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The days are shorter, you tend to feel grumpier than usual... And you have the right to feel like that! Maybe you're looking for a way to boost your energy levels, maybe you deeply wish you could get rid of that grouchy face... Here are some tips to keep up your morale, even in winter
Every winter, it's the same story: you want to find a comfortable, warm, and cosy place to curl up in, you want to do things that give you pleasure... Because, let's admit it, your morale isn't at its highest in wintertime. It's absolutely normal to have calmer periods. But if you feel the need to recover your energy levels, Anaïs Roux, a psychologist specialising in neuroscience who speaks on the podcast Neurosapiens, has a few tips for what to do as autumn draws to close.
I thought we were conditioned by the pace of society, and that in winter, it's only because of Christmas and New Year parties that you start eating more; and that morale was high because of the joy of the holidays! But that was before I met Anaïs. As a psychologist specialising in neuroscience, she's always got some research up her sleeve to share with you, in order to explain, in simple language, what actually happens when the season changes: “The change of season has a genuine impact on our morale. The main factor is light. In September 2022, a study conducted by the University of San Diego in California showed that when daylight gets rarer and weaker, there's a twist in our biological clock: There's a shift in the way the brain handles light, leading to changes in our behaviours as well as physiological changes. ” Which explains what we feel at the onset of winter when the days get shorter.
Yes, and there's even a name for it: Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD for short), better known as the Winter Blues. It rather resembles a state of depression and it has an impact on our daily lives. Anaïs gives more details: “you feel more tired, you feel apathetic, you're more irritable, more vulnerable to stress and anxiety.” Ah, so that's why! Now it's all becoming clear...! That lack of motivation, the desire to just lie down and not leave the house... It's all normal. I don't know about you, but personally, I start feeling pretty guilty.
Is it a myth that you tend to put physical activity on the back-burner in wintertime? Anaïs told me about the results of a Michigan study conducted by Pinarvik showing that energy expenditure is 20% greater in the summer than in winter. So, if you find yourself dragged down by laziness during this period, I can tell you're not the only one... Well, we're not all affected to the same extent since motivation levels are directly influenced by the amount of light in our specific environment.
That's right: Moving can bring you pleasure and lighten up your mood. How? Thanks to all the well-being hormones that are secreted when you do physical activity: dopamine, endorphins and serotonin. Anaïs adds: “For sport to really boost your morale, the key is simply to go that first time! And to exercise for 20 to 30, maybe even 40 minutes.”
At that point, I thought of all the people who, like me, might have started an activity such as running but only kept going for 10 minutes and then decided, OK, so it's not working. Even though doing less than minutes of exercise doesn't allow the hormones to spread through the body, that doesn't mean it's better not to bother; quite the contrary, in fact, you should start gradually so that you can eventually reach the 20.minute threshold for sports activity with ease. Once you're past 20 minutes, your body and brain will remember the secretion of happiness hormones. Anaïs calls it “anchored pleasure”. She also recommends that you check how you feel at the end of a session and connect with the pleasure of it. In the end, that's what makes you want to do it again, even if it's subconscious.
In fact, Anaïs gives a very good explanation of how sport affects the body in her podcast episode “The one in which we talk about the effects of sport on the brain”.
It's true that, in winter, you might be quite partial to a hearty meal based on cheese... And that's a good thing especially if you like it! The important thing here is dosage, and obviously, that kind of meal every day might set off alarm signals in your body...
Anaïs reminds us of the importance of fats, GOOD fats such as omega 3s. And that doesn't just apply to the nutritional aspect: It also has an effect on behaviour... So, now I'm going to talk about mice... Anaïs tells me: “Experiments have been carried out with mice, in which some of the mice had a lack of omega 3 and the others didn't. It was observed that the deprived mice stayed cloistered in darkness while the mice with a good supply of omega 3 had a strong tendency to explore and seek out the light.” The moral of the story? Don't hesitate to treat yourself to mackerel, sardines, and so on, and to add various vegetable oils to these dishes.
Along with fats, there are other foods that are said to “boost morale”, such as chocolate! Hmmm… You're probably already licking your lips. But let me be specific here: We're talking about chocolate that's 70% cocoa. Here's an explanation from our psychologist specialising in neuroscience: “Cocoa contains tryptophane, a molecule that promotes the secretion of serotonin, one of the pleasure-producing hormones.”
With Anaïs, we started discussing instinctive human behaviours that are good for us. And we came to the traditional post-meal family walk. Well, it turns out that this walk is no trivial matter; it really helps you relax. That makes sense, since the link between nature and the brain has been scientifically proven. Spending time in nature reduces mental fatigue and stress, and improves your mood.
Working on your mindset helps you relax and can boost your energy. As Anaïs reminds me, your brain doesn't differentiate between reality and what you visualise. And that's where meditation can play a vital role! By frequently visualising your goals and concentrating on the pleasure you feel, you will directly impact your motivation and mood.
That also applies to watching “feel good” movies or motivational films; your brain feels like it's having an enjoyable experience. That's why people love (or hate) corny Christmas films. (Come on, admit that you love them!)
Sleep is equally important for your mood, as I'm sure you already know. You must have noticed that you're much livelier after a proper night's sleep and tend to be fairly grumpy when you haven't had enough sleep. So, off you go to bed and take great care to respect your sleeping pattern. Whenever possible, that is. If you need help to fall asleep, consider using relaxation tools.
And if you find you need a catnap to boost your energy, we've also got tips to help you do it properly. ⬇️
Light, that's the secret. Who hasn't given a phototherapy light to a loved one these last few years? It's definitely trendy, but does it actually work? Can it replace natural light? Anaïs shared some rigorous expert studies with me to clear up the matter: “The benefits of light therapy have been proven in a clinical setting. An analysis of 19 studies showed that light therapy (or phototherapy) can reduce depression scores. A small study was conducted on 35 depressive patients to whom antidepressants and light therapy (3,000 lux for 2 hours) were administered over the course of 5 weeks. It was found that 50 % of patients in the light therapy group declared recovery from their symptoms, compared to 25 % in the antidepressant group. Two weeks of bright light of 2,500 lux in the workplace brought improvements in mood, alertness, and productivity. 3 weeks of bright light (6,000 lux) treatment in the morning brought 61 % of participants to recover from 61 % of depressive symptoms. “
It's scientifically proven that light therapy is a real help.Anaïs adds that in countries like Sweden, where days of low light are continuous, there are even light therapy cafés where customers can spend time absorbing bright light to help relieve symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder.
So, now you know why it is that in winter, you like to indulge in softness, warmth, cosiness, and the little pleasures in life... And you know a few solutions to recover your energy levels! Enjoy your restful moments without feeling guilty and get moving when your legs are asking you to...
A big thank you to Anaïs for sharing her knowledge. You can find her podcast on all the listening platforms: https://podcast.ausha.co/neurosapiens