As winter approaches for everyone in the Northern Hemisphere, we are reminded once again of how good it feels to require less of ourselves. The cool, fall air is invigorating as we prepare for the time of darkness. Traditionally, winter means that the pace slows down, except at the holidays, of course! We can hunker down and begin to focus on things at home that have been neglected while we've been out enjoying the sun and surf all summer. Surprisingly, however, I've heard many people comment that they do not like winter. For some, it is because of the cold and the difficulty in getting around in poor weather conditions. If you are an elderly person, this is a very common problem. But I've heard the resistance to winter in people's voices from people still young enough to go downhill skiing, so I know it can't all be attributed to that. As I dig a little deeper into the thinking of my acquaintances, it appears that many do not have a joyful anticipation of winter for an entirely different reason than the cold, it's because of the darkness. Now, granted, our family lives far North, and our winters do contain a good deal of darkness. Where we are, in midwinter, the sun sets a little after 4PM and rises after 8AM. But we've also experienced the same discontent with the darkness in the far South on many occasions, because although the days are still longer, the sun is very often covered by clouds and even if it rarely snows, it rains buckets. Our bodies get accustomed to a certain length of day and a certain input of daylight and when it begins to dwindle, so does our enthusiasm.
In many ways, this is healthy and good. We cannot spend our lives always in high gear, or we will absolutely burn out. But in other ways, this shortening of the days can come with real consequences that affect more than just our ability to do things, it affects our attitude and our physical health. Sunlight has many benefits, but among the most important of its benefits is Vitamin D. Vitamin D is responsible for keeping your bones healthy & also for improving your immune system so that you can fight off things like influenza when they are lurking about. It can also be an important mood booster and has even been used with other things to aid in fighting depression.
When we do not get enough of this crucial vitamin, we can have symptoms ranging from to a down mood, to soft or fragile bones. A deficiency in vitamin D can also contribute to weight gain. But, because the sun is obscured by clouds or night, does not mean that we need to live with sadness, lethargy or depression. There are many things that can help you to deal with the coming darkness.
1. Take a supplement. Vitamin D supplements are widely available and can be used unless you have other drug interactions. They can make the difference between an awful day full of gloom and a day that is bearable. I won't say that you'll be full of energy and sign up for the next marathon that comes near you, but you might be able to talk yourself into doing the chores a little easier!
2. Alter your diet for a few months to include some foods that support your new needs. In Scandinavian countries that experience long periods of darkness, they make sure to incorporate fish & fish oil in order to meet their needs. It's because these foods have vitamins A and D! Also make sure that you load yourself with fresh vegetables of different colors so that your nutritional needs will be satisfied.
3. Go outside as often as possible. I know that this is likely the thing that you DON'T want to do, but it makes a huge difference in your ability to cope. Even if it is cloudy, natural light will stimulate your body in a way that indoor lights cannot do. You don't even need to do much, even having a chair outside to sit is better than nothing. If you are elderly and feeling the hard press of darkness, make this a regular practice. Fresh air and natural light do wonders. If you know someone who is elderly, help them get the appropriate gear and find a nice spot to go and sit with them to chat outside for a while. Since many people in America do not appreciate going outside in all kinds of weather, it also has the added benefit of taking you away from crowded indoor spaces where germs are more easily spread.
4. Exercise. If you can do this outdoors it will make it even better, but even exercise indoors will boost endorphins in your body and give you a shot of “feel good” hormones for a bit.
5. Embrace the things you CAN do. You can invite people over for a cup of cocoa. You can sit in the longer evenings and whittle or knit. Make things you'll look forward to using in the winters, like an afghan or quilt or a wooden spoon for your homemade chili! You can read without guilt and without thinking of all the things you should really be doing outside. You can light candles. You can bake or can to heat the house up a bit. You can make bonfires, even in the snow, to enjoy the darkness outside at night. If a person only dwells on the things they cannot do, there are bound to be negative consequences & I think that is largely what has happened in our culture as winter approaches each year. People begin to think, “I cannot go out easily.” “I cannot go to the lake anymore...I cannot sit on the patio...” But the reality is you can do most of the things you were able to in the summer, just in a different way. You may not be able to swim in the lake, but you can walk around it, then go for a swim at an indoor facility. You may not be able to sit on your patio in shorts, buy you could still clear an area to sit in your warm clothes and maybe even light up the grill. You may not be able to meet friends to eat at an outdoor restaurant, but you could invite them over for hot apple cider, fresh bread and cheese.
Much of what holds us back in winter is also meant to slow us down. So take the time to enjoy the slowness. Heaven knows we don't get that opportunity often in our high paced world. Make winter your new favorite season as you approach it with gratitude.