Setting yourself up for a great winter

In the UK the weather is always changeable but right now, after a pretty decent Summer, there’s a bigger change happening – the changes of seasons from Summer to Autumn and then on to Winter.

So as well as the tweaks to your wardrobe that you will need (layers, waterproofs, boots for example), there are a lot of other differences to consider if you’re going to stay at your best with less sunshine, shorter days and dropping temperatures which are set to go on for most of the next 5-6 months.

First of all then, as we face into Autumn and Winter, what happens physically and psychologically?

First of all, because of lower light levels, our Vitamin D intake reduces and may increase the chances of SAD (that’s seasonal affective – or mood – disorder), with potential links to depression for a small number of people.

Winter sceneHaving shorter days also changes the external cues (like light) that we get to wake up and to go to sleep, making it more of an effort to get awake in the mornings and to stay awake in the evenings.

Secondly, changes in the weather (more rain, cold, unpredictability) can lead to us spending less time outside, less time moving around physically and also, to changes in our diet so that we can continue to feel comfortable and comforted even when we have wind and rain lashing the windows.

Lastly, your experienced stress may increase. For example, in your reaction to the changing weather or its unpredictability, the beliefs that you may have around seasonal changes and how to deal with what are traditionally seen as ‘stressful’ holiday periods, particularly around Christmas time.

So with those as the challenges, here are some things to try:

To deal with lower light: get outside even more than in the summer – that will increase your Vitamin D levels, which is really important for your overall physical health AND it will increase your light intake, so reducing the chances of any seasonal affective disorder – SAD – symptoms.

Look for sunny or less cloudy days or even less cloudy hours and go for a quick walk, which of course will also help with the autumn/winter challenge of generally moving around less. Plus when you’re indoors, maximise your light intake (and therefore Vitamin D and good mood hormone production) by sitting near a window.

If you find that your body REALLY REALLY needs light to get going from the time you wake in the morning, try using one of the tricks that some long haul airlines use to lessen jet-lag – gradually increase the light in your bedroom until you’re awake (unless that’s really going to hack off someone else in your life). Or try using a lightbox which come in all sorts of formats first thing in the morning for around 30 minutes as these are believed to reduce melatonin (the sleep hormone) and increase serotonin (which positively affects your mood).

To deal with weather changes: my advice is to take control. There are almost always things you can do to avoid the weather getting in your way.

For example, today I’ve been looking out of the window wanting to go for a run but it’s windy with heavy showers. So what can I do: chance it and risk getting soaked? Not worry about getting soaked, I’m going to get sweaty anyway? Or run indoors, or do a workout routine that I can do indoors.

Any of these strategies will help me take control. By the way, I’ve decided to treadmill later – bit boring but I’ll get a load of positive exercise hormone boosts at the end, which will be worth it.
Diet-wise, during Autumn and Winter: keep it healthy rather than switching to more comforting foods – that way, you’ll feel more in control and more positive about yourself as you’re carrying on with a balanced diet.

Start exercising, or change up your exercise so that you can continue to get your fitness hit indoors. A Fitbit will let you know how you’re doing, although I’ve stopped wearing mine recently as I feel I know broadly how many steps I’ve done in a day and how exercise is affecting me…I’ve found taking off the tech has helped me listen to my body better rather than being too over-reliant on technology to do it for me.

Oh and a seasonal food cookbook can also be a good idea to help you appreciate whatever it is that’s in season where you are.

On the point about stress and experiencing more stress because of the change in seasons and what this signifies to you, I had some chats with people who – unusually – absolutely LOVE autumn and winter and what they all had in common was that they focused on the positive aspects of the changed seasons that they really enjoyed – for example, the opportunity to stay in and read, watch films, entertain friends, cook together as a couple or family, or festivals like Halloween and Christmas, or Thanksgiving in the US.

Some people had grown up in climates without the cold and the dark and the wet, so they really appreciated colder, darker, wetter seasons (amazing). But all of them had created positive associations with the Autumn and Winter seasons in their own way and really identified with that.

The shortcut ‘how to’ approach to that may be to look into Hygge H-Y-G-G-E – plenty of books and blogs on that out there – as an attitude and approach to life focused on togetherness, enjoyment and cosiness, made easier in the colder, darker months.

Last idea, the classic ‘winter sun’ holiday (basically flying due south, at least from the UK, for a few hours) can positively affect all of these areas: light, weather and stress. So if you can plan it early, you know you’ll have it look forward to and it breaks up what can feel like a long period of less positive conditions.

Whatever you choose to do, make sure your choices fit your strengths – if you’re someone who’s highly relational, group exercise activities and hygge-style get-togethers may well be your thing.
If you’re more of a thinker, then Autumn and Winter present a great opportunity for reading, learning and exploring new ideas. If you’re a doer trying out new activities, hobbies and trips away could be more for you.

My advice is to make or plan these changes now so that they become habituated by the time that the cold and dark and wet really starts to kick in – the very fact that you’re taking action will have a positive psychological effect as you’re taking control of the less controllable – making positive choices rather than feeling that your choices are limited.

So book in the winter sun weekend break, plan in some friend time, change up your exercise routine and make some daily changes to get out into the light more whenever that light turns up. And before you know it, it will be late February and the mornings will start getting lighter, plus you’ll have actually enjoyed the 5 months till then!

That’s all for this week, I hope you’ve enjoyed, till next time, go grab that Autumn joy. Oh my God, the sun’s actually come out, outside run or treadmill, outside run or treadmill? Bye!

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