This February is proving to be rather an odd one - there are daffodils and snowdrops starting to push up through the soil making Spring feel tantalisingly close, and yet we’re realistically only just over the January hump! Worrying about global warming aside, I am finding the daffodils immensely uplifting but I’m a realist, and I know we still have some way to go. I’m well acquainted with the January Blues, and the unhelpfully labeled ‘Blue Monday,’ but February is just as tough because it’s that awkward in-between month. It’s still cold and grey and Easter is alarmingly far off. So, how do we cope with the February blues? Here are my tried and tested tips.
- Take yourself, or the dog, for a walk
Since we got our puppy I’ve found winter much less melancholy than I used to, simply because getting outdoors into natural light is so, so good for our mental health. Having a dog is a great way of making sure this happens at least once a day (sometimes twice!), but you don’t have to have one to get the benefits - you just need to get into the habit of it and make sure you do it! Green space, and blue space (near water if you’re lucky enough) have been scientifically proven to boost our mood and some GPs are now actually prescribing time spent in nature to anxiety and mental health patients before resorting to antidepressants. I’m probably preaching to the choir here, because we all know that getting outside - whatever the weather - is good for us, but sometimes it’s easier said than done. My advice is to make a morning walk, even just for 20 mins round the block, part of your morning routine. It helps regulate your circadian rhythm and makes the mitochondria in our cells really happy. Your mitochondria make cellular energy, so not only will your mood be boosted but you’ll have more energy for the day ahead too.
2. Schedule in time with loved ones
My second top tip isn’t to do with nature, breathwork, yoga, exercise or food, but human connection. During the pandemic it was incredibly hard to have the amount of human connection and community that we all need to be healthy and happy, so it’s time to make up for those lost hugs! Humans are pack animals, we’re designed to exist within communities and tribes and isolation for long periods of time can make us severely depressed. I like to get my diary out and schedule in a weekly catch up with a friend so that we’ve both got the time and things don’t get left to the last minute.
3. Eat to boost your mood
There is such a thing as good mood food and the darkest winter months are the perfect time to focus on nourishing your body and mind through diet. Our brains are made up of 70% fat, and really thrive off a diet full of nourishing fats such as the omega 3 fatty acids from things like oily fish, eggs, grass fed meat, chia seeds and hemp seeds. Our blood sugar balance also has a huge impact on our mood. If we’re consuming excess sugar in the diet and yo-yoing between sugar (carb) highs and lows all day, it’s really hard to feel balanced and calm. Making sure you eat a balanced plateful of food each time you put a meal together is the best way to support blood sugar levels. This means a good quality source of protein, animal sources if you’re an omnivore, or tempeh / edamame if you’re plant based, along with lots of blood sugar loving fats from avocado, olive oil, nuts and seeds, and lastly a rainbow of colorful vegetables. It really is as simple as that, but things get complicated when we’re stressed or tired and we reach for the carb-heavy, sugary treats! Which brings me on to my next point…
4. Sleep is crucial for brain and mental health
Sleep is our most restorative state. It’s when the body takes out the cellular waste from the day, down-regulates the nervous system, calms inflammation and supports immune health. In fact, your immune system is most active overnight and least active first thing in the morning. That means that to stay healthy and fit through winter and not catch too many colds, we need to be resting well. The new year always seems like a good time to start a new gym regime but the winter months should really be about rest and recuperation. There simply isn’t enough daylight for us light-controlled humans to be active around the clock. Sleeping poorly, or going to bed too late, predisposes us to blood sugar imbalances the next day, which consequently makes it a lot harder to choose a good healthy breakfast over an almond croissant!
5. Schedule in time for stress-reduction
Unfortunately, stress is synonymous with modern life these days and it has an utterly catastrophic effect on our general wellbeing as well as our mental wellbeing. I think that children need to be taught breathwork skills, yoga, or journaling from a young age because not only are we not giving our young the tools to cope with life, but they’re more bombarded than ever by stress signals from their environment. It’s not too late for us adults either, you can rewire and train your brain to adapt better with stress - but it takes a bit of time and dedication. Breathwork is fantastic for this, because science shows that nasal breathing, for example, helps down-regulate the nervous system. Making your exhale longer than your inhale (again in and out via the nose), also has the same effect. Vagal stimulation is where it’s really at though - and by that I mean stimulating your vagus nerve, which runs down the front of your sternum and forms a major part of the gut-brain axis and also ennervates (i.e. bisects) every major organ system in the body. When we activate this nerve we really quickly swing into a deep state of relaxation. Breathwork is one way to activate it, but so is sauna therapy, and similarly cold therapy, tapping, humming, singing and gurgling. There are also some really clever pieces of relaxation tech these days that focus on vagal stimulation - my favorite is the Sensate device which connects to an app on your phone to play you some gentle music, whilst the actual device vibrates on your chest to activate the vagus nerve.
So there you have it, nothing too out of the ordinary, but almost guaranteed to work!