Do Humans Hibernate?
While the human animal was not made for true hibernation, science suggests that there may be certain metabolic changes that take place in our bodies during Winter that affect our mood, energy level, motivation, appetite and sleep cycle. These metabolic changes include insulin resistance, helping our system be more fuel-efficient and go for long periods of time with a smaller amount of food; and a decrease in dopamine which affects our mood. I’m choosing to call this Hibernation Light (no pun intended).
While many people report feeling depressed in the Winter, there is evidence that Winter Depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) differs from clinical depression. According to this article in The Daily Mail, “Clinically depressed people usually lose interest in food, finding it tasteless or even unpleasant. They often shed weight and have great trouble sleeping. Sufferers of seasonal depression are just the opposite, eating and sleeping with gusto. While SAD affects just a few percent of the population, many researchers believe that most of us are susceptible to seasonal overeating, oversleeping and a general bodily go-slow.”
How to Leverage Hibernation:
Instead of fighting against the body’s need during the dark cold months of Fall and Winter to slow down and rest why don’t we just go with it?! Having Spring/Summer energy expectations of yourself in Winter will just lead to you feeling frustrated and possibly more down. Winter is a natural time to go inside, both indoors and into yourself. Why not leverage this natural tendency? Go ahead and get some rest and perhaps use this time for reflection. I find that Winter can provide the perfect atmosphere for contemplation. Maybe you’d like to look back over the year that’s ending and start to contemplate your plan for next year. Just don’t expect yourself to execute on this plan immediately (more on this below)!
This Winter could be the perfect time to make the first draft of a Personal Strategic Plan, which is what members of the Vision Quest Retreats Tribe will be doing at the Powerful Women Networking Event: Create Your Personal Strategic Plan taking place January 12th in Potomac, MD.
In keeping with nature’s cycle expect to become more energized, active and ready to really execute on your plan in the Spring when sap rises in the trees and the rivers start to thaw. I don’t know about you but I’m looking forward to a Spring Breakthrough when I will see the seeds that I’ve been planting all Fall and Winter come to fruition! If you want to join us for this breakthrough stay tuned on the Vision Quest with Dr. Nicole Cutts facebook page!
Top 10 Tips for Beating the Winter Blues:
While Winter can be a great time for contemplation and preparation these cold dark months can get your mood down and for some truly bring on Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This may be exacerbated by Holiday Blues. Symptoms of winter SAD usually begin in October or November and subside in March or April. Some folks begin to slump as early as August, while others remain well until January. Depressions are usually mild to moderate, but they can also be severe. Even if you don’t suffer from SAD gloomy winter months may leave you flat and our desire for serotonin often leads us to overeat in an effort to elevate our moods. Some of this is ok as mentioned above but we don’t want to let this get too far. No one likes feeling depressed so you might want to check out my top 10 tips for beating the winter/holiday blues below!
#1: Exercise. Exercise is crucial in combating depression, staving off Alzheimer’s and keeping off unwanted pounds. Do some kind of physical activity you enjoy at least three times a week for 30 mins each time. Exercise can release endorphins and reduce stress. Vary your routine and have fun with it. I keep it simple with walks in the woods and my yoga practice.
#2: Get Light. Get outside when you can in the sunshine even if it’s cold the sun’s rays can lift your mood. Being in nature lifts the spirits of many. I’m lucky enough to get out during the days but some people get relief from phototherapy using light boxes and now they even just have single bulbs ranging from about $4-$10. The light boxes range from about $30-$150. Not all light boxes are effective for treating SAD. Before buying one you may want to read this article from About Health.
#3: Laugh and Have Fun. Do me a favor. Smile. Just smile right now for no reason and see if you don’t feel better. When we laugh and smile this action sends a message to our brains that we are happy. Laughing can release endorphins. Watch funny movies, listen to comedy (I have many comedians plugged into my Pandora station) get together with friends, play games. Just do stuff you enjoy with people who make you laugh. When down you may feel like isolating…DON’T!
#4: Be of Service. Nothing lifts the spirit like getting outside of yourself and doing something for someone else. There are so many ways to bring joy to others. Think of things you can do then DO THEM! Volunteer at a soup kitchen or just do some favors for friends and family. The opportunities are endless. If you can’t come up with anything check out Simple Ways to Give Back…
#5: Lower Your Expectations. Holidays are often stressful because so many people are striving for a Norman Rockwell type of holiday. Stop it! Don Miguel Ruiz has the right idea with his fourth of his Four Agreements; Always do Your Best. But this isn’t an invitation to perfectionism. It means do your best then leave the rest. Stop trying to control, to be perfect. There is no such thing as the perfect family, party or anything. Don’t compare your experience to anyone else’s. High expectations lead to stress, disappointment, and often resentment. Lower your expectations and watch your serenity and happiness rise.
#6: Practice Gratitude. Holidays are also a great time for people to compare their lives to others and feel lacking. Single people may feel lonely because they don’t have anyone to kiss under the misletoe. Divorced parents may stress about splitting holidays. Kids with divorced parents may be unsure of who to spend time with. Holiday time may also remind you of loved ones who have passed away. All of these situations can lead us to feel a sense of lack. The antidote for this is GRATITUDE. Focus on what you do have and give thanks for it. Accept and bless YOUR circumstances. When I feel down I write a gratitude list of at least 10 things for which I’m grateful. A roof over your head? A job? Food? Friends?These things are pretty awesome!
#7: Get in the Holiday Spirit. Instead of being a Grinch or old Ebeneezer and trying to hide from the season, get into it. Much of our suffering comes from resistance and peace comes with acceptance so do something that’s connected to the season. Decorate the house, go see decorations, have a holiday gathering. I personally like to go visit my favorite Christmas tree every year. I skip the national xmas tree in favor of the one set up in front of the US Capitol. It’s gorgeous and one of my holiday traditions to visit it.
#8: Exercise Your Spiritual Muscle. Many people draw strength and happiness from a spiritual or religious life. If you have a spiritual or religious practice increase it at this time. Consider increasing attendance at spiritual and religious meetings. If you pray and or meditate, up it. If you are a member of a 12-step program be sure to increase your meeting attendance and stay in touch with others in your program. The holiday season is NOT the time to slack off or isolate.
A special note to food and substance addicts: Holidays can be tougher because of the increased use of food and alcohol by those around you. Surround yourself with people who don’t overdo it and better yet with others in your program who practice sobriety and abstinence. If you think you have a problem with alcohol and want to check out a 12-step program visit Alcoholics Anonymous and if food is an issue check out Overeaters Anonymous.
#9: Self Care is Key. This may seem like common sense, but it’s important to take care of yourself to combat depression and the blues. Don’t overdo it, get rest and eat properly. People tend to crave carbs in the winter and when down because eating carbs can boost your serotonin levels. This can lead to winter weight gain. It’s okay to indulge in a bit of comfort food, like pasta and noodle soup but just don’t over do it and remember to exercise too. If you take medication for depression stick to your regimen and be sure to consult your psychiatrist or general practitioner before making any changes.
#10: Be Creative. This tip is kind of a free for all. If you have a creative outlet like painting or cooking or making jewelry (like I do) then get into it. Doing things you enjoy will lift your spirits. If your creative talent means you make things then share these things as gifts. This tip also means come up with your own creative ways to spend the holidays. If you don’t like traditional holiday happenings then do something you enjoy. This may mean getting out of town. Do whatever makes you feel good as long as it’s healthy.
I hope you found something you can use here. Maybe you have your own tips. Share them here or feel free to leave a comment. Wishing you a joyful and peaceful season!
You may also enjoy my post F.U.N. The 5-Point Plan.