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5 everyday tips to combat the winter blues

Autumn has been pretty good to us until now. The sun is shining with all its might and the temperatures are so mild that getting used to the change is quite comfortable.

This also fits in perfectly with our focus this month, #winterblues, in which we are going to try to better understand the transition into the dark season.

In our first article we took a closer look at the processes of nature and contemplated the myths that deal with autumn. In our second article we then concentrated on our bodies and analysed the processes that make us tired, and why both body and mind want to retreat during this time.

Today we come to the exciting part, in which we give you concrete tips for getting through the dark season consciously, healthy, and happy. The good news is that autumn and winter are very special times for our personal metamorphosis. If we manage to remain aware, this season can be a truly transformative process.

We’re sure that with a few creative hacks, the world will no longer look so dreary and that you can make a difference if you take extra good care of yourself right now.

1. Alternate hot and cold showering in the morning is the ultimate boost for your immune system

We all know what it feels like to wake up when it’s still dark and wet outside. What you really want to do is to press the Snooze button another ten times and snuggle up under the blankets.

If you then stumble into the shower all creased and crumpled, there is a trick that will wake you up in seconds: alternating hot and cold showers.

Science has also acquired a taste for this and is proving the connection between alternating showers and fascinating processes in the body:

Science has also acquired a taste for this and is proving the connection between alternating showers and fascinating processes in the body:

  • Blood circulation. With unexpected stimuli (changing the water temperature from warm to cold) you can effectively wake up your still tired brain cells in the morning. You will notice that within seconds you are wide awake and able to start the day fit as a fiddle.

  • Immune system. A study from the Netherlands has proven that the onset of cold mobilises our white blood cells. This helps your body to take up the fight against intruders and pathogens. As a result, you fall ill less often and get through the winter in a healthier state.

  • Mood. An American study has demonstrated that cold showers also mobilise the nerves in the brain that are responsible for producing feelings of happiness. Even if a cold shower is hard to endure – especially in the beginning – you’ll be making your mind happy and you’re guaranteed to be far less grumpy in the morning.

That doesn’t mean you have to subject yourself to shock therapy. Just feel your way slowly and adjust the temperature very gradually – step by step – from warm to cold.

First hold your arms and legs under the cold water for a few seconds until you’ve worked your way to your neck and back – which can be particularly unpleasant at first. Start with a few seconds and then increase the time over the course of a few weeks to e.g. 2-3 minutes under the cold water spray.

If you still haven’t got used to the cold water after a few weeks and find it too difficult, you can also wash your forearms and face with cold water in the basin.

In either case, you’ll notice that you approach the day very differently if you manage to do this. Caution: addition potential!

2. Touch me: we humans cannot survive without physical contact

Touch is becoming a rare commodity in these times of social distancing. Nevertheless, we should always keep in mind that touch and physical interactions with others trigger important neurobiological processes that we need to live.

This is mainly due to the fact that the number of receptors in our sense of touch far exceeds those of other sensory systems – they are estimated to be in the trillions (!). While organisms that cannot see, taste or hear would be able to survive, we would simply be incapable of living without our sense of touch.

The question remains where this physical contact should come from. If you have a partner, this normally happens quite naturally. In this case, you could very consciously try to discern what happens when you touch each other. Perhaps you will even be able to follow the processes in your body. The same goes for pets: just watch how your mood changes after you cuddle with your pet for a few minutes.

For all the others living alone: don’t hang your head! Even a brief massage on your body or head can work wonders.

Studies prove, for example, that short massages have a lasting and positive effect on the neurophysiological condition of humans.

Processes in the brain lead to:

  • the secretion of happiness hormones
  • the formation of important neurotransmitters
  • positive impact on brain activity
  • improved physical condition
  • slower heart rate
  • calmer breathing

It doesn’t always have to be a professional massage therapist. Feel free to ask a friend or family member to help. Just trust yourself for once, ask, and formulate your needs clearly.

Even short hugs can have a positive effect on your physical and mental well-being. Especially in times of uncertainty, this is something that your body and soul yearn for.

One thing is clear anyway: Doing without touch and attention for a long time can have a negative impact on one’s health and wellbeing.

3. Get out there: fresh air invigorates body and soul 

In the last article we described in how less daylight affects the biochemical processes in the body. More melatonin and less of the happiness hormone serotonin is produced, causing us to get increasingly tired and feel less happy.

Spending more time in the fresh air will give you an instant boost, especially in the dark months of the year. The problem is that in these times of home office, it’s often difficult to pull yourself together to do this – we all know this feeling.

It can work, though, if you add your walk to your daily to-do list and follow the list faithfully. You’ll notice that you feel different, even after only 15 minutes.

You can plan your walk for in the morning after breakfast, for your lunch hour, or in the evening after work. With a thick jacket, scarf, and your favourite music in your ears, a walk will clear your head and stimulate important bodily processes.

Scientists confirm that people who go for regular walks are much less likely to suffer from fever, cough, or cold symptoms. The oxygen in the fresh air protects your entire organism and allows fewer viruses and bacteria to invade your body. Being in the fresh air promotes the absorption of Vitamin D, which also strengthens the immune system.

So, wrap up warm and go out into the fresh air – whether for a walk to the park, the neighbouring woods, or a nearby lake.

4. Balanced nutrition is of the utmost important: You are what you eat

Everything you ingest affects your wellbeing and your physical fitness. Especially in the transition from autumn to winter, it is important to eat more consciously in order to strengthen your immune system and get through the cold, wet days happily.

What many people don’t know: the majority of our immune system is found in our intestines and accounts for about 80 percent of our defence reactions. It contains hundreds of millions (!) of nerve cells. This is where 90 percent of the happiness hormone serotonin is produced. This gives the concept of nutrition suddenly far more importance, don’t you think?

We have to admit, though, with all the different nutritional concepts around, it’s difficult to follow a healthy diet without getting confused.

So let’s keep it simple: make sure that you eat a seasonal and regional diet in autumn and winter. Ask yourself: what is grown locally in my city or region and what is being harvested right now? Ideal autumn vegetables and fruit are, for example:

  • mushrooms such as button mushrooms, king oyster mushrooms, chanterelles, etc.
  • cabbage
  • carrots
  • squashes
  • tomatoes
  • broccoli
  • apples
  • kiwi
  • oranges
  • pears
  • bananas

Remember: On dark days, your body will crave carbohydrates – we explained this from a biochemical point of view in the last article. To satisfy this craving, just use healthy carbohydrates such as wholegrain bread, legumes (lentils, peas, etc.), nuts and seeds, or wholewheat pasta.

If you also manage to incorporate ginger into your daily diet, you can really get to grips with bacteria, viruses, and fungi. The easiest way to do this is with fresh ginger tea – but you can also just snack on the root itself.

5. Water: the fuel you body needs in order to perform

Our bodies consist of up to 60 percent water, of which we can lose 2 to 3 litres a day. Of course, this loss needs to be compensated.

A study by the National Center for Biotechnical Information found that increasing your water intake makes you happier and more content. The participants in the study increased their water intake from one to two and a half litres per day and were not only fitter, but also much more active.

Your body also needs more fluid in autumn and winter to keep the mucous membranes in your nose, throat, and bronchial passages moist. This is the only way in which it can flush out impending infections and defend itself.

So this means: drink even more than you normally would to pull your immune system up by the bootstraps and to prevent viruses and bacteria from having a chance.

Unfortunately, “drinking more” sounds quite nice in theory, but most people have problems putting it into practice. It’s just too easy to forget your own needs in the stress of everyday life.

The following ideas will help you maintain your fluid balance in a very natural way:

  • Refill immediately. Make it a rule to always have a glass or water bottle in sight and fill it up as soon as it’s empty. You can quickly develop a kind of ritual and establish a corresponding routine in this way. Because, did you know: by the time you feel thirsty, it’s probably already too late as your body is already dehydrated. Ideally we should drink on a regular basis whether we are thirst or not.

  • Make soup. On grey autumn days, there is nothing nicer than pumpkin or vegetable soup. Soups not only keep you warm, but also provide valuable vitamins, minerals, and additional fluids.

  • Herbal tea instead of coffee. We know that it’s not easy to give up coffee. But how about replacing one or two cups of coffee per day with herbal tea? Your body will also be glad to get some hot lemon – especially in autumn and winter.

6. Retreat inwards: just build yourself a cocoon

Even if we don’t want to turn into couch potatoes in autumn and winter, there is nothing wrong with withdrawing and acting like a hedgehog, squirrel, or other similar animals in this transition period.

How liberating it can be to simply leave your social obligations behind and finally deal with things that you neglected in the summer. Whether it’s finally reading a book, listening to a podcast, watching your favourite film again, or just lazing around.

You can indulge in all of this, after all, it is a time of retreat. So make yourself some warm cocoa, put on your favourite sweater, pick up a magazine, and light a few candles.

Of course, especially in quiet moments, unpleasant feelings can come to the surface which we typically ignore when things are particularly hectic around us.

But that is exactly what this transition period tries to whisper in your ear: Let the unpleasant feelings come to the surface and make a conscious decision to feel them. Because they too simply want to be acknowledged and thus set free.

Only by doing this can you recharge your batteries with the necessary power of transformation for an exciting spring.

So, what will you be doing on dark days from now on?

We hope that these tips have inspired you to enjoy this time of transition with all its rough edges.

It is really surprising to see how much joy even dark and wet days can bring us if we use them to consciously look within and listen to our needs.

If we manage to support our body and mind in the best possible way during this time, we can shine in spring with all our strength and blossom together with nature.

We wish you a wonderful time with yourself,
Your Humanoo-Team

Written by Karina Schönberger

Originally published on 24. November 2020

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