Winter survival: 6 steps to care for your mood and immune system

Love it or hate it, winter in Minnesota presents a unique set of challenges in keeping a positive, balanced mood and robust immune system. Spending more time indoors with other people puts us at increased exposure to infectious illnesses, and less sunlight and time outdoors can lead to decreased energy, motivation and feelings of happiness. Keep yourself protected by following these 6 steps, and help yourself feel better about managing the next few months.

 

  1. Prioritize sleep. We need regular periods of rest to allow cortisol levels to return to baseline, regulate growth hormone levels, and decrease inflammation (which is necessary for both mood and immune function). Turn off the screens at least 1 hour prior to bedtime, snuggle up with a warm cup of golden milk or linden tea, or take a hot Epsom salt bath to prepare your body for sleep.

  2. Exercise – this is possibly the most difficult thing to do over the winter. If you’re not an outdoor activity enthusiast and haven’t already joined a community center or gym, I highly encourage it, as it helps provide an environment for you to get into your body and work up a sweat. 30 minutes of exercise each day supports regulation of dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin, which support focus and feelings of wellbeing. Some of my favorite activities include: walking on a treadmill for 30-45 minutes, doing strength training with a personal trainer, pilates sessions and swimming.

  3. Sauna – Whether you do dry or infrared, consider this an essential activity during the winter months. It’s great support for detoxification, and confers a host of other health benefits. Some gyms have saunas that provide a more community feel, while other centers provide infrared saunas for personal use. For more info about sauna, see my post here.

  4. Use food as medicine – while this is a no-brainer, the winter months come with the holidays and a constant barrage of opportunities to eat “treats.” While I’m a fan of a balanced approach to food, it’s also important to remember that our bodies have a limited capacity for things that aren’t considered actual food (overly processed foods). Look for warming recipes that provide a balance of flavors, and make sure you are consuming ample amounts of healthy, clean sources of proteins and fats – these provide essential amino acids and fatty acids that are needed for balanced blood sugar  and neurotransmitter production.    

  5. Check your D – Vitamin D (25-OH), that is. I am surprised at how few people have had this checked prior to winter, and continue through the winter unsure of if and how much they should be taking. My rule of thumb: get your D levels checked in the Fall (between Oct-Dec) and talk to your provider about proper dosing. I generally prefer levels stay between 50-80. If levels are low and require supplementation, I recommend taking a D3 formula that includes other fat-soluble co-factors like Vitamins K2, E and A to support absorption.

  6. Stay connected – join a class or group activity. For those who tend toward introversion, this can be a difficult yet essential component to balanced mood and increased motivation.  Consider committing to a group or individual movement-based class via Parks and Rec, Four Gates, Kingfield Pilates or the YMCA/YWCA. If you prefer a more meditative experience, consider group acupuncture or the mind-body series at Mill City Clinic (starts Feb 6th).

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

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