As the days get shorter, darker and wetter our health and well-being can take a nosedive. Add in all that extra stress from the holidays plus the pressure of a brand new year and you’ve got yourself a recipe for a not-so-cheery disposition. However, don’t be discouraged, the winter blues are very common. In fact, this time of year can be especially hard because so many of our weak points are targeted all at once.
Arm yourself with tools to fight the attack by tuning in to yourself to figure out what’s causing the most distress. Is it the never-ending flow of cookies and eggnog that’s giving you body blues? What about your overwhelming schedule and holiday to-do list, not to mention the unrealistic new year’s resolutions you’ve set for yourself? Maybe it’s just the weather that’s got you down. You’re not getting outside enough and the lack of sunshine and fresh air leaves you lethargic and unmotivated.
This year, instead of reaching for your Tupperware full of leftover cookies, curling up on the couch and succumbing to the winter blues, assess your triggers and intervene before they become overwhelming roadblocks. Read these tips from our team of integrated health care specialists and learn how you can defeat winter doldrums.
What type of winter blues are you experiencing?
Dr. Amanda Armington, Attending Physician, Health Centers of UWS, Campus
Mindfulness can be very powerful and especially helpful in the winter months. Focus on presence: just be. Your lists, goals and resolutions can wait. Try this simple yet very challenging exercise of just breathing for two minutes. You’ll be surprised at how refreshing and rewarding it is. Taking a break from life’s business can actually increase your productivity. Try this tool www.donothingfor2minutes.com and turn up your speakers.
Dr. Ty Weingard, Attending Physician, Health Centers of UWS, Salem
Vitamin D3 is a hormone that’s great for the immune system and emotional well-being during the winter SAD season. Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD is a real concern for many patients and friends throughout the winter. Take 5000 IU of vitamin D3 to increase your mood and support your immune system.
Dr. Aaron Montgomery, Assistant Clinical Director, Health Centers of UWS, Gresham
A great way to help beat the winter blues is by staying active over the next few months. Exercise is a proven way to help with Seasonal Affective Disorder or just keep energy levels and sense of well-being up. Your exercise does not have to be intense to be effective, it simply needs to be consistent. Whether it’s lifting weights, running or even walking, try to do at least 30 minutes per day. This will likely pay big dividends on feeling well and staying healthy over the next few months. Consistency is key to beat those winter blues!
Dr. Susan Strom, Clinical Assistant, Health Centers of UWS, Campus
There are two supplement blends I stock up on for my patients during the winter months to support the immune system and cut down on the frequency and duration of cold and flu symptoms. Congaplex is a formula from Standard Process that contains a variety of nutrients which, taken at the first sign of an infection, can help the body to fight off the invaders. Herbal complexes that contain echinacea, andrographis and holy basil are also very helpful in improving the way the immune system works.
Dr. Ryan Ondick, Attending Physician, Health Centers of UWS, Campus
Moderate aerobic exercise improves immune function, provides a mild antidepressive response and enhances sleep. Exercise is important to think about in defense against the winter blues because it is often the first thing to suffer when the weather gets bad.
Dr. Devin Williams, Attending Physician, Health Centers of UWS, Gresham
In the summer we all know that we must drink water to avoid dehydration. But dehydration affects just as many people in the winter because the cold decreases thirst response. We may not lose water through running or playing in the heat of the summer, but we lose much of our water through our breath. When you see your breath in the cold air that’s actually water being expelled from your body. Don’t assume that just because you aren’t sweating or in the sun that your body doesn’t need adequate water intake. There have also been numerous studies that show the link between dehydration and depression. So, continue to drink adequate water throughout the cold months to keep healthy!
Dr. James Strange, Attending Physician, Health Centers of UWS, Campus
Eating healthier in the winter and during the holidays does not mean dieting! Focus on adding whole nutritious foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, proteins and good fats to every meal, instead of restricting the “bad” ones. Choose healthy foods you love to eat and don’t let your schedule dictate your meals- always be prepared, especially during this time of year when tempting sweets are everywhere. As the saying goes: eat better and move better.
Dr. Daniel DeLapp, Attending Physician, Health Centers of UWS, East Portland
Avoiding the winter blues can be a challenge, especially when we are constantly being tempted by all the sugary treats at holiday parties. Unfortunately, eating too many simple sugars, particularly fructose damages our immune system. When our immune system is compromised it can lead to feeling off-balanced and can contribute to feeling the blues. One of the ways it does this is by unbalancing your gut flora. Sugar feeds the pathogenic bacteria, virus and fungi. Most people don’t realize that 80 percent of your immune system actually lies in your gastrointestinal tract. That’s why controlling your sugar intake is CRUCIAL for optimizing your immune system and avoiding the winter blues.
Dr. Owen Lynch, Director of Health Centers of UWS, Downtown
Here’s a riddle: Why is an icy sidewalk like a musical scale?
Because it’s C sharp or B flat.
Would you like to maintain your independence and avoid falls, especially during the winter when conditions are most treacherous? Complete the self assessment at the Center for Disease Control’s website by clicking here.
Dr. Franchesca Vermillion, Attending Physician, Health Centers of UWS, East Portland
In order to fight off the winter blues, it’s very important to keep moving. In the winter time, when I find it hard to make it to the gym but still want to work out, I challenge myself to the Deck of Cards work out. I take a normal deck of cards and shuffle them. The cards are placed face down and each suit is assigned a work out. For example, spades are squats, clubs are mountain climbers, diamonds are push-ups and hearts are sit-ups. These are just examples you can assign any four work outs that you want to the cards. Then as you flip the card and do the face value of the card. Royal cards are worth 10 and the aces are worth 15. It makes for a great work out from home!
Dr. Shawn Hatch, Attending Physician, Assistant Professor, Health Centers of UWS, Campus
Due to the weather here in the northwest, we spend a lot of time indoors during the winter. Not being exposed to the sun puts us at risk for not getting enough vitamin D. Other than exposure to sunlight, the best way to get vitamin D is through whole foods like fish, eggs, mushrooms and beef liver but we can also get it through supplements and fortified foods. And don’t forget to keep moving. Finding creative ways to be active while indoors can be a fun challenge.
Dr. Frederick Kalmbach, Clinical Assistant, Health Centers of UWS, Campus
Walking every day can be difficult due to the weather, but investing in good rain gear or making a point to get out even for short walks during breaks in the rain can help. Even a 10 minute walk when the sun eventually comes out is beneficial.
Ami Brimhall, Mindfulness Facilitator
With more cold and wet weather here it’s easy to get discouraged, move less and stay crunched up as we go through the day. Here’s a great holiday gift you can give yourself. Try to walk around, stretch and get outside for even 5-10 minutes during your day. Think, “I’m embracing the cold!” as you do. You may be surprised as how much more at ease you become and find new and wonderful things to notice about the colder, wet outdoors.