diagnosis of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder).
If you recognise that you aren’t feeling at your best, there are some simple tools that you can incorporate into your daily routine. They are deceptively easy; they don’t take much time or effort, but done with consistency, they will create positive changes in your mental health.
1. Walk for just 15-minutes
According to Andrew Huberman (Neuroscience Professor at Stanford), the benefits of walking, cycling, running outdoors for just 15-minutes a day include:
- Burning off the hormones cortisol and adrenaline that get released when we trigger our stress response – fight, flight, freeze.
- Releasing feel-good hormones dopamine (the reward chemical) and endorphins (a natural painkiller).
- It helps regulate serotonin release necessary for proper activation of our circadian rhythm (sleep/wake cycle). If you don’t get enough sunlight exposure (not through a window), it’s VERY likely you’ll have sleep problems.
- It helps reduce feelings of overwhelm – when we’re stressed, our view narrows. When we walk outside, our view automatically widens (as we need to be aware of threats coming from all around us), enabling us not to feel so overwhelmed.
Andrew also recommends getting your 15-minutes of daylight within an hour of waking as it has additional benefits (follow his Podcast ‘Huberman Lab’ or on Instagram @hubermanlab).
Top Tip: Leave your ‘gear’ right by your bed. As soon as you get up, put your legs straight into your joggers and get yourself out of the door. Alternatively, schedule your walk in your diary as you would any other important meeting. Avoid overthinking as you’ll likely talk yourself out of it – JFDI (Just Flippin’ Do It!)
2. Reduce the amount of sugar and processed food in your diet
Our bodies are not developed enough to process these types of foods, and many of us are simply not getting the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients we need for a healthy brain and body. If a complete dietary overhaul feels too daunting, start by eating just one healthy meal a day, putting as much variety and colour on your plate as possible.
If you’re unsure what you should be eating, simply avoid anything that’s come out of a factory! Think about what your grandparents would have eaten – fresh produce that’s not been processed in any way.
Top Tip: Batch cooking and having ‘healthy snacks’ available can help. Removing obstacles is key to eating well because if good food isn’t readily available, many of us will reach for the easy pre-packaged option.
3. Consider taking supplements to boost your mental health, immune system, and physical health
There is now increasing evidence to suggest that a poor diet has a massively detrimental effect not only on our physical but also our mental health. Here are just some of the symptoms associated with low levels of certain vitamins and minerals:
- Lack of iron can cause fatigue, bruising, poor skin, brittle nails/hair.
- Lack of Vitamin D3 (which we get from sunlight hitting our arms between the wrist and elbow) can also cause fatigue, low mood, depression, anxiety.
- Lack of Vitamin B12 can cause extreme tiredness, depression, problems with memory.
So, incorporating iron, D3, B12, and a good multi-vitamin is a great place to start. Taking Omega 3 is also thought to be beneficial in helping fight depression and anxiety. Beware though, not all supplements are made equal. Cheaper supermarket brands may not have a high enough concentration to make a positive difference.
I must stress that I am not a nutritionist. However, if you recognise any of these symptoms, ask your doctor for a complete blood screen or consult a healthcare professional before embarking on any new regime.
Consistency is key
In summary, these three things are relatively simple and easy to do, and they can have a massive impact on your health and wellbeing, but only if you do them consistently. Trying them once or twice or for a week then giving up just won’t cut it. Remember, the easiest way to build a new habit is to ‘habit stack’ by tagging your new practice to something you already do!
Is there anything you have found that has helped boost your physical and mental health during the winter months? I’d love to hear! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finally, if you’re struggling at the moment, as so many people are, please be kind to yourself. You’re doing the best you can, and despite how it may feel, you’re not alone. I know it can be tough, but please reach out to a friend, family member, colleague, or healthcare professional. I will always make time to listen (in the utmost confidence) to anyone who needs support. You can reach me at email@example.com.