Today I’m talking about winter anxiety – and yes, it’s a thing! – and so if you’ve been feeling a little bit more unsettled or anxious at this time of year, there are reasons for that. You’re not alone. You’re not the only one that is experiencing this.
I can’t remember a summer like last year’s, to be honest, where it was hot for the majority of the summer – and for some people, that might feel a bit sad that we’re now moving into winter time and all the leaves are off the trees. Fortunately, daylight is starting to get longer, though slowly
7 tips and tricks for winter anxiety
Winter anxiety can be quite an unsettling feeling because in a way it reminds us of change, I think, and when you’re struggling with anxiety change can be a big trigger for that.
So I’m going to be talking about 7 tips and tricks that I use myself and that I really recommend for this time of year as we’re moving into the colder months.
So the first one is Ashwaganda. Now, you might have heard of this before. You might be thinking “Ashwa-what? How do you spell that?” It’s something that is getting talked about more and more by people who have tried this and have found that it is quite helpful in terms of anxiety; and it actually translates as “smell of horse”, which doesn’t sound that appealing to be honest, but don’t let that put you off.
Usually you can buy it in capsule form, so you won’t actually smell it. Actually, I don’t think it smells of horse but if things like the smell or the taste put you off you can get it in a capsule form. It is an Ayurvedic herb that has been used for thousands and thousands of years. Ayurveda is thought to be sort of three to five thousand years old. So it’s something that has been used traditionally to help us to feel calmer, to sleep better and it’s something that’s called an adaptogen and this is something that is very clever. It adjusts things in your body. So if for example you have something in your body that is too high, it will bring it down. If you’ve got something that is too low, this adaptogen will raise that level.
So for example, Ashwaganda can be helpful for lowering cortisol levels in people that have elevated cortisol and if you are stressed or anxious chances are your cortisol levels are higher than is probably very comfortable for you. So what it does is it brings that down and adaptogens just have this effect of re-balancing us.
You can do a bit of research yourself online about Ashwaganda, but if you Google it you will find loads on this, to be honest.
There are numerous studies that have found that it can perhaps help us to lower our anxiety levels and in my own experience I’ve found it quite helpful particularly before bedtime to have a small amount to really help you to have a good night’s sleep and unwind and switch off. A couple of brands that I’ve used before… One is Pukka. They combine it with Valerian in night-time capsules and it’s good before bedtime.
Another one that I got sent to try recently was from Wild Nutrition and I’ve been finding that quite a nice thing to take and just to include. So have a think about whether Ashwaganda could be something helpful for you, just to give yourself that extra bit of support at this time of year when maybe your anxiety levels are peaking a little bit.
So number two is hot baths. For all year, but especially for winter anxiety. Now, I know this is not new information or anything ground-breaking but I just want to tell you this as a reminder. I was reading in The Guardian a couple of weeks ago and The Guardian were actually quoting a study that was reported in New Scientist magazine. This clinical study had used participants who had depression and they split them into two groups and they got one group of them to have a warm bath twice a week for about half an hour and the other group they asked them to do 40 minutes of aerobic exercise. What they found was that both groups improved in terms of their mood, but the ones that improved the most were the ones that were having the warm baths in the afternoon.
Their theory is that what happens when we have a warm bath is that it raises the temperate of our internal organs and this has an effect of synchronizing our circadian rhythms. If we have a low mood or if we’re struggling with anxiety, it might be that our circadian rhythms are somehow out of balance and what the warm water does is just to help us to get back into balance. So if you’re someone that just needs an extra excuse to have a warm bath, this might just be the excuse that you’ve been looking for.
I’ve been having quite a few baths lately. I just find it’s so nice to allow your body just to float in the hot water and it’s so good just for loosening tight muscles and for letting go of the day. What I do is I put a couple of handfuls of Epsom salts in the bath and these contain magnesium. Magnesium, you might have heard before, is the relaxation mineral. We actually absorb things through our skin. Not many people know this but you actually do absorb things through your skin, which is kind of scary when we think about the things that we put on our skin.
So magnesium in Epsom salts is absorbed through the skin into our bodies and it can help to relax our muscles because magnesium has this relaxing effect on our bodies. So kind of have to put quite a bit of Epsom salts in the bath. You can’t just sprinkle a few in there. I buy a huge bag (probably 5 kilos or something) online and I put a good two or three handfuls in there and also some essential oils. I put that into the bath as well and I like to read a book; and for me, that is just a good Friday night, to be honest! I don’t like to go out on a Friday night. I like to stay in and have a bath. So if you’ve been wanting to add something to your routine or if you just need an excuse to have a bath, know that there is evidence to suggest that it really is good for your mental health.
So for number three – speaking of exercise – obviously, we know that exercise is good for our mental health. I recently got back into running. I’d taken a big break for maybe a year or so from running because I’d been focusing a lot more on just going to the gym and lifting weights. I think actually the summer heatwave put me off wanting to run because it was just too hot for me.
But anyway, I’m getting back into running and I am loving the benefits of it. I think it’s so nice just to get out in the park, to run outside… If the sun’s shining, that’s even better, of course.
I know that lots of you are probably into your spin classes or your HIIT classes, but I want you just to consider whether these sorts of classes could be stressing you out more than they’re benefitting you – and I’m definitely not saying that this is the case for everyone, but what happens when we do these really high intensity exercise workouts is that we increase our levels of cortisol, because you are stressing the body when you really push yourself like that.
So I just want to invite you to think about whether doing something a little bit more moderate or gentle, maybe on certain days or maybe just knowing that you can do some moderate exercise and it doesn’t need to be these intense workouts, can have a really positive effect on your levels of anxiety and your mental health. So going for a really gentle jog in the park, going for a brisk walk… these things all will help to lower your anxiety levels and boost your mood.
I really like to think of it as play rather than “I’m going to exercise to punish myself for having eaten something or because I am forcing myself to go to this class”. How can you make it more enjoyable for you? How can you make it more like play, more like a treat or something that is restorative for you?
For example, tonight I’m going to a yin yoga class which is a very gentle, slow yoga class. It’s not one of these crazy Vinyasa flows that feel very aerobic. It really is about tuning into your body and slowing down. So just thinking about what might be the right kind of exercise for you and how you can find something that you enjoy. That is essentially how you’re going to be able to stick to it long term the best.
And also just inviting you to think about – if you’re getting back into exercise – were their times in the past where you were having a regular exercise practice and what was it that helped you in the past? So was it that you were doing it with a friend? Was it that you booked your classes in advance? Was it that you scheduled it into your diary? So if there was a time when you were really able to take that time for yourself, what was working for you? And if there wasn’t a time where you were exercising in the past, what have you seen other people do that helps them to stay motivated or to find the time or to do things that they enjoy?
Treat yourself the way you’d treat a beloved pet
So number four for winter anxiety – I want to think about how you could treat yourself the way that you would treat a beloved pet. Now I was thinking about this today as I was walking through the park. I live near Victoria Park in London and there are the most amazing dogs being walked in Victoria Park and I always think about how lovely people are to their dogs. We give them so much love, cuddles, time to play, healthy food, plenty of sleep. We tell them that we love them, we tell them how good they are and yet we’re often not very nice to ourselves and we don’t make time to play or sleep and go and run in the park.
So I want you to think about how you would speak to yourself and treat yourself if you were treating yourself the same way that you would a beloved pet, whether it’s a cat or a dog or something else. Really tune into that sense of love and being able to take care of yourself, especially as we’re moving into a different season and perhaps the pace of life might be slowing down a little bit. It’s a really good time to be kinder to yourself and to up the self-care, I think.
And just on a side note: I am obsessed with shitzsus and I would love to get a shitzu but my partner is not that keen and so I’m just putting it out there to anyone listening who has a shitszu, who lives in Hackney in London, get in touch with me because I would love to take your dog for a walk! Okay, I’m putting it out there and I hope that someone will find a dog for me to walk.
Anyway, maybe one day I’ll get a dog. I think dogs are amazing for mental health, actually. You know, just that excuse to get out and have a walk and the excuse to take a break, I think is amazing.
Take a vitamin D supplement
So number five. My suggestion for winter anxiety is to take a Vitamin D supplement. I used to work as a nutritionist in the NHS and we were always telling people that you’ve got to have a Vitamin D supplement. Actually, the NHS recommend that everyone in the UK should take a Vitamin D supplement and that’s because we don’t get a lot of Vitamin D from our diets and we don’t get enough from the sunlight because it actually isn’t sunny enough here for us to get enough Vitamin D.
Particularly if you are very fair-skinned and you stay out of the sun or you’re dark-skinned and you won’t make as much Vitamin D from the sun, it’s especially important for you. I’ve got one that is a spray and you literally just spray it under your tongue once a day, which is perfect if you’re somebody that maybe doesn’t like taking pills.
Vitamin D, even though it’s called a vitamin, it’s actually a hormone and it plays a lot of important roles in your body. One of the reasons scientists think that we get Seasonal Affective Disorder which is where you have a lower mood. Often in the winter months it’s to do with the darker shorter days, is because we have less Vitamin D at this time of year. So taking a Vitamin D supplement is important for everyone and particularly if you have winter anxiety.
Another suggestion, is to try and get some sunlight in your eyes in the morning. And again, this is to do with regulating our circadian rhythms. And I’m lucky in my apartment because I have a window that is facing east so in the morning I can get a bit of sunlight in my eyes or I try and get out and have a walk in the morning.
So that might mean for you working to work or at least part of the way walking to work, or just trying to get some sunlight in the morning and it really can help to keep at bay things like Seasonal Affective Disorder. It’s also thought that it helps you to sleep as well because it helps to regulate things like your melatonin levels.
Number six to help with winter anxiety. This is kind of a tip but also a bit of an update if anyone is wondering. I am just coming up to four months alcohol-free and if you haven’t already check out Episode 28 where I am talking to Joanne Bradford and we talk about living alcohol-free and the challenges and the benefits that come along with that. I have to say, it hasn’t been the easiest thing.
There have definitely been some ups and downs. There have definitely been some moments where I’ve thought “Mm, I would love a glass of wine now” or everyone around me is having a glass of bubbly and I’m feeling a bit left out, but overall the benefits have been massively positive and I am going to stick with it for the time being.
I am curious if any of you have tried this. Or if you’re interested in trying to have a break from alcohol or just experimenting and seeing whether having a break from alcohol could impact your anxiety levels. Lots and lots of people report that it has an impact.
I’ve found that I am a lot more productive I have to say, without any hangovers. The weekends are more productive. I’m fitter because I’ve been exercising more, because I’m more motivated, because I’m not hungover. Not that I was hugely hungover all the time, but even after a couple of glasses of wine I think I was less inclined to want to go to the gym.
Also, Monday mornings. You know, it’s a revelation when you stop drinking. Monday mornings become a lot more pleasant indeed. So yeah, that’s just been my experience of it recently.
The full story on social media
Okay, and so tip number 7 of my winter anxiety hacks. This just relates to a conversation that I read on Twitter that I just thought might resonate with you because it made a lot of sense for me. The person tweeting is Vicky Sprat and she’s @victoria_sprat on Twitter. She is an editor at Grazia and she’s also writing a book about the housing crisis and she basically has been tweeting about how a lot of people who write about or post on social media about the fact that they’ve bought houses are not disclosing the fact that they have moved home with their parents to save money or they have received money for their deposit for their house.
Now, I know from lots of you messaging me and from my own experience that there’s a lot of pressure on us to have reached certain milestones in our lives and if we haven’t gotten married or bought a house or got to a certain level in our careers then it’s all too easy to compare ourselves to other people, but I think it’s really important just to be aware that there is often so much going on on the other side of peoples’ lives that they’re not disclosing, they’re not sharing on social media and we’re really not seeing the bigger picture.
This is not, by any means, to judge people who are lucky enough to get money from their parents for a house; not at all. But it’s just important for us to remind ourselves that we’re not seeing the big picture on social media and this can be extended to all areas of social media. So people that are posting selfies and they have spent, you know, an hour on their makeup and they have Botox in their foreheads and fillers in their lips or hair extensions and all those things that people do to make themselves look better… they’re not necessarily sharing about those things and yeah, we might compare what we look like when we’ve just woken up with these images that we see online.
Again, it’s not to judge people that do those things whatsoever, but it’s just a good reminder that we’re comparing ourselves with something that isn’t real essentially in those situations and we’re comparing ourselves with something that is not comparable to our situation. For example, if you are working hard to save a deposit and it might take you several years and someone else that you know suddenly has their deposit money and they’re buying a house, it’s all too easy to compare yourself. Just remember that there were lots of other situations going on that we don’t know about.
Another example might be – and this is actually something that I did the other day. I posted a picture of my desk looking really beautiful with some flowers on there and looking all neat, and actually behind me (at the kitchen behind me) it was a complete mess and I obviously wasn’t posting a picture of my messy kitchen on Instagram. So just to remember that even if people are posting pictures of their gorgeous homes, you don’t know that they might have spent hours cleaning, they might have mess just right out of shot that we can’t see. So, you know, don’t feel bad about your messy kitchen basically.
And this extends to every area of our life. You know, if people are posting about their holiday with their partner, they’re not going to be sharing about the argument that they had on the way to their holiday . So don’t feel too bad about it because you never know what might be happening behind the scenes.
I, for example, am pretty much always guaranteed to have an argument with my boyfriend on the way to the airport. I don’t know why, but I think it’s the fact that my boyfriend has a reputation for missing flights and I love to be early for things [Laughs]. Anyway, we always have a holiday argument, a pre-holiday argument, every time we go to the airport. So yeah, I just thought I’d share that as well.
Summary of 7 winter anxiety tips
So just as a recap of these 7 winter anxiety tips… Consider taking Ashwaganda. It could help to balance your body and balance your anxiety levels. Hot baths help with your mood. Trying to do some exercise, even moderate exercise, can really help your mental well-being. Treat yourself like you would a beloved pet, take a Vitamin D supplement and consider having a break from alcohol and then finally – know that people are not sharing the full story on their social media. So don’t feel too bad and just remember that everyone is struggling with something. Everyone has got some shit going on in their lives. You are not the only one. I can guarantee that.
Okay, so I would love to know from you guys if you have any other winter anxiety tips. You can reply to my email and let me know or you can come over and comment on the post of this podcast on Instagram. I am @chloebrotheridge on Instagram. Anyway, I am wishing you a really good week. I’m sending you loads of love and I hope that you will tune in again. Catch you soon… bye-bye.