by May Simpkin
As we leave behind the glorious days of summer, it’s not unusual for people to experience a change in mood and energy levels, and with colder, darker days, the transition into winter can often be a difficult time for many. And now, with a new national lockdown in place, the winter confinement is real.
The impact that the pandemic has had and continues to impose upon us cannot be underestimated. According to a recent study* published in the Lancet, cases of “clinically significant” mental distress has reached 27.3% when compared to last April 2019, when it was recorded at 18.9%. This increase is greatest among 18-34 year olds, women and people living with young children.
So, how can we turn the despondency and fatigue around so that we can survive the coming months feeling motivated, inspired and energised? Leading Nutritionist and Consultant to Enzymedica UK (www.enzymedica.co.uk), May Simpkin, gives us the low down on the best self-care actions to help us survive the winter season.
Move! Move! Move!
The problem many of us have as the weather turns colder is that we find ourselves sitting for potentially the whole day, except for the odd walk outdoors if you’re a pet owner and general pottering around the house. Even for those who exercise, the sedentary hours that follow can easily negate the benefits.
It is important to remember that the benefits of exercise are far reaching; not only are we toning and strengthening our muscles, but exercise also releases feel good hormones which lift our mood and spirits significantly. We also feel more energised and less tired after a workout, so we can get through the day much more productively. Whether it’s a brisk walk, an online exercise session, a vigorous hour of housework, or even walking up and down the stairs regularly, try to increase your activity levels throughout the day and reduce the time you spend sitting down. The good news is, research has shown that exercise has profound effects on mood regardless of the exercise duration. Small bursts are just as effective as doing one long session, so don’t feel that unless you’re hot and sweaty, it doesn’t count.
Eat to boost your mood
Eating the right foods will have a direct impact on your energy levels, how tired and sleepy you feel and ultimately your overall mood. Aim to eat a rainbow, choosing plenty of brightly coloured vegetables and fruits as they are packed with good nutrients that will boost your immune health and counteract the effects of stress. Set yourself a goal to reach the recommended 7-a-day and include vegetables or fruit at each meal. You could also try smoothies, keeping a ratio of three vegetables to one fruit and include fibre and protein-rich ingredients, such as oats, chia seeds and Greek yoghurt.
You should also focus on the proportions of each food group on your plate. For example, a healthy meal could consist of: half of the plate made up of vegetables, mainly dark green varieties and only one starchy vegetable such as carrots, peas or sweetcorn. The other half could be made up of a quarter lean protein like meat, fish, chicken, eggs, tofu, or cheese and a quarter complex carbohydrates such as quinoa, brown rice or sweet potato. You may find eating this way, with less refined or processed foods and more fibre and proteins, difficult to digest at first as your digestive system rebalances and becomes more efficient. If you find yourself suffering from bloating, cramps or wind, consider taking a digestive enzyme supplement, which will provide you with a boost of enzymes to help you break down and process these whole foods. I recommend Digest Complete from Enzymedica (RRP £7.69 for 21 capsules, available to buy from www.enzymedica.co.uk). This gentle digestive aid can help the digestive process and enable the body to assimilate and absorb the nutrients from your food choices far more easily.
Plan your snacks
During the winter months, we often feel like we need a quick energy boost in between meals or simply as a pick me-up. Setting some time aside, either at the end of the day or at the weekend, to consider what snacks you can eat during the week will ensure that you are not haphazardly reaching for foods that aren’t nutritionally balanced. Having healthy foods that are prepared and ready to grab will save you time and help you to make healthier choices. For example, have a batch of hummus ready-made in the fridge as well as some fresh, crunchy vegetables like carrots, cucumber, radishes and peppers already prepped to eat with it.
Try to avoid drinks that are sweetened, whether naturally or artificially. The high sugar levels will wreak havoc with your blood sugar balance, leaving you feeling tired, sleepy, and even anxious and jittery as your body adjusts to find balance. Whilst tea (preferably black) and coffee are often vilified, they are good choices to help keep you hydrated, as well as plain water, hot water with lemon or freshly grated ginger and herbal teas. Soups, fruits and vegetables also provide fluids and will contribute to your hydration levels. If you are feeling thirsty and your urine is a dark yellow colour, you are already dehydrated.
Do not neglect those further afield
Due to the current government guidelines, many are finding it tough not being able to spend time with those they enjoy being with, let alone giving or receiving a hug. It is important to make time for those that lift your mood and thankfully, we have the technology that makes this easy. Inevitably there are those you speak to regularly, a parent, grandparent, son or daughter or a best friend. Whilst these calls are of course important, they can easily turn into “duty calls” and you may find this burden adding to your stress and anxiety. Introducing new and interesting adult conversations to your day, that are not work or parenting related, will help you feel refreshed and revived as you temporarily put your responsibilities to one side. Set time aside every day to call someone you enjoy speaking to that you have not connected with for some time. The new topics and conversations will be invigorating, and you will come away with a spring in your step as you resume your day to day activities!