Ah, Winter... A time when the natural world turns inward for protection from the long, dark, cold months, and hopes that the year's store of energy is enough to get through to Spring. The body and mind go through a similar process. It is sometimes easy to ignore this transition with the stress and excitement of the Holidays, but the first of the year, and the arrival of the two most cold and harsh months, usually brings a fresh clarity to just how difficult this journey can be. Your best self-care routines were likely replaced with excess food and drink, and you now face the long, rough slog through the snow and ice... sigh.
It is totally natural for the body to go through some changes during the winter; our energy naturally settles in a little deeper as daylight starts to wane. The decreased day length affects our production of serotonin and melatonin, both of which play a role in mood regulation, healthy sleep patterns, and the overall sense of well-being. So basically, your body is naturally set up to be extremely susceptible to issues such as lethargy, insomnia, and depression. But there are ways to minimize this!
The most important thing to do is to stay active. This doesn't have to be a complicated matter; whatever activity you can do throughout the worst of the winter weather (inside, likely) that gets your heart rate up and circulation going will suffice. Yoga, stairs, treadmill, weights: all of these are good options. The trick is to keep up the routine. Exercise releases natural endorphins which help to minimize the effects of S.A.D.
A regular sleep routine is beneficial to managing this issue. There are a number of good options to help balance the circadian rhythm during these dark months. Light boxes and dawn simulators can mimic the body's response to natural sunlight, boosting the mood and maintaining a proper sleep cycle.
Diet plays a crucial role as well. When the body's serotonin decreases it starts to crave sugars. Excess sugar in the diet then causes larger issues around blood sugar regulation, which results in even more lethargy and mood problems. So sticking to a healthy balance of protein, complex carbohydrates, and fats will help greatly. Limiting alcohol consumption is another key step. Since it is technically a toxin, alcohol causes the stress hormone cortisol to be released. This just amplifies the already-lowered mood. While alcohol does have a temporary ability to raise serotonin levels, it causes larger crashes after the liver processes it out of your blood stream. And excess alcohol actually lowers serotonin levels. So keep the drinks to a minimum during the winter months.
Acupuncture is another great tool. There have been many studies showing the effectiveness of acupuncture on symptoms of depression, which has a very similar biochemistry to S.A.D. Regular treatments can help to rebalance serotonin levels, establish better sleep patterns, and lift us out of the doldrums. Along with proper self-care, acupuncture has the ability to ease the difficulties associated with winter. If you need a little help with staying your best through the colder months, give acupuncture a try.