HEADING INTO THE coldest months of the year in the Northern Hemisphere is something we tend to associate with hunkering down, hiding away indoors – a kind of human form of hibernation. It is now that chilly time of year where circumstances can easily lead to the body getting sluggish and the mind getting lazy. Whether it’s the lack of sunlight, the looming Christmas deadlines or bone-chilling temperatures, the winter months can often leave many of us feeling plagued by fatigue, tortured by sub-quality sleep and running on empty. In the UK, statistics show that one in 5 people feel unusually tired at any one time, and one in 10 have prolonged fatigue, according to the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
Here are some ideas of how to beat the Mind-Body-Energy Crisis.
Put sleep on your plate
For a great night’s kip, strive to eat a balanced diet that factors in the amino acid tryptophan, which nutritionist Rob Hobson explains is “used in the brain to synthesise the sleep hormone melatonin.”
Melatonin is a hormone made naturally by your body that signals that it’s time to hit the hay. Tryptophan is found in foods such as turkey, soy, nuts, seeds, oily fish, beans and pulses. Eating an evening meal that’s loaded with carbohydrate, such as pasta or rice, can also help with the uptake of tryptophan into the brain.
Many of us tend to eat more during winter warming comfort foods. However, it makes sense to work on maintaining a good, balanced diet where the focus is on eating regularly and making every mouthful count.
Try something New
Routine can be a good thing but repeating the same tasks over and over will make you mentally sluggish. Eat a range of foods to support your physical and gut health, and stimulate the mind with diverse mental ‘nourishment’.
Trying something new doesn’t have to be expensive either. Try reading a type of literature or material that you may not normally seek out, i.e. if you normally read ‘chick lit’, try a crime thriller. If you like to read the financial pages why not challenge your brain and reach for a sci-fi book? If you listen to Release Radar or your old favourites on a loop on Spotify, try some opera instead.
It’s harder maintaining a regular winter regime but try to go outdoors for a brisk 30-minute walk, whatever the weather throws at you. It will provide both physical and mental benefits – releasing a potent mix of the feel-good chemicals; like serotonin and dopamine, which can help you de-stress after a long day at work and ease symptoms of anxiety and depression. What is more, in an average, healthy person, the body will acclimatise to the colder temperatures within 2 weeks, so your body will learn to work more efficiently when you do venture out, and your winter walks could become the best training you can do.
Almost half of all our daily actions are habitual – in other words, we’re on autopilot 50% of our waking lives. Our autopilots unconsciously use information from our surrounding to guide behaviour, so if we change small things in our everyday surroundings we can stimulate changes in behaviour on a regular basis, i.e. leave your trainers close to the front door so you almost trip over them, and the more healthy food in your fridge at the front, in plain sight.
Let there be light
Sunlight doesn’t just keep us warm – it also plays a huge role in keeping us healthy and energised. Natural light works as a natural alarm clock; waking us up gradually, but in the winter months we are getting up in the dark and that makes it harder to find that ‘get up and go’ feeling.
Sunlight also plays an important role in helping the body produce melatonin and serotonin. Melatonin helps to regulate our sleep patterns and serotonin helps to regulate our mood – it is known as the ‘happy hormone’ so when it is in short supply, we can feel gloomy or disinterested.
Wrap-up, step-out and make that change.