Self care in winter | Burlington, VT : HEALTH-CARE

“Put the pale withering plant and man in the sun, and if not too far away, everyone will restore health and mind.” -Florence nightingale

The short winter days can be challenging. Many people feel depressed, have little energy, are more stressed, more tired, fear winter and long for the daylight of spring.

Symptoms can include:

  • Sad and depressed mood
  • Loss of energy / increased fatigue
  • Excessive sleep
  • Changes in appetite / weight gain / craving for carbohydrates
  • Irritability or feeling worthless
  • Burn out
  • Isolate

It can be a slippery slope through the winter vacation; Treat yourself to convenience foods and more carbohydrates and sugar. Often these habits increase depression, weight gain and lack of energy.

Staying indoors can become a different habit, and over time, lack of exercise and exposure to natural light can lead to increased depression and low energy consumption. Isolation can affect your own emotional state.

How the dark days affect your mood and hormones

Mood is influenced by a complex network of relationships between sunlight, melatonin (the sleep hormone) and serotonin (the hormone associated with alertness and good mood). The melatonin level rises with the onset of darkness. When the morning light appears, the melatonin decreases. Exposure to bright light increases serotonin levels.

Self-care tips for the darker winter days

Below are some tips on how to stay connected, gain energy, and take care of yourself in the winter months.

  • Consider counseling or take medication if necessary. Make an appointment with your family doctor.
  • Contact your doctor to make sure you get enough vitamin D or other supplements throughout the winter (increase vitamin D and omega 3 levels).
  • Increase daylight exposure – go outdoors.
  • Start a plan to get more active every day.
  • Drink enough.
  • Try light therapy with a light therapy box that emits up to 10,000 LUX.
  • Enhance your experience with Hygge – the Danish word for “cozy”.
  • Get enough rest / sleep.
  • Stay socially connected (reach other people around you who are in need or who are involved in your community).
  • Practice mindfulness / meditation / breathing technique.
  • Consider EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) and open your way to spring.

If you need more help, contact your family doctor, your company’s employee benefit program, or a friend or relative. Help is available.

Resources and links

Debra Niemasz, LICSW, is a consultant in the Employee Wellness team at the Medical Center at the University of Vermont.

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