With the clocks going back at the weekend we’ve now got to deal with darker days and the impending winter. If you’re working a normal 9-to-5 job, even if it’s at home, you may not get a chance to see much daylight at all, and that’s not particularly good for our mental and physical health. You might be reluctant to exercise in the dark evenings and the lack of daylight can affect your happiness levels and quality of sleep. But don’t worry, there are plenty of things you can do to take care of yourself during the darker days…
KEEP AN EYE ON YOUR MENTAL HEALTH
Do you feel more sluggish in the winter? Do the dark days make you want to sleep for longer? Are you more irritable or have a low mood? The shorter days of winter are often linked with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) as our body struggles to cope with lower levels of the happiness hormone serotonin and the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. Both are usually linked to exposure to sunlight and, similarly, our circadian rhythm can be interrupted – especially when the physical clocks go back and upset our body clock.
There are a few things you can do to counteract the effects of SAD. Firstly, simply knowing about the symptoms means you can do things to manage the situation, such as going outside to get some natural daylight whenever you can, having a good sleeping routine and exercising. Sometimes vitamins and medication can help, so you can always speak to your doctor if you need additional help.
It’s important to speak up if you’re struggling as your GP can help you gain access to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy from your local wellbeing team (often delivered through a web-based course) or you could try talking therapy with online counselling from BetterHelp. The more you speak about how you are feeling, the better you will able to cope with the darker days of winter and can begin to feel more optimistic.
WORKING FROM HOME OR INDOORS
There’s very little chance of you getting enough daylight in the winter if your job is based indoors. Plus, a desk job means you’ll be less active during the day and can even cause problems for your posture. It’s therefore a good idea to take regular breaks away from your desk and move about a bit. Can you step outside to get a bit of natural light? Make sure your desk is set-up correctly and you have an ergonomic chair, or the ability to stand up while you work using a sit-stand desk.
Artificial lighting can play havoc with our body clock so it’s important to only carry out computer work during the daytime, as any out-of-hours screen-time will make it harder to sleep at night. And if you’re working from home, don’t be tempted to work from your bed, no matter how tempting that seems when the days are cold.
STICK TO YOUR PHYSICAL HEALTH ROUTINES
It can be tempting to just snuggle up under the duvet or lounge on the sofa in the dark evenings of autumn and winter. But that means your body won’t be moving as much and you won’t benefit from the endorphins that exercise produces. The best idea to get in a daily dose of exercise is to get up with the sunrise and do it then. If you can exercise outdoors, even better, as you’ll get some exposure to daylight that’ll help with the symptoms of SAD.
Now that the clocks have gone back, you’ll probably find yourself waking up naturally at a slightly earlier time than usual – I was awake at 6am today rather than my regular 7am. And that’s exactly the right time to get up, pull on some trainers and go for a walk or a jog while the sun rises. Just be sure to wear some reflective/safety gear so that you’re more visible to cars in the darkness of early dawn.
ENJOY HEALTHY MEALS
In the summer it’s so much easier to eat light meals and salads, isn’t it? But in the winter, bigger portions and stodgy dinners come calling. It’s only natural to want to eat hot meals to warm your insides when it’s dark and cold out. In fact, a study has shown that’s it’s an evolutionary mechanism to gain weight to survive the winter, just like wild animals do. So, knowing this, try to keep an eye on what you’re choosing to eat. Sure, you can enjoy a warming soup or steaming vegetable stew to fuel your body, but try to avoid fatty and sugary treats if you find yourself craving them.
What else do you do to keep yourself healthy and happy during the darker days of winter? I’d love to hear your seasonal health hacks so please leave your tips in the comments below 🙂
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