It’s that time of year again: the days are shorter and colder in the north, the snow has arrived, and for many it’s a season full of the winter blues or SAD (‘seasonal affective disorder’). This is the body’s natural response to the seasons that tends to show up more strongly in January and February each year especially in the northern hemisphere, and you may feel fatigue, anxiousness, a sad emptiness, loss of interest in activities, sleeping more hours than usual, difficulty concentrating, and craving more sugars, sending you into a chaotic downward spiral (I’ve been there and still experience it from time to time).
Luckily there ARE factors within your reach that can help you thrive if you choose to be open to receive them. At its core, SAD is a natural response to a circadian rhythm disruption with a lack of light exposure and quality sunlight one of the main causes. Some may find it easier to live with than others, and there is never just one cause or quick-fix to suffering, but all I can say is to carve your own path and find what benefits you, and do what you can with what you’ve got. In doing so, you give yourself the best chance to feel more centered.
It’s not worth your time or mental energy to be worrying about seemingly immutable limitations such as genes, past experiences or birthplace; it’s over, it’s out of your control. Whether it’s a seasonal or year-long pattern, before assuming that you are inherently broken and deciding that nothing is changeable, I invite you to take a step back, examine your life, and address the many factors including those stemming from root causes that lie within the scope of your control. Your emotions and responses to the world are natural, your body wants to reach equilibrium, it wants to thrive, but you have to be willing to take care of yourself to some extent if you want to experience any changes.
If we can define it, today’s medical system (while becoming more complex with doctors encouraging more effective holistic and integrative practices each day) leaves us to place on a band-aid and suppress symptoms, which, in my humble opinion, is far less effective than also addressing the reasons that we feel the way we do and resolving root causes through lifestyle changes before more problems build up. It does have its advantages, but I feel that suppressing things never truly makes them “go away”; energy must be transmuted in one way or another.
The body contains natural forces within us that help us heal if we just give it the right opportunities. The mind-body is infinitely complex and intimately connected with the surrounding environment, you really can’t address one without implication of the other at any given time (nothing exists separately). Changes to the body (food, exercise, sleep, stress) will influence changes to the mind and vice versa (through mindset, a sense of purpose, nature/human connection, and power of forgiveness). I have personally experienced varying levels of SAD during winters, but after implementing more and more lifestyle changes into my regime, I’ve slowly noticed a difference in how I thrive in the present moment.
With modern challenges, it’s impossible to really define “health” and there is no inherently right or wrong way to go about it. What I do know is that early in my ongoing healing work in progress, I was so malnourished that I struggled to focus and write a single paragraph for a school essay. I was also sluggish and experienced moodiness, brain fog and hypoglycemic episodes, and once nearly fainted in the grocery store. I had so little energy to exert that I struggled to accomplish even a single task each day that wasn’t on autopilot from throughout the school day (it was truly a wonder that I mostly ended up as an “A” student despite all of this). The effects of rebuilding myself up over time have been subtle but incredibly powerful, and I continue to do this day to day.
Fortunately this is a time of many shifts where more of us are becoming open to various possibilities and tools we need to discover and inspire our balance, innate resilience, and connection to all. No healing process is linear, but you must start somewhere, no matter where it is. Everything is happening for you. At the end of the day, no one is coming to save you, you must save yourself. Don’t be afraid to reach out for the help you need, and do the research to decide for yourself what works for you. There is always someone out there who can help, especially with the Internet at your fingertips. Action is the only way your suffering will be absolved, and the good news is, using energy naturally creates an upward spiral of more energy, and you might even find that feeling good is truly a natural high.
I am not an ‘expert’ and I am not offering medical advice, simply sharing remedies based on my own experience that I have researched over the years, and found to be beneficial. They can be seen as a stepping stone to get you closer to where you want to go. We are all unique so not every remedy will work the same for everyone, nor be suitable for everyone. Please consider the weather, how you feel emotionally, and allow as much time as you need for rest and restoration during any remedy. Honour the path you are on, you CAN gradually and patiently build yourself back up. Drop the ego and see beyond the victimhood of illness and pathologies. You are more than capable of connecting with your innermost core that provides ALL of the answers.
Why not try using sunlight, diet, mindset, movement, gut health, and more to help support our bodies’ natural healing substances? Here are just a few proven beneficial things you can be doing (in no particular order) to support your mental well being if you are experiencing seasonal or even chronic depression, and even chronic stress and mass anxiety which are ubiquitous these days as well. These are invaluable pieces of the puzzle to take note of when it comes to the art of cultivating radiant health. Never settle especially when it comes to your health and your very life as you know it. There is power in pain as a gateway to growth. It is never too late to actively take charge of your well-being, healing IS possible.
I suggest considering all factors mentioned for a well rounded approach to healing, but don’t hesitate to keep it simple, find a balance that works for you, and perhaps most importantly, have fun with it! And don’t worry if you slip up: the stress of worrying about it will have worse impact on your health than the actual slip up itself. You live and you learn. Constantly check in with yourself to see how lifestyle shifts are working for you. Cultivate a general framework while giving yourself flexibility and ease to just tune in and listen to what your body is really asking for.
1. Sleep quality
Winter is a time to embrace the inner hibernating bear within us. Without a doubt, sleep is the #1 non-negotiable to tackle when it comes to getting yourself out of a rut and for overall well being. Sleep is when your cells repair themselves! Blue light after dark and a high EMF environment in your sleeping area are the 2 biggest culprits disrupting your melatonin production and high quality sleep translating to an improved sense of mental well being.
- Limit your use of screens especially 2 hours before bedtime and use blue light blocker glasses after sunset. Click here or here for blue light blockers without prescriptions. Click here or here for oversized blue light blockers that can be worn over prescription or reading glasses (I personally use these).
- Remove wifi, routers, technological devices, and cell phones from your bedroom or sleeping area. You room is a sanctuary that should be free of toxins such as EMFs and excessive artificial light. Personally, I keep my phone on airplane mode across the room from my bed and whenever I’m not using it. Try to unplug the wifi every night, install a timer, or start using Ethernet (click here for a detailed guide to learn how to install it). Mention the quality of sleep you could get from the benefits of turning off wifi to your neighbours, ask if they could install a timer, or give one to them as a gift. Try to keep electronics outside of your room or unplug every single one of them in the room before bed. Also, if you have one, keep the TV completely out of your room. I recently started unplugging the power bar and every single outlet in my room each night and my dreams have been incredibly VIVID, a sign of deep and high quality sleep. You can also try using non-toxic beeswax candles or a salt rock lamp (with gentle light) as your evening light source.
- Try waking up around sunrise and sleeping at dusk. Easier said than done for me personally, but this will help you reconnect with your circadian rhythm and allow for deeper, high quality sleep.
- Apply transdermal or oral magnesium chloride on the back of your neck and/or over your organs or on your back for deeper, restorative sleep, reduction of inflammation, and an overall relaxed life. Vitamin D production is a process that is dependent on magnesium, both of which are used by all the organs in the body. This can be done before bed or any time of day. Watch as the headaches and stress dissolve. Benefits include a high source of magnesium (depleted in most modern diets), muscle recovery from DOMS or injury, increases testosterone, supports muscle growth, and improves sleep quality, aka cellular healing across the board. Try to reduce stress or use it to your advantage, as stress depletes magnesium, making you more susceptible to stress in a vicious cycle. Click here for magnesium flakes to make your own topical spray with filtered water, or click here for transdermal (topical gel) magnesium. I personally switch between the two and even drink magnesium chloride in filtered or spring water at times, depending on what my body feels drawn to. I also really like the edible mag chloride flakes (nigari) from OM foods – simply stir to dissolve into drinks or teas.
- Daily sunlight exposure sets circadian rhythm and offers an ideal, full spectrum, FREE source of vitamin D, and the deep restorative sleep that results enables proper glymphatic system function. This goes for people of all ages. In fact, older people who practice sleep patterns like those of younger people tend to be in better physical and cognitive well being than those with disrupted sleep. (source) Try exposing eyes and back of your neck to morning sunlight from 8-10 am, then later in the day at any time, particularly during sunset for the benefits of the red light (from sunrise or sunset) on your mitochondria. Conventional sunscreen contains toxic chemicals and is actually not necessary if you avoid consuming processed food, toxic substances, and industrial seed oils either by ingestion or through the skin. When it comes to sun exposure, go with whatever feels right for your situation and work your way up carefully—your body needs it—you can also use a zinc based sunscreen like this one from Living Libations that won’t get absorbed into your bloodstream (it’s amazing). When sleeping, ensure a pitch black room with zero artificial lighting, and install solid black curtains over windows if needed. Vitamin D and magnesium (you could also say ‘sun’ and ‘sea’) are some of the most studied topics in medicine with enormous implications for human health. The majority of people today are actually deficient in both vitamin D and magnesium but this continues to go unrecognized by many healthcare professionals.
We also generally need more sleep in winter. Try going to bed 1-2 hours earlier, 7 days a week. Consistency is key, and ideally you would sleep in as long as you would in order to wake up as you would naturally. Most people go to work and leave when it’s still dark out, and that’s another major cause of seasonal depression. Only 12% of Americans are metabolically healthy and this can be reversed through proper practices and lifestyle hacks. Proper sleep is an absolute cornerstone when it comes to rebalancing your life. Use it!
2. Eat to nourish
“Food is the chief of all things, the universal medicine… Food transmutes directly into body, mind, and spirit… creates our day-to-day health and happiness.”—Mishio Kushi
Take it from me: food and nutrition play a PROFOUNDLY important role in overall well-being, especially when dealing with deleterious ailments brought on by the patterns of this day and age. Plant and animal based whole foods, oils, spices, herbs, and healthy fats are full of nature’s codes that tells your cells to function, your brain to process information, and nourishes your organs, protecting you from inflammation and stress (including seasonal and chronic depression). There is a LOT of information on food out there, but if you just stick to real food, you’re doing well. Choose your favourites to nourish yourself out of a place of love, and get to experience firsthand how they make you feel and function.
To dive deeper into the many intricacies of the gut-brain axis and food-mood connection, you can check out Dr. Uma Naidoo‘s book, This Is Your Brain On Food, and Brain Maker: The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect Your Brain by Dr. David Perlmutter. No matter how much you read though, your body has the inherent capacity to self-heal and build itself back up, so long as you remove the deleterious factors and give your vessel the foundational building blocks to repair. I am living proof of this ongoing process, and in fact, I intend on embodying even more vibrant health as I age.
Neuroprotection and organ support is never going to be through one chemical or one modality. Ongoing recovery must be approached holistically, as that is how we got into this mess in the first place. (Historically, Eastern cultures have largely sustained this all-around approach for millennia while the West has more or less neglected it.) Recovery is possible for most anyone ready for it, I know this in my heart.
It’s only one of the many factors, but it’s a big one: what you eat directly affects the way you feel. Remember that the food you eat provides your body with the raw materials it needs to make cell and nerve linings, neurotransmitters, enzymes, fuel, and more. Therefore, what you eat plays a significant role in improving brain function. A poor diet holds you back on all levels, but seeking out individualized, non-industrial nutrition gives your brain and nervous system exactly what they need to thrive. Invest in your nutrition and watch your overall health and mood transform.
When it comes to thriving, I recommend most anyone to clean up their diet as much as possible and try to eliminate habitual eating patterns and food addictions. Honestly, if I can do it, you probably can, too. Don’t worry about counting calories or macros as they are just a construct that can easily lead to a toxic relationship with food. Just consider that many ingredients in processed foods do not mesh well with the body and do cause harm, artificial sweeteners and colourings can disrupt the nervous system and cause neurological issues and unnecessary suffering.
Today I’ve made it to this place of thriving as I began to naturally crave organic, whole foods the more I’ve studied them over the past decade. Diet culture sucks, but there is a delineation between food-like products and actual, nourishing, satiating food that helps you feel energized and alive. Why not experiment and see what works best for you? Step out of your comfort zone! Challenge yourself to try something new, and don’t feel pressured by society or social media to eat certain things or live certain limiting lifestyles. Remember that no one has power over you. Even the “healthiest” foods that most people tolerate might not be for you, so trust your intuition. Gut feelings are every cell in your body making a decision, and the more you align with your Self, the more potent this intuition becomes. If you ever feel digestive issues, headaches, hypersensitivity, emotional addiction, irritability, mood swings, reactivity, rumination, or low energy, try different foods and take notice of how you feel, and finally get to know what it feels like to be truly alive. Many people like to try elimination protocols for this purpose. Read more about it here.
- HEAL your glorious gut microbiome and you will feel the difference, it is one of the most vital factors in physical and mental well being. Poor gut health has been linked to migraines, anxiety, allergies, depression, mood swings, gut dysbiosis, and autoimmune conditions. Almost 90% of the serotonin (neurotransmitters involved in mood regulation) in your body is produced in the gut and its environment directly affects both physical and mental health. Probiotic foods and drinks and the enzymes contained within them are absolutely VITAL to your digestion, liver function, and neurotransmitter boosts, to name a few. Without the bacteria and enzymes that are needed to break down your food, stress is put on the liver, creating a downward spiral of gut dysfunction and further issues down the road if not managed at the root with active intervention (and that’s where your power comes in).
- Gut healing, fermented, ancestral foods. Personally I don’t resonate with probiotic supplement pills, but if you must, I’d opt for spore based probiotics. Foods are the most potent and multidimensional. Organic grass fed and finished, pasture raised bone broth, grass fed kefir, beet kvass, organic miso, sauerkraut, kimchi… all fair game as far as probiotics and gut healing foods go, and most of these can easily be made at home. Also, try to consume probiotics with raw prebiotics such as onion, garlic (like in a tahini, guacamole, or in salads), leek, Jerusalem artichoke, or soaked chia and/or flax seeds in grass fed kefir in a homemade smoothie, or on Buddha bowls or any regular meal you make. Once you begin to repair the gut microbiome and its permeability, inflammatory and allergic reactions will likely become less and less of an issue. Try it and see for yourself! Don’t fret if you make a mistake or if you ever need to take antibiotics or accidentally drink unfiltered tap water (chlorine obliterates beneficial bacteria), just return to your regular gut healing habits and your body will sort itself out. There is a reason these foods are so popular nowadays from the increasing amounts of research on them, and I’m also speaking from my own experience with them.
- Eliminate toxic, inflammatory foods if you are serious about caring for your physical and mental health. This includes industrial seed and vegetable oils (omega-6 PUFA bombs and rancid oils), all processed foods, additives, all refined sugars and sucrose, pesticide soaked unsprouted, unfermented and unactivated grains including gluten/bread, legumes/beans and nuts. Most flour, wheat, pasta and breads are fortified with toxic iron fillings in the North American, UK and Australian food supply. These fillings accumulate in your liver and other organs, preventing optimal detox function. Other kind of obvious ones to avoid include conventional dairy, corn, soy, alcohol, smoking, low quality commercial animal foods, and caffeine. Some people do thrive on some of these and that’s their call (I certainly used to think that I thrived with sugars, and I still have swiss water process decaf organic coffee on occasion). Chances are that you don’t though, and I trust that you’re doing all that you can if you’re reading this. All of these contribute to unnecessary low levels of underlying chronic inflammation within the body.
- Go certified organic when possible, but ESPECIALLY when it comes to animal foods – pasture raised, grass fed, AND grass finished. Cultivate respect for your food’s life cycle. If an animal or plant was tortured during its upbringing, this energy will make its way to you. To eat such food is to devour fear, and to place any accumulated stress hormones or illness into your own body. Eating such food promotes a life of fear and more industrial inhumane practices.
- Always check ingredients and opt for organic, free range, locally sourced, and seasonal. The farmers’ market is a good place to start (I basically live at mine), or even the organic section of your local supermarket. Try even gradually introducing a few nourishing, home cooked organic meals per week. Reward yourself! Building yourself back up is easier if you first set the foundation with nourishing foods if you want to thrive. Seasonal foods are fresh and bursting with life, and this means you become supported by the life force that resides within them, and your body reacts appropriately in combination with external factors such as the temperature, weather, etc. Local foods are thousands of times more potent due to shared microclimate and environmental stressors. The globalization of food created abundance, but completely broke the circadian rhythm aspect. Eating out of season, long distance and different terrain creates an environmental mismatch between our gut enzymes, gut microbiome, soil, and solar information, adversely impacting digestion. This is probably just as, if not more important than what you choose to eat.
- But seriously, try to avoid refined sugars and sucrose first and foremost, if you can. If there is ONE health hack I’ll preach about, it’s to avoid refined sugars. Read labels, stay informed. The food industry sneaks this stuff into everything. Sucrose is caustic to the body and directly feeds bad bacteria in your gut, thereby cancelling out the proven benefits of probiotics in the first place. Natural sweeteners like maple syrup, dates and raw local honey are often a great substitute as your body will likely know how to process them without imbalances, and they’re also not addictive in my experience. I know firsthand from years of experience how addicting refined sugars inherently are, but as I introduced more whole foods over time I began to crave them more, gained insane levels of energy I didn’t know was possible, and even the mere thought of refined sugars disgusts me now. My favourite sweeteners are dates, maple syrup, raw local honey, and monk fruit.
- Sunlight and food should preferably be the only sources of vitamin D compared to supplements. A UV-B lamp like Sperti, food sources like cod liver, pasture raised eggs, and wild caught seafood are all great contenders. Resolve magnesium deficiency as well, the majority of people are depleted and magnesium is a co-factor in vitamin D production (and countless other processes in the body). If you really think about it, we evolved from the sea. When you can’t swim in an ocean, daily multiform magnesium is your best friend. Click here for magnesium flakes to make your own spray with filtered water, or click here for transdermal (topical) magnesium (both links by companies that I personally trust). If you do anything to restore your health, it would be to spend as much time in the sunlight daily, and limit artificial/blue light as much as you can. Sunlight is nutrition in itself, light is the single biggest determinant of health and mitochondrial function. When bare skin and eyes (without sunglasses or contact lenses) are exposed to sunlight, hundreds of biological processes occur in response to UV light that can’t be boiled down to a single form pill that often does more harm than good.
- Fat and cholesterol are not to be feared. The real deleterious ingredients are caustic refined sugars, additives, pesticides, fillers, and industrial seed oils running rampant in today’s grocery stores, prepared foods, and on takeaway and restaurant menus. High quality, nutrient dense sources of animal fats/proteins properly satiates you, balances your blood sugar, and is necessary for fuelling your cells. Nourishing cooking fats include: grass fed butter, grass fed and finished tallow, lard or ghee, cold extra virgin olive oil, virgin cold-pressed coconut oil, coconut butter, avocados, activated nuts and seeds, and omega 3 fats from wild caught fish. Try to incorporate some of these with your meals whenever you feel like it and use them liberally. Properly sourced animal fats have an important role to play in physical and emotional wellness. They have been found to be protective against cancer, and provide vitamins A, D, and K that are essential for increased neurological function and emotional well-being, for example, and a lack of them is linked to poor moods, depression, and other issues. I’ve had zero issues with them and have personally experienced notably improved emotional well-being compared to 5-6 years of a whole foods, 95% organic vegan diet. In fact, when consuming healthy fats and eliminating toxic, inflammatory foods, I have seen many people across social media experience more resilience to sun exposure with less burning. I’ve also experienced this for myself! For the past century the “cholesterol is bad” myth perpetuated by the food industry has impacted cultural conditioning to the detriment of individual health. Cholesterol is very important as it is essential for all hormone production and brain/nervous system function. In fact, every single cell membrane of the body is made from it. Reintroducing proper cholesterol in the form of pasture raised eggs after whole food, properly soaked, sprouted, fermented veganism actually reversed my extreme hormone imbalances and probably prevented further complications down the road. Long story short: listen to your own body.
- Nourish yourself out of a place of love. Undo the conditioning driving you to count, calculate, measure, and overthink it all. Nourishment can even be a highly spiritual experience, and respectfully eating animals and plants has been the best way to do this for millennia. Try meditating or praying over any animal or plant you consume, and appreciate the lives that feed your own. I personally believe a practice of gratitude may even help increase nutrient absorption, as you get into the parasympathetic state that supports optimal digestion.
- Pandemic tip: In many places around Canada (Turtle Island) and the world, you can get contactless local farmers’/CSA deliveries to your door or at pick-up points within your city, even during this time! Be sure to research on an Internet search engine “CSAs near me”, “farmers’ market delivery”, “organic food delivery service”, or farmers near you to be sure you’re getting the right nutrients right now, while simultaneously supporting small farmers and local growers, and reducing the burden and lowering the risk for some workers. If you’re armed with a garden already, *high five*. My local favourites right now are Wild Meadows Farm and Mama Earth Organics. Use code ROOTTOSKY15 for $15 off your first order at wildmeadowsfarm.ca.
- Other foods that benefit your noggin include: organic activated cashews and walnuts, pasture raised eggs, tonic herbs and other herbal medicines, grass fed and finished meats including organ meats, sweet potato, berries, avocados, and leafy greens.
Pretty much everything popularized in modern society drives inflammation on some level, and it can be a difficult force to grapple with. However, the more informed you are, the more you can make decisions for yourself from the most empowered place possible.
Cooked, warming foods are perfect during the colder seasons and can help to add a cozy feeling to your experience. Warming spices can be soothing and restorative, if you’re into them. Try cooking with high smoke point coconut oil, grass fed butter or ghee, and/or grass fed and finished tallow or lard (these all support the brain… my own brain loves them).
Add a daily food source of live biotics, I like to have a couple huge jars of beet turmeric sauerkraut (what I like to call ‘superkraut’), kimchi and grass fed water buffalo kefir on rotation in the refrigerator to use as a condiment at each meal. Try going local and organic/biodynamic when possible, shop at the local farmers’ market if you can access it. Plant an easy vegetable like kale, lettuce, or herbs in a pot on your balcony or in your local community garden.
High quality pasture raised, grass fed/finished meats and quality animal fats along with simple, whole food plant based dishes have personally helped my mental (and whole body) health immensely. Anxiety, hypersensitivity and rumination: gone for the most part.
If you can spend $50 on alcoholic drinks in one weekend, you can surely spend $10 on a pasture raised grass fed steak, no? You’ll know you’re on the right track when you no longer experience food comas, brain fog, or post-meal sluggishness, all of which are signs of inflammation. Seriously, anything helps—and keep in mind that it doesn’t have to be perfect!
3. Limit media consumption
It is useful to stay informed to make wise decisions as you see fit, but I’ve reached a place in my journey where I’ve decided that most media including social media is straight up poison that causes stress and fear induction, so I’ve become very mindful and discerning about consumption, programming, and information biases. These days, the majority of people seem to be constantly looking down at their phones, mainlined vapid entertainment and distractions 24/7 with people on the other end constantly wanting your money and attention. Not only that, but social media can be exhausting and addicting in itself and it’s easy to go overboard with it. The pernicious thing about media consumption/immersion is that it drains your time while you might not even notice you’ve lost something. In an oversaturated digital world, it’s easy to lose yourself and your connection to your own intuition, ability to create what you want, and the ability to allow your mind to process in the here and now. The information age has ultimately taught me to connect further with my intuition in the here and now.
- Observe your impulses and tendencies, and use your devices wisely
- no phone for 1 hour upon waking
- no phone while hiking, enjoying the outdoors, or working out (unless to take a picture)
- no electronics/computer/games/TV 1.5 hours before bed, unplug all before sleeping if you can’t move them out of your room
- leave phone in the car when out with friends
- put phone away when studying or working
Social media is a useful tool for me, especially when approached mindfully. Even when people have started to share more raw and honest aspects of themselves, it’s still easy to go down a path towards comparison and feeling inadequate. My advice would be to occasionally take a step back and observe yourself, be mindful to the various ways social media is shaping you as you use it. It’s really kind of absurd that others can perceive a captured version of you through the internet when we’re infinite beings who wear infinite masks, we are ebbs and flows, yin and yang.
Start to approach what you consume out of a place of discernment. Are the accounts you follow truly serving your highest good? Where can you start to set healthy boundaries (ever changing and impermanent)? Are there some people you are able to help more than others? Where do you feel that your time is being drained and what are some other things you can do in which you can find a higher sense of outcome satisfaction? Keep in mind that social media is actively designed to be addicting so it’s a good idea to fight the impulses. Read more about it here and here. Honour your Self, and trust that whoever needs help out in the world will receive it, at their own pace, in divine timing.
4. Connect with nature (yourself)
This one has been huge for me, personally. Diet and exercise may be pillars of rebuilding health, but environment also plays just as large of a role. Mother Nature is our primordial healing environment and has been for 10,000+ years. Many people these days seem to underestimate the sheer life giving benefits of ostensibly simple things like fresh air circulation or sunlight. Tune in, take notice of the magic. I genuinely believe everything that you need to heal yourself and revitalize your life can be found through nature. Even in the smallest ways… fresh airflow through open windows, cooking with organic whole plant and ethically raised animal foods, beeswax candles that help detoxify indoor air, pictures of nature scenes, simmering a potpourri with fresh foraged pine and spices, forest walks, hugging a tree, bare feet on pesticide-free grass in the summer, growing a vegetable, having lunch outside under sunlight… all of it plays a role in clearing out stagnant energy and facilitating new flows. You cannot heal in the same environment that made you sick.
Take a good, honest look at your habits and priorities, are you sitting like most people, sedentary in a drywall box indoors under artificial lighting day in and day out, blasted with wireless EMFs and stagnant indoor air pollution, eating processed industrial food while watching blue light from screens for hours past sunset, spending your money on useless junk? (Been there.)
Cultivate positivity in a negative environment and try visualizing the negativity as an opportunity for you to cultivate your resilience. You do need a problem in order to grow, after all. You’re in the driver’s seat, take a good look and notice the absolute gifts given to you today. Filtered water, delicious food, a funny meme, sunlight, coffee or tea, cats, tears, laughter, silence, equanimity, stretching, forgiveness, sunsets, freshly falling snow, the glow of sunlight on the snow. The earth is a magical realm. Breathe it all in and send all that gratitude back out into the world. Forgive yourself, forgive others, we’re all doing the best we can with what we have at the time in a process of becoming. Others’ self-limiting beliefs and opinions don’t matter, they’re outside of your control and at the end of the day, it’s only a reflection of them. Release the thoughts that do not serve you or those around you in a helpful way, and come out on the other side stronger and more resilient than you were before.
I’m not saying you need to completely abandon your urbanized lifestyle to go live in the woods (although that would be amazing IMO)—but that taking breaks every so often to breathe in fresh air, get some sunlight and really feel its energy, and grounding barefoot on the earth’s surface can have some profound healing effects. Be patient with yourself, you are worthy and you DESERVE to feel great because you are alive. When you are present with nature, you are simply being, you release all of your mental stories, criticisms and conditioning, and you return to your natural state of vibrant health.
Winter tips for connecting with nature:
- Keep your window slightly open throughout the day to get the fresh air flowing through the rooms, wear a heavy sweater if you need to (cold thermogenesis is actually proven to be very beneficial for the body, and if you eat and sleep well enough, your risk of catching illness is lower—you might even be inspired to work your way up to a full ice bath, Wim Hof style).
- Forest bathing, aka the traditional Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku, even in winter, has been proven to treat depression. Even a forest walk (ideally barefoot) can do the trick. The proof is in the experience itself.
- Spend the day outside, go for a solo winter hike, take photos, go skating, skiing or snowshoeing. Feel the subtle oneness with all nature through the senses, see the tiniest rustle of stray leaves on the branches and the beams of light shining on the snow. Feel the infinite flowing of the cold streams, rivers and lakes. Hear the sound of crunching as you walk through the snow and the birds guiding your way. Smell the cool, crisp air of the forest. Take a stainless steel thermos with you, and taste fresh, organic home cooked food made with love and intention. Explore the ways in which you can be more embodied and connected.
- Each rising from 8-10 am, try to get direct sunlight exposure on the back of your neck (and in your eyes) around breaking fast to stimulate the production of thyroid hormones to provide energy for the day and to set your circadian rhythm. Yes, it is possible to eat outdoors in the snow. Some of the problems that are attributed to lack of sunlight can include a host of cognitive issues, cancers, weak bones, osteoporosis, weight gain, and muscle weakness.
- Cook or bake a delicious organic meal. I’m sure you could find a recipe somewhere on this website 🙂
- Allow yourself to rest. Rest is medicine, it allows you to let go of control, to release any clinging and the need to become someone you’re not. It helps you discover what’s right here, within you, and to connect and restore with the healing source.
- Allow yourself to move. Move that stagnant life force/chi and negativity! There are really no dead ends in life. If you can, start a simple daily practice of morning walking, yoga, qi gong, simple stretching, or whatever movement feels right for you. First thing in the morning from 8-10 am, try going for at least a 10-20 minute walk even just around the block, and expose your eyes to absorb the beneficial morning sunlight without sunglasses (I remove my prescription glasses). Endorphins are hella real, and the simple act of breathing in fresh air encourages the production of serotonin, a mood-boosting neurotransmitter. Exercise is seriously my personal anti-depressant. If you’ve ever felt that zen and “high” after a good workout, you’ll know what I mean.
- Surrender to the body’s wisdom, it will always tell you the truth. The mind/ego often suppresses and clouds emotions. Try this simple exercise to tune in: recognize something outside of you, like a candle or a tree. Then name something inside of you, like an emotion. Try to sense where in your body you feel that emotion, then put your hand there. Mindfully breathe into that part of the body. Or when it comes to choosing foods: hold the food in your hands, close your eyes and see if your body becomes naturally drawn to or repulsed by it.
- In recent years, you may have heard of hygge, one of the main lifestyle factors driving the exceptional levels of contentment and happiness of many people in Denmark, where the weather tends to be harsh and gloomy and winters dark and long, causing people to find a way to thrive and gather indoors. The hygge experience is largely about embracing simple things: atmosphere, presence, pleasure, equality, gratitude, harmony, comfort, truce, togetherness, and shelter. Think slow and rustic gatherings with friends, or curating your space with casual, modest, homemade objects that hold a personal meaning or memory to you. As someone who lives in Canada (Turtle Island), this is also known as “hominess”. Wherever you live, you can take cues from their resilience: bring nature indoors by decorating your space with natural tree branches, twigs, stumps, crystals or rocks, care for indoor air purifying plants such as a snake plant (click here for 21 different snake plant varieties you can choose from!), bake something cozy and delicious, rent a cabin, go winter camping, build a fire, watch a movie, or light up some natural organic beeswax/soy candles to create ambience, warmth, and healthy infrared light exposure (more on this below). Choose to surround yourself with others who uplift, inspire, love, and support you, if possible. Bring a sense of wonder and reverence to it. Unplug, enjoy the moment, and take time to play.
…is the real prosperity. I used to be blocked off by a chronic low sense of self-worth, even before social media existed. Existential angst is actually a beautiful thing and keeps you aware of the great mysteries of what is, but instead of wallowing in it for years, why not begin to see it for what it is and laugh at the absurdity of it all? It’s a strange and wonderful world, what a gift it is to be walking on this rock floating through infinite space, inhabiting a meat puppet in a holographic playground.
My own relationship with myself has definitely evolved over the years, and has transformed the more I dropped off behaviours rooted in self-sabotage (unhealthier approach) while implementing more behaviours rooted in self-love (healthier approach). To me it’s a process that falls on a spectrum without an end throughout this lifetime, but the more you spiral up towards self-love, I promise you that things will begin to transform, life may feel lighter and more whole, and magic will begin to happen. Today with the sea of social media and the fixation on “likes”, “followers”, perception and pressure for external validation, especially in the health sphere (which is ironically quite unhealthy), it’s easier than ever to see a reflection of false ego-driven love forever seeking the approval of somebody else. Self-love already exists deep within us, it’s nothing to learn or acquire or achieve, it’s something we can rediscover. By cultivating a relationship with yourself through which you begin to do things from a place of love and a deep appreciation for what is, an adoration for the experience of life, it grows when you let go.
- Take exercising/nutritious movement, for example. When you do it from a place of punishment and deprivation because you hate your body and you want it to be “leaner” or “muscular” it can easily spiral into a toxic relationship that is so common nowadays. On the flip side, when you do it because it genuinely makes you feel good, in total adoration of how you’re nourishing your vessel and as a gift you give to your body in celebration of how the process makes you feel, and the resulting energy and zen it gives you (truly a natural high)—that is self-love. No matter where you’re at or what your abilities are, do whatever you can to improve your life experience. Movement in nature may have a synergistic effect on mental well-being. A meta-analysis suggests that physical activity in a natural environment may bring additional positive effects on measures of well-being (if such a thing could be quantified).
- “The difference between a tonic and toxin is the dose.” (Paracelsus). Occasionally take a step back and examine your relationship with your habits. Are you taking x supplement just to “fix” something that can easily be replenished and balanced out by a quality, home cooked meal instead? Has something started off as a “healthy” or enjoyable practice, relationship or habit that has become excessive, obsessive or damaging? This is so unfortunately very common in this world. Be honest with yourself, only you truly know. Nourishment should feel wholesome. It’s about abundance and respecting the things you love.
- Know when to say no. Life is a gift. Don’t waste it on serving externally driven pressures and learn to honour your preferences. This life is a precious time for us to realize the highest expression of ourselves.
- Rest. Your body will not push you beyond your own capacity, deny yourself needed rest, or stay silent when you physically or emotionally neglect yourself by following cultural and external narratives (which our minds so often trick us into following). It will tell you your truth, and anyone at any age can practice this awareness. Try to communicate with the plants and the earth, embodying the oneness with all that is, and truly begin a life altering journey home. Play around, experiment, and discover what feels best for you, there is no “right path” in this lifetime and no need to push or force what isn’t natural. By caring for yourself, through every thought you think and emotion that passes, you create your reality, slowly but surely.
- Time alone. How have you taken advantage of the 2020-2021 lockdowns? It takes work to unpeel the layers, mental narratives and social conditioning, and return back to the centre. It is even a lifelong journey in itself. This can even be scary for many, but is required to really build a sense of self-love. As someone with introverted tendencies, retreating is easy for me, but if you’re constantly giving yourself away with social commitments, don’t underestimate the power of even a spare 5 minutes all to yourself. Notice the power of silence and space. See how much more you can hear when you listen. Savour a cup of (organic) tea, meditate, admire a tree, watch some birds, do some journalling, anoint yourself with high quality organic plant oils (my favourites) or ethically raised animal fats and non-toxic skincare. Take a magnesium bath with filtered water and organic rose petals, cook yourself an elaborate organic dinner and savour every bite. Spend time in nature alone, go on a solo forest walk. Building higher self-love paradoxically allows you to serve others more strongly and less from an alienated place (we are connected), so have patience and trust in the unfolding. If you’re into the possibility of a higher Self/gods/source/universe/whatever you want to call it residing in the cosmos looking over you in perfect timing, trust that they have the infinite wisdom of the cosmos, transmitting bits of insight to you throughout your day. It may sound pretty woowoo, but literally ask the sun for clarity or guidance. Which leads me to my next point…
- Cultivate your divine intuition. We all have it and can make use of it. Millions of neurons reside in your enteric nervous system, aka the “brain of the gut”, and they communicate with your brain via the vagus nerve. Your intuition will never fail you, even if it seems “irrational” or “illogical” at the time. So often our “logical brain” gets in the way of what we inherently feel and know from our bodily perception. The more you align with your body and listen to your gut instinct, the stronger your intuition will become and the more connected you will be with your purpose. Trust this knowledge and make your decisions based on the information you have access to at the time. They will ALWAYS be the correct decision in your situation, so why not make space for forgiving yourself and shaping your future?
- Technology detox. It can be energetically draining and exhausting to always be around people, and so can being hooked onto social media and the computer for hours on end. Delete your social apps for a week, detox from all technological devices. Read a book, paint a picture, write, draw, cook, or walk in nature.
- Trust means to surrender, accept and allow. Be open and let go of expectations or desired outcomes. Everything will work out if you follow your heart, live in the present full of compassion and loving awareness knowing that everything is unfolding perfectly. If you need to, observe your emotions and narratives (concepts of the mind) float by like clouds in the blue sky. Know that it’s ok not to be ok or even ready, and leap fearlessly into action, allowing whatever reaction you will get in response to your action.
- Experience yourself as a container of awareness noticing the thoughts and emotions pass through…
- then surrender these and let them go.
- “Truth waits for eyes unclouded by longing” —the Tao Te-Ching. There is a paradox when it comes to involvement and non-attachment. Finding that sweet space in your being that allows you to really listen to others and do less projecting onto them what YOU need as opposed to what THEY actually need. Out of action is a compassionate response towards who they are, what they need, and space in the moment for evolution as different expressions of the One.
- Purpose – occasionally come back to your intention.
- Never underestimate the power of the mind and its role in reprogramming your subconscious. Become more than what you think you are. When you get the old version of you out of your head, you no longer have to be your old self. Through the expansion of awareness, we can really move beyond the realms of the intellect and ego. Mantras are flows of energy that have been around for at least 3,000 years and can actually help you shape your reality through the vibrations that become a reality in our beings and within our experience. Limiting beliefs such as “I can’t” create doubt within yourself and allow limitation to manifest, and these may have been conditioned by our surroundings, society, old stories, or even through our ancestors or past impressions. Why not create some simple mantras for yourself and change your perspective by becoming aware of the mind? Take a few minutes to close your eyes and meditate upon what you feel most aligned with, or even concentrate on them in your mind or out loud while practicing some pranayama under sunlight. Try to integrate a daily pranayama or even a simple meditation practice. This directly reduces cortisol and adrenaline and helps you connect to what is. It may help you realize that when there’s no narrative to escape, and when there is silence, there is only love/truth. Try “I am safe”, “I am taken care of”, “The storm only lasts so long”, “I am love”, “I am light”, “I am wisdom”, “I am expansive”, “I am connected”, “I am protected”, “I am enough”. Let go of the stories. Make room for silence, spaciousness, boundless expansion, infinity, and potentiality.
Remember to give yourself permission to simply exist and NOT to compare yourself to others’ paths (we really have no idea what kind of path they’re actually on). When you do things as a gift you give to your body and a celebration of what gives you energy, habits become regular, natural, and effortless. Know that you ALWAYS have an abundance of love within you, and it is available at all times. Don’t be afraid of the unknown.
6. Address hormonal issues
With the numerous endocrine disruptors in our environment and thus water and food supply, the drugs, and the majority of foods and alcohol people consume, it is easy to experience hormonal imbalance as forms of life today. Much like everything, this is going to look different for anyone and I can only speak for myself, but try to strike a balance that works best for you. Virtually everyone will experience some hormonal imbalance throughout their lives, and it’s easy to integrate different practices to help bring it all back to homeostasis or a level of greater ease.
Under eating and over exercising is unfortunately very common in today’s fast paced, overachieving (yang) world, so try to nourish yourself from a place of self love and rest (yin). The menstrual cycle is also a great gauge of overall hormonal health, and there generally doesn’t need to be *any* pain or PMS symptoms when you’re more on the balanced side (at least in my experience!).
The body is deeply connected and the health of our hormones is directly connected to that of our digestive system and gut health. Nurture it:
- Avoid plastic packaging especially with fats, acids and oils, and avoid pesticides, go organic/biodynamic/homegrown/homemade when possible (click here for 2020’s ‘Dirty Dozen’ conventional produce list) – and ditch the plastic water bottles, Tupperware, and takeout containers.
- Avoid conventional cosmetics/shampoos/makeup/beauty/skincare products, conventional toiletries, household cleaners, fragrances, air fresheners, softeners and detergents, paraffin wax/scented candles, and all other toxic products. Take the time to create or find your own replacements. Try to go with homemade makeup if you can. I personally feel no need for any makeup or skincare at all.
- Avoid wearing polyester clothing next to the skin, try wearing an organic cotton or hemp base layer in cooler weather so you can layer any poly you might have on top.
- Nurturing digestive health can help ‘detox’ toxins and prevent buildup. Try relaxing and being fully present in parasympathetic state while eating. Under the sun.
- Many phytoestrogens like lignans in food have been shown to prevent and even reverse breast and prostate cancer. (source) (source) Fear not, the strongest phytoestrogen is about 400 times weaker than estrogen. Integrate healing foods such as cold, freshly ground flax seeds into your condiments, smoothies, tonics, sauces, and especially fermented in grass fed or coconut kefir to render them more bioavailable. Soy has become quite a contentious ingredient over the past decade particularly, most of it is not prepared properly, genetically modified, and mass produced/monocropped with glyphosate, continually depleting nutrients in soils. Personally I occasionally consume traditionally fermented local organic soy miso and the odd block of organic local tempeh or organic sprouted tofu, but for many people especially in the US, it’s probably easier to avoid it altogether.
- Avoid chronic cortisol production through unnecessary stress, digestive issues, gut inflammation, food sensitivities, improper chewing and imbalanced gut bacteria. Cortisol can be beneficial short term but low grade chronic amounts of it can wreak havoc on hormones as it steals hormones’ building blocks (and isn’t this quite common lately?). By healing the gut, you reduce inflammation. Remember that stress comes through in emotional, chemical, physical and mental forms.
- Aim for at least seven hours of high quality sleep each night. Practice basic sleep hygiene. Try not to sleep past 10 pm, and avoid blue light and artificial light exposure 2 hours before sleep. Get sunlight on skin and into eyes (no glasses or contacts) as much as possible all year round and during the winter months, especially from 8-10 am and around sunset to recalibrate your circadian rhythm.
- Movement has a powerful effect on regulating hormones. If you can’t access the gym, yoga studio or dojo these days, try simple but powerful bodyweight exercises or order a jump rope, a set of dumbbells, kettlebells, or a barbell. Try shovelling the snow, going sledding, skiing, or skating.
- Question your ideological diet boundaries, if any. In fact, question everything. So often what we have come to believe is right for us really isn’t the case. Our needs change constantly and cyclically, so it’s best to stay receptive to this. Follow your intuition: blindly adhering to long term veganism and even a properly prepared (soaked, sprouted, fermented) 100% organic/biodynamic whole foods plant based/vegan diet can cause hormonal issues over time, such as in my personal experience.
“All dis-ease comes from a state of unforgiveness”Louise Hay
It’s vital to release the ‘past’ to create the conditions for the ‘future’, and forgive everyone. Literally everyone. Know that others are only doing the best they can with the understanding, awareness, and knowledge they have at the time—and that their pain is a reflection of themselves, and nothing to do with you. Even the very fact that we say that we are willing to forgive and release all expectations we place on the other will kickstart the healing process. (Healing—not as an obsession with fixing what’s “wrong” with you, but rather as a lifelong curiosity towards liberating what is already within you.)
Forgiveness has nothing to do with condoning behaviour. The very person or entity you’ll find it hardest to forgive is the one you need to let go of the most. Can we not understand that THEY who we feel we need to forgive the most, were also in pain?
Your forgiveness is for you. Their apology is for them. By holding expectations of the other and creating these stories in your head, you’ll only trap yourself in a loop of pain.
We do not necessarily have to know how to forgive, the least you need to do is to be WILLING to forgive, with no expectations of anything in return. Once this happens, the universe will take care of the “hows”.
Most importantly, forgive yourself, too. Mistakes are seeds to be watered with compassion and forgiveness.
8. Get sweaty
Think about the last time you fell ill and developed a fever. Your body probably heated up, right? This is the body’s natural way of relieving pathogens, and by getting yourself sweaty on the regular, you can actually take a preventative approach during what most people these days consider cold/flu season (which actually doesn’t have to be cold/flu season at all, if you know what you’re doing).
Benefits of heat stress include getting rid of bugs, increased cognition, may improve physical performance and recovery, improved mood, stress relief, pain relief, inducing hormetic (adaptive) stress that reduces protein damage and boosts antioxidant activity along with autophagy (repair and degradation processes), increases the hormone BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), linked to longevity, heart health, and fewer fatal heart problems, and enhances natural detoxification. Saunas in particular are generally safe to use without incurring any harmful cardiovascular effects.
Try sunbathing, Finnish or infrared sauna, hot baths or showers, intense exercising, and consuming spicy food. Oh, and get nude for bonus self-love points. Sometimes in the summer I turn my car into a makeshift sauna by turning the A/C off and closing the windows for a major sweat party.
9. Get chilly
Contrary to what you may have been brought up to believe, the act of being outside in the winter isn’t what gives you a cold or flu, it’s caused by the majority of people being excessively indoors, boxed in with germs and indoor airflow and a circadian rhythm disconnect alongside excessive sugar consumption, seed oils, and Standard American Diet habits (of course, with a pandemic you’d ideally take precautions to care for both your immune system and those around you).
It baffles me how this became such a prevalent myth, as hormetic stress from cold exposure actually BOOSTS your immune system and resilience, shields the nerves, strengthens the nervous system, regulates blood sugar levels, prevents or mitigates various neurologic injuries, increases metabolism, fights inflammation, combats oxidative stress (promotes effective bodily detoxification through high levels of reduced glutathione), may support longevity, and improves sleep. This was actually among humans’ most earliest forms of medical treatment starting in 3500 BC, and TBH, it’s a good excuse to not have to bundle up so much in winter.
Try cold water exposure (hello, lakes, oceans and rivers), cold showers, ice baths, wearing a swimsuit while briefly lying down in the snow, cryotherapy, or simply walking outside in shorts and/or a t-shirt. Note: be cautious, rapid immersion in ice water is not recommended, so gradually work your way up and bring a buddy to supervise. Just a disclaimer: I’m not responsible for any damages that may incur from any irresponsible use of this information.
10. Red light/infrared light therapy
If you’re really feeling the SAD, consider infrared light therapy, or red light therapy. It’s also just fun to bask in the red rays like a lizard while avoiding other forms of artificial light past sunset… but I digress.
Red light therapy is the practice of using LED lights within the comfort of your home or in a sauna to deliver therapeutic wavelengths of light to the body that have been proven to be beneficial on the cellular level. It can aid in skin repair, muscle recovery, pain/inflammation, and testosterone production, and most any human can benefit from its effects.
This modality may actually not be for everyone as red light therapy is bioindividual and dose dependent, so please explore in moderation and do your research or talk to your holistic health practitioner for guidance if needed.
Along with food sources of vitamin D, it might also be a good idea to invest in Vitamin D/UVB lamps along with topical and/or oral magnesium saturation daily if you are susceptible to SAD, especially if you are isolated during the current lockdowns.
I hope some of this has been useful in some way, I know it has been for me. One of the benefits of being more connected with your body is being able to intervene and explore when you start to feel the signals from whatever issue you’re dealing with. It can take some experimentation with the tools you have on hand, but knowing that the body/mind/spirit just wants to heal, and even just the fact that you recognize something is off is giving you valuable information to get yourself where you want to be.
I genuinely believe we are all capable of healing from within by alchemizing the energy inside ourselves to transform in the ways we want to (sometimes we need a catalyst in the form of a teacher, life experience, or other entity, but it is you who must ultimately carve your own path). I believe that every individual is entitled to make wise, informed, and autonomous decisions for themselves without harming others. If I can inspire anyone to perhaps reframe a situation, to get themselves out of a bad place and into healing by any means—great.
You are a part of the vast, complex interconnectedness of life, practice patience while going with the ebbs and flows, expansion, contraction, renewing, and unfolding of yourself, and listen to what you need. Don’t let anyone persuade you that you are not already whole and complete. The conditioning of society tries to shrink us and condition us to fit various moulds and ideologies which can often be harmful and limiting. Try breaking free, clearing out old stories, beliefs, patterns and shadows, while accepting, embracing and embodying who you really are, and connecting to your own innate, unfiltered wisdom and inner knowing. You are not alone. You’ve got this.
What are some of your favourite ways to thrive through long winters?