Bye to 2016 and the winter blues

Happy 2017!  I hope everyone had a healthy and happy new years celebration.  I was going to write a post about making new years resolutions, but this year I decided to not make any new years resolutions. I decided not to try to make any specific goals for the next year for two reasons: 1.  I think it’s easier to work on short-term goals, without using the calendar year as motivation 2.  Northeastern winters don’t exactly scream “LET’S GET MOTIVATED!” to me.  Instead, today I’m sharing some tips about improving your mood during these cold months.  I decided to share some things that have helped me stay happy and sane during winter because I’ve noticed that every year I start to feel less like my usual upbeat self as soon as November/December rolls around.  While I don’t personally suffer from full-blown seasonal affective disorder (SAD, so aptly abbreviated), it’s always a good idea to consult a mental health professional if you feel your mood going seriously sour during any time of the year.  If you feel like you just need an extra happiness boost during the winter, here are some things that have helped me.

My Winter Mood-Improving Habits

  1. Get outside!

Unless you live close to the equator, your skin gets less exposure to sunlight during the winter (in the northern hemisphere).  Sunlight is important because it’s a major source of vitamin D.  Vitamin D has effects on the hypothalamus which regulates sleep, hunger, and other factors that influence mood.

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These ducks have the right idea, although I didn’t take a dip into the frigid water, I did take this photo on a chilly winter walk

Another reason to get outside is just to enjoy the outdoors.  Although being outside during the winter requires some extra layers, being amongst nature has so many benefits, both for the mind and body.  Try going for a walk outside a few times a week (for the most benefits, aim for mid-day, especially when it’s sunny out).  If you’re feeling more adventurous, go ice-skating, skiing, or snow-shoeing if you live in a snowy climate.

2.  Eat (healthy) carbs!

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a toasted whole-grain bagel with a healthy fat, such as melted natural peanut butter makes for a deliciously warming winter breakfast

Complex carbs can health boost serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that influences mood.  I feel best when I stick to minimally processed whole grains and avoid white flour. Examples of complex carbs include sweet potatoes, brown rice, whole grains and 100% whole grain breads.  Paying attention to portion size is important.  It’s easy to over-do pasta, bread, and rice, especially because these foods can be so comforting.

3. Exercise

I love moving all year round!  Exercise always puts me in a good mood. If you can’t exercise outside, indoors is just as good.  I try to exercise daily for 30-60 minutes, or at least most days.  New to exercise?  Try to find something that you enjoy and that you’re willing to commit to.  Walking, running, yoga, weightlifting all count.

4. Sleep, but not too much

It’s so tempting to sleep more during the winter and go into “hibernation mode”, but I’ve found that (for me) this makes me feel lazy which then affects my mood.  Instead of staying in bed all day, try to get moving and accomplish one productive thing a day.  Oversleeping can be a symptom of depression, so if you find yourself preferring to stay in bed for an excessive amount of time and you also feel symptoms of hopelessness and apathy, it’s important to talk to someone.

5.  Participate in life

Sometimes during winter, I feel like hibernating and going into my shell, but I’ve noticed that this makes me feel down and withdrawn.  Find an engaging hobby that will keep your mind active.  Social support is also vitally important, so make some time for friends and family.

These are just some simple things that have helped me.  I hope you feel amazing today and every day of this winter season 🙂

Rest and a Fresh Recipe

Have you ever changed your diet and felt amazing…only to go back to how you were eating and feeling before?  It can be hard to stick with eating healthy, even if we feel the benefits.  I often wonder why this is, and I’ve noticed that for me I’m a creature of habit and habits are hard to change, especially when you’ve been doing something or eating something for so long.

I mentioned in early August that I was taking a break from drinking coffee.  I quit coffee cold turkey and was coffee-free for over 35 days until I decided to indulge in an iced coffee. For the next week, I was drinking about a cup of coffee in the AM.  I also got on average about 4 hours of sleep each night that I had drank coffee in the morning.  Although caffeine shouldn’t affect my sleep so much, it does and I came to the conclusion that I’ve become extremely sensitive to caffeine and (for me) it just isn’t worth it any more.

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Of course I documented my iced coffee indulgence!

I’m happy I realized coffee was affecting me in a negative way instead of drinking even more coffee to make up for lack of sleep, which is something I used to do on a daily basis.  I’m also happy to share what I learned during this self-realization coffee experiment: don’t beat yourself up!  If you slip up on a health goal, diet, or exercise routine, etc., instead of berating yourself and feeling like poo, simply note the difference in how you physically, mentally, and emotionally feel when you’re doing something good for yourself vs. how you feel when you do something that doesn’t benefit your overall health.  Then, decide which feelings you’d rather feel.  In my case, if I kept drinking coffee, I’d probably feel energized for a few hours, but ultimately miss out on sleep and feel really tired at work, in class, and during my free time.

Being coffee-free also made me realize the importance of eating energizing foods.  I pride myself on practicing what I preach, but sometimes quick convenience foods are an easy option that I rely on.  These foods are ok in a pinch, but real, wholesome, unprocessed foods provide so much more.  I’ve decided to share a delicious meal filled with fresh veggies that I made recently.  It took me about 10 minutes to make the entire meal and it’s packed with fiber, lycopene, vitamin A, vitamin C, and deliciousness.

Zucchini Noodles with Tomato-“Cheez” Sauce

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Ingredients (serves 1-2):

  • 1 large zucchini
  • 2 vine-ripe tomatoes (or use about 1-1.5 cups of ripe cherry tomatoes)
  • 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp. oregano
  • 1/4 tsp. basil
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of pepper
  • 5 kalamata olives
  • 1/4 cup raw cashews

Directions: * you will need a food processor and a vegetable spiralizer (or buy spiralized zucchini at a supermarket)

  • Spiralize the zucchini into spaghetti-shaped noodles and set in a bowl or plate
  • Using a food processor, blend the tomatoes, spices, cashews, and olives together for about 3-5 minutes, or until a sauce consistency appears
  • Top the noodles with the sauce and use whatever garnish appeals to you
  • Enjoy, and take care of yourself!

 

-Jess

Sleep for Your Health: Some Sleep Hygiene Tips

As any health-conscious person knows, sleep is essential to feeling your best. Nearly everyone at some point in their lives has trouble sleeping. I sometimes wake up very early in the morning (like 3 AM-early), but I’ve found several strategies to help lull me to dreamland–and keep me there! Here are some tips I’ve learned on becoming relaxed to induce a night of zzz’s and a get full nights rest:

  1. This might sound like a no-brainer, but avoid coffee and any source of caffeine in the afternoon/evening hours. Even small amounts in chocolate and tea might have an effect on your system, so it’s best to avoid it. If you are a coffee drinker, try to stick with 1-2 cups in the morning and make it a goal to say “no” to that tempting mid-day iced coffee.
  2. Turn off any unnecessary electronics (i.e. TV, radio, computer), and keep your phone away from your bed when it’s time to go to sleep. Charge your phone away from your bed.
  3. Try to get outside or be around natural light in the daytime. This will help your body get more in tune with evolutionary-based circadian rhythms. Come nighttime, avoid bright lights and try to limit exposure to TV and computer screens.
  4. Even though you might be tired throughout the day, taking a long nap (longer than 30 minutes) might affect your sleep cycle and make it harder to fall asleep. Instead, try exercising or engaging in a physically or mentally stimulating activity to keep your energy up when you’re tired during the day.
  5. On the topic of exercise, find a time that works for you, and stick to it. Some people find that working out in the morning is not only more convenient, but sets the stage for a more energy-filled day. Others like to exercise at night. As long as it doesn’t prevent you from falling asleep, exercising at night should be fine. If you are indeed feeling a little pumped up after a PM workout, try taking a hot shower or bath to soothe and relax your muscles.
  6. If you’re sensitive to light while falling asleep, consider blackout curtains or an eye pillow.
  7. Pets are lovely, but if your dog or cat has a tendency to make your head its personal pillow at night, consider sleeping apart from your furry friend.
  8. If anxiety keeps you up at night, try to figure out what’s behind your worries. Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is a form of therapy that can be done via specific self-help books or with a therapist, and involves changing cognitive distortions (or negative ways of thinking) that can lead to depression and anxiety. Also, journaling might be helpful to sort through your own thoughts. Try not to judge your own thoughts and instead let your thoughts flow from your mind to your pen to the paper. Then, see if you can find a pattern in your thinking.
  9. Get comfy. I’ve mentioned making sure your sleeping space is dark and distraction free. You can also use aromatherapy, massage, and yoga to relax your body and mind. Lavender, chamomile, and jasmine are some scents that can come in the form of essential oils and lotions, and really do help one to relax. Yoga poses along with breathing exercises can help connect your brain to your body in a relaxing, healing way.

    a yoga mat, essential oil lotion + spray, supplements, and a dream journal = a peaceful mind at night.

    a yoga mat, essential oil lotion + spray, supplements, and a dream journal = a peaceful mind at night.

  10. Consider taking a magnesium/calcium supplement, or a small amount of melatonin before bed. (Always consult a doctor before taking any supplements though!)
  11. Keep a dream journal. I’m fascinated by my own dreams, although sometimes I wake up after a dream and can’t fall back asleep. Writing down themes of a dream and then doing something relaxing, like reading a beautiful poem or listening to a favorite song can help to you to relax and help you fall asleep again. Then in the morning, you can analyze your own dreams, if it interests you.
  12. Try yoga nidra, a type of guided meditation, or other guided meditation podcasts and tutorials that can be found using google or available through apple podcasts.
  13. Eat a light snack before bed if you’re hungry. Try to aim for a balance of carbs & a little protein. A small amount of trail mix, whole grain crackers with a tablespoon of almond butter, or 6 oz. soy milk & a banana are some suggestions.
  14. Try to stick to a routine. This includes when you go to bed, what time you wake up (or set an alarm to wake up) and what times you eat throughout the day. Although it’s fun to live spontaneously, our bodies were meant to sleep and eat at certain points. Get into healthy, realistic habits, and become more attuned to your body’s needs.

Well, those are all the things that have been helpful in my experience. I hope you have a good nights rest!

-Jess