The last few years haven’t been a walk in the park for any of us. As we juggle an ongoing pandemic, supply-chain interruptions, inflation, political unrest, and eco-anxiety, to name a few major concerns of our time, stress feels like the norm, not the exception. On top of all that, we in the Northern Hemisphere are smack dab in the doldrums of winter, with most of us facing cold temperatures and shorter, darker days. These changes cause many of us to crave a hibernation-like state—or, in more serious cases, trigger bouts of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). It can feel like our quality of life is in a downward spiral.
While it’s tempting to want to crawl under the covers and set the alarm for springtime, chances are, you don’t have that luxury—so it’s up to you to push back against those winter blues by taking some basic health-promoting steps this season. What are you doing right now to help yourself feel better and improve your life? If you’re coming up blank, don’t worry. I’ve rounded up a few simple suggestions to keep your mental and physical health in tip-top shape at this often difficult time of year.Vitamin D3 promotes a sunnier mood and improved emotional balance, which is especially important in the sunlight-starved winter months. Click To Tweet
Studies Link Stress Levels with the Pandemic
Even without the colder months closing in, stress is at an all-time high thanks to the continuing aftershocks of COVID-19, and no age group seems to be immune. One recent study, which examined the pandemic’s effects on young people’s brains, drew the conclusion that those adolescents studied after shutdowns “had more severe internalizing mental health problems, reduced cortical thickness, larger hippocampal and amygdala volume, and more advanced brain age” than those studied pre-pandemic.
Meanwhile, among adults, associations between COVID-19 and stress, anxiety, and depression work the other way around, too. Another study among nearly 55,000 participants found that those who reported mental health disruptions like depression, anxiety, perceived stress, loneliness, and worry about COVID-19 resulted in a 1.3- to 1.5 greater risk of experiencing long COVID symptoms, as well as a greater likelihood of daily life impairment related to those symptoms. Participants with high levels of 2 or more of these types of distress were at nearly 50% greater risk of having long COVID symptoms, versus those who did not report high levels of distress.
Make Your Physical and Mental Health a Priority
With so many challenges, unknowns, and potential risks out there today, we should all be doing everything we can do to keep our mental and physical health a priority, this winter and year-round. Here are some simple questions you can ask—and some helpful suggestions—to get you started:
1. What supplements should you be taking? It’s always a good idea to stock up on immunity strengthening supplements, but cold and flu season is prime time. For example, Smart Mushrooms provides a cognitive and immunity boost with 6 superfood ‘shrooms—lion’s mane, turkey tail, Cordiceps, reishi, shiitake, and Agaricus—and can be quickly added to your morning smoothie or breakfast.
Another important supplement is vitamin D3. This vitamin promotes a sunnier mood and improved emotional balance, which is especially important in the sunlight-starved winter months. Or, you can try BrainMD’s Total Immune Health Bundle, which includes 4 powerful immunity-boosting health supplements (Neuro Zinc, NeuroVite Plus Multivitamin, Neuro-C Liposomal Vitamin C, and Vitamin D3 5000) to support your body’s natural defenses.
2. What foods should you be eating? The colder seasons of autumn and winter bring us a bounty of in-season produce, and there is no shortage of delicious, hearty, stress-reducing, immunity-boosting options to get your nutrients in a rainbow of colors. Whipping up a warming soup is always a great way to toss a bunch of veggies into one pot and enjoy their many health benefits, or try roasting them in the oven to create comfort food that’s still nutrient-rich.
Beets, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, collard greens, kale, parsnips, turnips, squash, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, and Swiss chard are all on the USDA’s winter produce list—not to mention fruits like apples, pears, and bananas. You can also add mushrooms, fresh or dried, to your dishes for an extra boost of vitamin D and depth of flavor.
3. How much sleep should you be getting? It can be tempting to sleep more and more as an avoidance strategy when faced with cold mornings or dreadful winter weather. Or, conversely, some people don’t sleep enough at this time of year as they struggle with insomnia or burn the candle at both ends while celebrating the holiday season.
But keep in mind that you should be getting at least 7 hours of restful sleep every night. A lack of sleep can have many damaging effects—from encouraging poorer food choices throughout the day to increasing risk for chronic conditions like diabetes and mental health issues like depression. If you need a structured program to keep you on track this season, consider taking my two-week sleep hygiene challenge. And remember that diet can impact sleep, too—so, as always, choose your foods wisely!
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