Bears and other animals hibernate through the winter, waking when springtime brings sunshine and warmer days. However, humans don't have that option – and the short days and long cold nights can cause us to feel lethargic and unmotivated. If the wintertime blues are getting you down, we give you seven natural ways to boost your energy levels while waiting for the sunshine to return and warmer weather.
Why Does Winter Sap Our Energy?
Wintertime tiredness and overall lack of energy can affect anyone, but it's more common in the northern hemisphere, where the shorter days of winter also go along with overcast skies, cold temperatures, and snow.
For many people, the effects of winter are debilitating and may cause depression and the onset of a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder. But even for those who don't suffer from SAD, winter conditions can trigger changes in our biorhythms and metabolismthat affect mood, energy levels, and overall health.
Sunlight plays an important role in human biology. It triggers changes in skin cells to produce Vitamin D, and it also affects the activity of the brain's pineal gland. This tiny gland uses the "feel good" hormone serotonin to produce melatonin, regulating cycles of sleep and waking.
When days are shorter and darker, the pineal gland produces more melatonin, which can cause daytime sleepiness and a feeling of fatigue. Higher melatonin levels also mean less serotonin, which can cause sadness, lack of motivation and anxiety.
Sunlight is the body's major vitamin D source, an essential vitamin that plays a key role in bone health, blood pressure, and immune function. Recent research reveals that Vitamin D also supports a positive mood. But the farther north people live, the lower their Vitamin D levels because they don't get enough sun exposure.
Likewise, this crucial nutrient levels can drop significantly in the winter, when there's less daylight, skies are overcast, and people are less likely to get outside.
Exercise generates energy and elevates mood, but it can be harder to get moving in harsh winter weather. People tend to be more sedentary during the cold months, which can contribute to low-grade fatigue and lack of enthusiasm. The wintertime blues are a natural response to seasonal changes – and a variety of safe and natural remedies are here to help.
Drink More Water
One of the easiest ways to get a quick energy boost is to drink more water. Although dehydration is often associated with hot summer temperatures, staying hydrated during the winter is important too.
Cold outdoor air can dry out the throat and nasal passages, aas well as the hot dry air from indoor heaters. Drinking more water can boost alertness and energy levels, and help to keep joints and membranes lubricated. Drinking plenty of water can also protect the skin from cracking and help the body resist colds and flu.
Tip: Try flavored sparkling waters or add a twist of lemon to your morning glass to keep it interesting.
Cold Water Therapy
Although winter's cold temperatures may leave you craving warmth, a cold shower – or a quick cold rinse after your hot shower – can boost energy and concentration. The brief shock of a cold (below 70F) water starts the metabolism and releases endorphins, powerful hormones that cause positive, optimistic feelings. Some research also shows that taking a cold shower two or three times a week can also improve symptoms of depression.
"Cold therapy" holds promise for positive benefits with both the immune and sympathetic nervous system. The Dutch athlete and cold therapy advocate Wim Hof, also known as the 'Ice Man', has been studied for his endurance and overall immunity. During his cold training he has enabled himself to control his heart rate, breathing, and blood circulation.
A 2014 study injected Wim Hof Method practitioners with an endotoxin meant to attack the immune system. The results indicated an overall control of the sympathetic nervous system and immune response - in other words, the participants did not get sick. A further 2018 study showed that the Wim Hof Method of cold therapy and breathing activated regions in the brain responsible for pain suppression.
Tip: Take a regular hot shower and for the last two minutes blast the cold water - you will feel it less and still get the same benefits.
Cannabis is known for its relaxing and calming properties, but many strains provide a much-needed energy boost. Stimulating sativa-dominant cannabis strains can improve concentration, focus, and energy, whether you consume them by smoking, vaping, or as slower-acting edibles. Here are a few to try:
Jack Herer is a high-energy sativa strain with hefty amounts of THC, the psychotropic ingredient that causes a euphoric high. It's known to stimulate creativity and elevate mood, and it can also help people with anxiety, PTSD, and migraine.
Harlequin is a high-CBD strain, although it contains THC, and it can be useful in treating anxiety. Harlequin's effects are relaxing and calming, but this cannabis strain also boosts focus and alertness so that users can feel more energetic without the distracting effects of THC.
Green Crack is a high-energy sativa strain that can contain up to 24 percent THC. It supports creativity and productivity, and it can help relieve stress, fatigue and depression, and other conditions such as ADHD and migraines.
Tip: If you're new to cannabis, start with a high CBD strain like Harlequin and start slowly.
Laughter might be the best medicine for winter's down days. Years after author Norman Cousins described using laughter to help him recover from a painful spine condition; researchers are documenting the many effects of laughter for fighting fatigue and boosting immune functioning. Some studies indicate that laughing can raise the heart rate, feed more oxygen to the brain and tissues, which is similar to the effects of exercise. Natural (not forced) laughter can also contribute to better sleep and raise immune cells' levels in the body.
According to SCL Health, "When you smile, your brain releases tiny molecules called neuropeptides to help fight off stress. Then other neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins come into play too. The endorphins act as a mild pain reliever, whereas the serotonin is an antidepressant." Proactively smiling and laughing in an authentic way can help get you out of your funk!
To get more laughter into your life, take time to watch a comedy movie or a favorite TV comedy. Or consider listening to one of the many new (and free) comedy podcasts while you're doing daily chores.
Tip: Looking for a good comedy? Try Netflix's vampire mockumentary What We Do In The Shadows.
Start the Day With Meditation
A morning meditation practice can help to relieve anxiety and low-level depression and set the tone for a calmer, more centered day. Meditation can be as simple as sitting quietly for a few minutes, observing your breathing and thoughts, but a variety of apps such as Headspace and Calm can provide more support, with guided meditations, intentions, and other information and activities for starting and keeping a daily meditation routine.
Tip: Don't pressure yourself. Start meditation for two minutes when you wake up with deep breathing and work up to ten or twenty minutes.
Take Vitamin D
Vitamin D may be the ultra supplement hero of 2020. Vitamin D is called the "sunshine vitamin" for a good reason, and taking a D supplement can help boost energy and concentration during dark winter days. It is also known to lower inflammation levels, and is a suggested vitamin to take during the COVID pandemic.
Aim for a quality supplement that supplies about 1,000 to 2,000 mg of Vitamin D3 daily. Consider adding more Vitamin D rich foodsto your diet, too. Eggs, oily fish such as salmon and mackerel, and mushrooms are among the best sources. Vitamin-D fortified foods such as dairy products, orange juice, and cereals can also boost your intake.
Tip: Take thirty minutes during your lunch break on a sunny day and have lunch outside to expose your skin to natural vitamin D: sunlight.
Add Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Some research suggests that people tend to consume fewer Omega 3 fatty acids in winter, and that can contribute to the low energy and depressive mood. These essential fatty acids have multiple benefits for the heart, eyes, and other organs, but they can also help to fight fatigue and depression. Consider taking a high-quality supplement if your diet doesn't include plenty of natural sources such as olive or flaxseed oil, fish, and nuts.
Tip: Eat foods high in Omega 3 such as salmon, sardines, herring, and oysters. Flax seeds, chia seeds, and walnuts are also good sources.
Like other animals, humans are bound to the cycles of the sun, and it's natural to feel the effects of the short days and cold nights of winter. But a few simple strategies that work with the body's own rhythms can help to beat those wintertime blues.