It’s officially spring! I can feel it in Vienna already, it’s been noticeably warmer and the days are finally getting longer. I know the States got a surge of winter weather recently, and I most definitely do not envy those of you who had snow and freezing temps the past few weeks. I’m thankful for the sunshine we’ve had here lately because it has noticeably improved my mood. Every year since I’ve lived in Austria I get the winter blues. I mean, I think it’s legit seasonal affective disorder. It’s called SAD. What a perfect name. It sounds bad, but for me it’s really not so bad. It’s not a deep-seeded depression that emerges with the cold weather, or some kind of intense sadness or anything like that (I’m not crying myself to sleep every night, just to be clear), but it is definitely a change that I feel inside me, and it’s kind of a bummer.
SAD usually takes over for me from November to early December and from January to February. During this time my mood is not good, I’m irritable, tired, unmotivated and have a general melancholy attitude about everything. It feels like I could sleep for days. I crave the worst types of food and have to exert an unreasonable amount of energy to keep up with work. As you can imagine, going to the gym and working out pretty much doesn’t happen.
What’s crazy to me is that it’s simply a change in the season that causes this. Here in Vienna around mid-December when the days are shortest, the sun is up around 7:40 am and sets around 4:00 pm. Four o’clock in the afternoon is TOO EARLY for it to be pitch black outside. No wonder people get all bummed out in the winter. My circadian rhythm definitely gets out of whack and my biological clock cannot adjust. Not to mention, the lack of ‘daytime’ means less sun, which means less serotonin being produced in the brain, which equals sadness. Are you with me still?
But I know this is not unique to me. Some 4-6% of Americans suffer from SAD and 10-20% may suffer from a mild form of winter depression (source: AAFP). I don’t know if it’s completely preventable considering where I live in relation to the equator, but I do know there are some things I can (and should) do to try and ease the symptoms. In the past I’ve never been good at doing them consistently, but I do try. Next year, when I feel the laziness starts to creep in again, I’ll be sure to read this post. 🙂
Keep the winter blues at bay.
Open the window.
Even when it’s cold outside. Just throw on a sweater and suck it up for a couple minutes. The fresh cold air will feel so good in your lungs. Just take some deep breaths as long as you can take it.
Even better, just go outside for a while. I’ve always admired people who jog or run in the winter. That is not for me! But a short walk around the neighborhood, and getting outside in the daylight (even if there is no sun) is such a mood booster.
Don’t Sleep In!
At least not too late. This was my biggest problem over the past few months. Not maintaining a regular sleep schedule is hard on your body and your mind. I personally find it near impossible to get out of bed on a cold morning when it’s pitch black outside, so we got one of those light alarm clocks about a year ago that slowly brightens as it nears your set alarm time. These are super cool and worth the investment (I can’t find our exact light, but it’s similar to this one).
During the summer months I get up super early to hit the gym. This was not going to work once the days started getting shorter, and even just getting to the gym was a struggle (biking in freezing temps is not fun). So I committed to doing my workouts at home, which lifted a huge weight off my shoulders (because I feel guilty when I skip scheduled workouts), and made them easy to fit into my routine.
Buy some flowers.
It’s almost stupid how happy a vase of fresh flowers makes me feel. I love to buy flowers year round, and though there are not as many options here in winter, I can usually find a small, beautiful bouquet at the grocery store for a few euros.
This is just generally good advice. I seem to forget to drink water in the winter, probably because I’m ALWAYS cold. I try to keep a huge bottle of water at my desk at all times, and fill that baby up often. If I’m cold, I will drink warm water with a little lemon or mint (so good!). I also love making wintery beverages like spiced coffee, herby tea, and hot chocolate.
These tips are by no means revolutionary, and they are pretty basic things that would be good to practice any time of year. But I do think making an extra effort to do these things in the winter months can be beneficial, especially to fight off winter blues.
Turmeric Hot Chocolate
Turmeric. So hot right now.
But I guess it’s for good reason. Not only is it a delicious, heart-warming spice, but it has anti-inflammatory benefits, lots of antioxidants and numerous other health benefits. What’s interesting is that it’s not the turmeric itself that has these healthy powers, it’s the curcumin, which is a chemical compound found in turmeric and what gives the root its yellow color (and, I’m presuming, why it stains everything).
I tried to do some research to see if the health claims for this little spice where legitimate, and what I found was … mixed opinions. Regardless, it’s certainly not bad for you, so why not give it a try! I cook with turmeric often now, usually roasting veggies like carrots, or even chicken breast, but this past winter I started adding it to my occasional hot chocolate. I tried several recipes from the web and have narrowed the ingredients and proportions down to this recipe.
The recipe starts out as a fairly normal hot chocolate that you would make on the stove. I like to use almond milk for an extra creamy texture, and maple syrup for a little natural sweetness. You absolutely have to mix it in a blender or with an immersion blender so that the spices and coconut oil get evenly mixed in. You will not get the right consistency if you just whisk it. Besides, using the blender will make it super frothy, and who doesn’t love a good frothy hot cocoa? I know spring is here and the weather is warming up, but if you have a particularly chilly day and just want to feel all cozy inside (after you’ve, you know, opened the window for a bit, or chugged some water or something 😉 ), make this drink! It’s a perfectly rich and delicious hot chocolate that has a little spicy kick, but is surprisingly smooth. Give it a try and tell me how you like it.
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