5 Natural Ways to Brighten the Winter Blues

 
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Are you feeling as though this winter will just never end? If so, you are not alone. Here in NYC it’s cold and we’ve had a lot of rainy days. So many of us can identify with the experience of having the winter blues. The winter blues often create low motivation and stagnancy, you just don’t feel like doing much or getting much done. The winter blues can feel as though your energy is zapped, causing you to not engage in many of the elements that tend to actually make you feel good. To me, it’s no surprise that many of us experience times of feeling down in the winter. After the activity and hubbub of the holidays, it’s common to feel more isolated because of the cold, the reduced daylight hours and often more dreary weather.

The good news is that there are some simple, natural strategies that you can incorporate all winter long to help you beat the winter blues. Use these strategies to create your own ray of sunshine on any given day.

1.    On Sunny Days, Expose Your Skin to Light for 10-15 Minutes

2.    Eat Naturally Mood-Lifting Foods

3.    Practice Saying “YES” to Yourself

4.    Move Your Body

5.    Start (or Maintain!) a Mindfulness Practice

1. On Sunny Days, Expose Your Skin to Light for 10-15 Minutes

This first strategy encourages receiving some sun exposure whenever it’s possible. When sunlight is exposed to our eyes and our skin, the brain is alerted to wake up and feel more energized. Exposure to sunlight can help you feel more mentally sharp and positive. Every day that the sun is shining, be sure to get outside and turn your face to the sun for about ten to fifteen minutes. If it’s not too freezing cold, you can certainly hang out in the sun even longer (although don’t overexpose without sunscreen!) If you can’t get outside, take a few moments to at least let the sun hit your eye balls. A full spectrum light box can be another option, although there is a cost associated with this tool, it does offer the full spectrum of light and helps improve mood and mental energy. 

2. Eat Naturally Mood-Lifting Foods

The second strategy has to do with improving your mood through food. The food-mood connection is super strong. Nutrients that support energy and healthy brain function all help to create the best opportunity for your mood to be in a balanced and positive space on a daily basis. When you are eating these healthy, mood supporting nutrient dense foods, factors such as the temperature, weather or time of year can feel as thought they are less of a downer! Some of the nutrients known to improve the functioning of your brain and improve mood are Omega-3 Fatty Acids, B-Vitamins, Vitamin C, Tryptophan, Vitamin K and Protein. Here is a brain power smoothie recipe that incorporates many of these nutrients in one power-packed delicious drink!

Brain Power Smoothie Recipe:

1 cup frozen or fresh blueberries
½ ripe banana
1 heaping teaspoon raw cacao powder
1 tablespoon ground flax seed
1-2 cups loosely packed fresh kale (or spinach/favorite leafy green)
1 cup plain unsweetened coconut or almond milk
1 serving unsweetened protein powder of your choice

Blend all ingredients together until smooth and enjoy!!

 
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3. Practice Saying “YES” to Yourself

During the winter months there are often many things to do, places to go and people to see. One of the most powerful things you can do for yourself is to learn to say YES to yourself, meaning that you may have to say NO to others. If you find you need to preserve your energy, do it. You do not have to do all the things all the time. When you practice saying YES to yourself—to what you want and need—you will build more energy and stamina for the things you actually do want and need to do. When you practice saying YES to YOU, you are caring for yourself. This will build feelings of empowerment to make your own decision and choices for your life. As you continue to practice saying YES to YOU, you will improve your mood state and your energy. Finding the right balance between activity and rest for you will allow you to feel refreshed, motivated and energized.

4. Move Your Body

Movement and exercise have consistently been shown to improve mood. Really, exercise is valuable for a long list of reasons. But the one benefit alone of improving mood is enough to make it happen and to make it happen consistently. The second part of this is the kicker: consistency! When it is gray, dark and cold, you may not feel like going out for a walk or going to the gym. That’s ok because you don’t have to feel like it but you still need to do it. Focusing on how you feel after you exercise can be motivation to help you get your body moving. If you really just don’t want to go to the gym or go outside on a cold or damp day, do something indoors. Try yoga, dancing to your favorite music, light weight training, jumping jacks, plank pose and/or squats. You see, the movement doesn’t need to be anything fancy and it doesn’t even have to be for a really long time, you just need to do it in some form or another nearly every single day.  Try incorporating regular movement into your day and notice the impact it has on your mood, energy, stress and sleep. When you focus on the benefits, the motivation will follow.

5. Start a Mindfulness Practice

Mindfulness has been shown to improve mood as well as your perspective on life’s challenges. Mindfulness is paying attention from moment to moment with a nonjudgmental awareness. When you are being mindful, you are fully engaged in the present moment. When you are being mindful you are fully engaged with what is true right now. When you are in a space of non-judgment and self-awareness, you are able to create a healthy perspective of the present moment. When you are present and engaged, you are able to notice your mood state and have an impact on it in a way that is healthy. Mindfulness allows you to evaluate the veracity of your mood and your thoughts.

Try starting with just one minute of being as mindfully present as possible. Set a timer for one minute, and for that minute attempt to focus on the rhythm of your breath. When you notice that your mind is wandering (and know that it definitely will!), guide your focus back to your breath. This is the practice. You are not trying to silence your mind, but to bring your focus back to your breath when your mind wanders. You can increase the amount of time by a minute every other day until you reach five, ten, fifteen, twenty minutes. The amount of time is not as important as doing it consistently and with effort. There are great apps out there to assist with the process. I personally like Insight Timer, but use any that you like and find to be helpful for you.

Try incorporating these five simple, natural strategies to improve your mood and you may find that the winter is not so blue after all.

3 Practices to Aid Your Body's Natural Detox Process

 
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This time of year you may hear a lot of people talking about doing a detox or a cleanse. These detoxes, or cleanses may be a juice or smoothie cleanse or it might be taking a bunch of supplements that are promised to cleanse your system and rid your body of any residual toxins from over-indulging during the holiday season. I am here to say that no extreme measures are necessary to help keep your body’s natural detoxing abilities at top notch!

Your body is amazing, it works hard to keep you in a state of balance, or homeostasis, at all times. When given half a chance your body WILL heal itself. So why does it seem that we feel like we need a heavy duty detox and cleanses in order to be healthy? The fact is, we are exposed to A TON of potential toxins all day long. From the foods we eat to what we might drink to the air we breathe, potential harmful toxins are out there. Two primary toxins your body has to manage are the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol when they are flooding your body excessively. We are living more stressful lives and yet not necessarily managing the stress well. These practices below will help you keep your body’s natural detoxing channels working effectively and efficiently while creating more balance and reducing your stress!

For now, when thinking about detoxing, think about it in a way that allows you to consider how to maintain the natural detox channels within your body not as a one time thing, or only used if you feel you “over-indulge.” When you incorporate these practices below, you will give your body a greater chance of naturally detoxing the excessive environmental and internal toxins we are exposed to every single day.

Your body releases toxins through these primary channels: elimination through the bowels, elimination through the urinary tract, elimination through your breath and through your skin. All of the organ systems of the body are intimately interconnected and work hard to release toxins through these channels. Having a basic wellness routine helps to keep these systems of the body in optimal balance.

Here are three natural, safe and easily doable practices you can add into your wellness routine regularly in order to aid your body’s natural detoxing processes.

1.    Sweat + Rehydrate

Do you notice in the summer that you typically don’t get as many illnesses as in the fall, winter and spring? The body releases toxins through the skin by sweating and in the summer, we naturally sweat way more and focus on hydration than in the other months! Doing 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise will help you break a sweat for a sustained period of time. Exercise—which can be absolutely free!—is the best place to begin when focusing on detoxing using the skin as primary channel of elimination. Taking up jogging, cycling, getting to an aerobics class or high intensity interval training (HIIT) or even hot yoga can all be a great place to begin.

You can also use an infrared sauna for 15-40 minutes 1-3 times per week. This option comes with a price, but the benefits are many! As always, you want to start slowly and work your way up if you have not been breaking a sweat for a while! And of course, sweating more must come along with drinking more water! Hydration is key to continue to release the toxins through elimination as well!

2.    Oil Pulling + Tongue Scraping

This is a super simple practice to add to your morning routine. When you wake up, take a tablespoon of coconut or sesame oil and swish it in your mouth for 5-20 minutes, the longer the better. Be sure to spit the oil out into a trash can and not into your sink drain! A lot of microbes get into our system through our mucus membrane, and they enter the system right in your mouth. Oil pulling attracts the microbes and other toxins and releases them when you spit it out. After you spit out the oil, you might swish your mouth with water and spit that as well. Then, using a tongue scraper, gently scrape over your tongue 1-3 times, rinsing your mouth once again.

3.    Kapalabhati Breath

*Do not practice this breath if you are pregnant, have untreated hypertension, abdominal pain, heart disease or stomach problems such as ulcers or IBS. Stop if you feel dizzy or anxious. There are many wonderful breathing practices out there, so if this one isn’t for you, that’s ok!

The Kapalabhati Breath is a powerful breathing practice that helps to cleanse the sinuses and invigorates the digestive system. This breath is best practiced on an empty stomach. You will want to start with a low amount of repetitions and begin to increase slowly over time. Kapalabhati is translated to mean “skull-shining breath.” The meaning is believed to relate to the cleansing benefits of the practice, that it creates smooth and brightened skin—especially recognized on your face!

This breathing practice helps you to release stress and toxins from the mind and body. It helps to cleanse the lungs, increases oxygen to your cells, improves digestion, clears your mind and increases focus and attention. This breathing practice helps to improve your mood and increases energy. The practice consists of a forceful exhalation through your nose where you quickly draw your navel in towards your spine followed by a natural inhalation through your nose. The movement primarily involves your diaphragm. Begin slowly, starting with five repetitions quickly in a row. Over time you can slowly increase the repetitions as it becomes more comfortable. I now do a round of one hundred repetitions in the morning.

Try these three practices and notice how you feel. If one of the practices works for you, continue using it, if it does not, there are many other practices and options to encourage the natural detox process of your body.

If you do try any of these, let me know how they work for you!