As we continue to move through fall and into winter, you might find yourself struggling- mentally and physically.
We’re dealing with….
Changes in weather.
Difficulties that come with the holiday season.
These can all impact our mood, stress levels, ability to cope with everyday situations, and even our sleep and diet.
I like to think of our mental wellness as made up of three major parts: physical, thoughts, and life.
When we’re talking about the ‘physical,’ I’m referring to things like movement, exercise, sleep, and a healthy diet.
For ‘thoughts,’ this includes the knowledge, beliefs, values, perceptions, self-esteem, confidence, etc., that we have for ourselves and the world around us.
And ‘life’ comprises our environment- our family, friends, relationships, work, everyday stressors, etc.
When we neglect one of these components, it is impossible to achieve wellness in other aspects of our lives. The truth is, there’s a triangular relationship between the physical, thoughts, and life; when one area suffers, the rest also suffer.
So, with these three components in mind, today we’re talking about how to nourish your body and mind so you can cope this season and achieve optimal mental wellness- especially if you struggle with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), depression, or low/compromised immunity.
I want to start by acknowledging that if fall and winter are tough on you and your mood- you are not alone.
In fact, two to three percent of Canadians will experience SAD in their lifetime, while depression affects one in eight Canadians at some point in their lives.
Overall, the increase in depression and SAD in the fall and winter months is thought to be due to a lack of sun/vitamin D exposure, shorter days, and isolation due to weather. Different populations are more susceptible to SAD. For example, for individuals with darker skin, this is because of the higher amount of melanin (the substance in your body responsible for pigmentation of skin, hair, etc.) in the body which impacts the reaction to activate vitamin D.
Some strategies to combat depression, SAD, and low mood can include:
I have a SAD lamp/lightbox on my desk at work; I have it on for about 20 minutes every day, especially since my workspace has no windows. I’ve found this works wonders not only on my mood when I’m at work but how I feel when I leave work at the end of the day, which affects how I behave when I get home! In general, I also feel less stressed when taking care of myself, including incorporating wellness practices (like getting more light exposure!) into my work and home lives.
Stress, in general, is a natural response to challenging situations; it is essentially unavoidable. However, there are different types of stress, some of which are more severe than others. First, let’s talk about the difference between regular stress and traumatic stress.
Regular stress is a normal reaction to positive and negative situations, like getting a new job or writing an exam.
Traumatic stress is a normal reaction to an abnormal event, such as a violent act or serious injury; while symptoms of traumatic stress usually get better over time, some individuals experience intense symptoms and prolonged stress, which can lead to the development of stress-related illnesses like PTSD- post-traumatic stress disorder.
Prolonged exposure to stress can negatively affect your physical and mental health. Psychological impacts of prolonged stress can include anxiety, irritability, fatigue, insomnia, etc. The physical manifestations of prolonged stress include high blood pressure, headaches, an upset stomach, and even reduced immunity!
Your immune system protects your body from foreign invaders like bacteria and infection. It also responds to signals from other systems in your body, like your nervous system. For example, when you’re stressed or have experienced trauma, this signals a fight, flight, or freeze response in your brain, impacting your immune system function.
Evidence-based research indicates a link between various stressors and lowered immunity. Acute stressors (i.e., writing an exam or public speaking), chronic stressors (i.e., having to drive through traffic every day), and distant/historical stressors (i.e.witnessing something traumatic as a child) can all take a toll on our body’s natural immune response, leaving you susceptible to illness, feeling fatigued and potentially experiencing lower moods as a result.
Again, as you can see, your immunity is connected to other aspects of your life, like sleep quality, food, and stress levels!
This week, I call on you to be kind to your body and mind. Your body is your physical vessel for wellness. Your mind is your psychological vessel for wellness. And, when you neglect either of these pieces of yourself, it can negatively impact your mood, stress levels, and immunity because these are all CONNECTED!
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Journaling has been a big part of my life since my teens. It started very intuitively. This was the 90’s! Pre-google, pre-poetry sites, pre-access to anything online. I had no idea people did this to heal. And so I followed this natural inclination to heal before I had access to therapy or even knew fully what therapy was. This helped me sustain myself from the inside out.