Here’s something that not a lot of people know about me. For most of my adult life I’ve struggled with anxiety and mild depression. I’ve noticed over the years that the blues hit hard right around this time of the year- when we turn back the clocks. Am I the only person who cringes when I hear “I can’t wait to get an extra hour of sleep!”??? Who cares about one hour of sleep when the trade-off is darkness? Walking to your car in the dark after work, trying to motivate yourself to workout in the dark, feeling like it should be 9:00 when it’s only 6PM… these are all things that pretty much send me over the edge in November. Actually I don’t just cringe when someone is excited over falling back; I want to punch the person in the face. Clearly, I diagnosed myself with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) as soon as I knew the condition existed.
Realizing that I’m a person who doesn’t like the cold or the dark (unless it’s bedtime), I used to have to think ahead when I lived in the states. Now, I’m lucky enough to live in a territory that doesn’t acknowledge daylight’s savings time. In the Virgin Islands, we stay the same all year, but guess what? It’s not all sunshine and rainbows. In fact, sunset is actually around 5:45, so it’s dark all year by about 6:30PM. We never have the super long days where kids are playing outside after dinner catching lightening bugs well past their bedtime.
I’ve always been a night owl. I love to stay up late and sleep in. I love eight hours of sleep. Know what I love even more? Nine hours of perfectly peaceful shut-eye. It’s hard here because I can’t use very many of my favorite sleep rituals, like black out drapes for instance. Gosh, I miss my black out drapes! Also, the tree frogs and roosters are so loud that my fan doesn’t really drown them out. Island problems!
Since I know good sleep is critical and bad sleep manifests itself in every aspect of life, I am paying particular attention to other areas where I can take advantages of opportunities to brighten my mood. I thought I would share with you six simple tips for staying healthy and happy during the winter months. These apply if you live on an island or in the states!
1. Stay active. Maybe you have the luxury of paying for a nice gym or studio where an instructor leads the class and you get an amazing workout in one hour or less. I used to love group exercises in air-conditioned studios. Now, I attend outdoor yoga sessions or classes inside the Park and Rec Center where it is (most definitely) not air-conditioned. Regardless, you must get your blood blowing on a regular basis. Even if it’s dark and cold, or super hot and sunny, force yourself to just do it. Exercise and a good fitness routine changes everything. Be creative and look for ways to be active, even when it’s not easy.
Remember to make it fun. I haven’t done gymnastics since elementary school, but I actually found that I can do a handstand if I work at it. This is like my fifteenth try. But the point is, I was having fun, my blood was flowing, and I was working my core in a creative way. (Photo cred to Shaun who patiently waited to capture this moment!)
2. Hydrate. In general, I’m not someone who loves to drink water. It’s just not fun for me. Especially when it’s cold. So, one thing you can do is play a game with yourself. Fill up a Nalgene bottle or some kind of 24 oz. or larger bottle. Challenge yourself to drink it by a certain time of day. I bought a 50 oz. bottled water the other day and took it to work with me. I was determined that before my shift was over it would be gone. Less weight to carry on my walk back to the car was an added bonus! Some people say drink 64 oz. a day, some day half your body weight. Regardless, just drink water. Whether you feel thirsty or not, your body is- hydration is one of the keys to good health. Your tinkle should be clear. Drink enough water so that it is!
3. Stay connected. The one thing I always loved in Charlotte was all of the holiday events. Charity events, Christmas parties, ornament exchanges, white elephant parties, special events at boutiques where they offer champagne while you shop for gifts, etc. etc… all are a great chance to get out with your friends and significant other, look fantastic in your glitzy holiday attire, and socialize. Connecting with others is critical to staying healthy. When the winter blues hit, don’t isolate yourself waiting for your mood to change. It may not, and you end up missing out on fun. Sometimes you need to depend on your friends to brighten your day! I really miss my friends and family back home, so I am going to have to work on staying connected this holiday season.
4. Don’t overindulge just because it’s that time of year. All of the aforementioned events inevitably lead to one thing- overeating and over-drinking. You know it’s true. The over-processed apps and the sugary drinks taste perfect when you’re in “a mood.” It’s better than comfort food because it’s coupled with comfort beverages! Always eat a healthy snack (or even go ahead and eat a full dinner) before heading to the parties where you know the salty, sugary, processed, bloating, feel-bad-the-next-day food will be your only options. Also, drink more fluids to flush out the toxins you consume. I love doing a cranberry “cocktail” when I’ve overindulged. Get the Lakewood organic, non-GMO concentrated cranberry juice from your grocery store and add about a shot of it to a full glass of filtered water. Add some fresh squeezed lemon to it and guzzle it down! Again, the goal is hydration and clear tinkle… flush it out! Eat lots of healthy, wine-ripened fruits and vegetables. This is the hardest thing about living on St John. I miss the farmers market and Whole Foods with a passion.
5. Watch your wallet to avoid buyers remorse. This is the time of year when it just seems to make sense to buy everything you want and everything you definitely don’t need. You feel like you have to have a new outfit for every event. You can’t possibly wear something you wore last year. Am I right? I know all about this because I’m preaching to the choir. I’m the proverbial pot. I never felt like I could get enough clothes stuffed in my closet. But may I suggest a few ideas now that I’ve stepped away from the madness- and from Neiman Marcus? Shop your own closet first. If it’s a disaster like mine was, you’ll likely find something amazing that you forgot you had. Borrow something from a friend. I love to share my lovely things with friends who take good care of them. Re-wear but add accessories to change it up. Add a fur vest and fun booties to a simple black dress that you wore last week with pearls and heels to another event. No one will notice and even your Instagram pics will look different!
6. Get some Vitamin D. I used to think it was just a medical myth that everyone was lacking in Vitamin D. Either that, or Vitamin companies and physicians had teamed up to make everyone spend a lot of money on isolated nutrients that may or may not have any benefit. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but seriously, don’t you agree that this all of a sudden became the rage a couple of years ago? Well, I am now here to say that sunshine is important. Getting a little bit of sun exposure when you can is critical to boosting your mood during the colder, darker, drearier months. If it’s an unseasonably warm day, go outside! Pull up your sleeves and let the sun kiss your skin and wrap you in a warm hug! Go for a walk with exposed arms or legs if you can. Dermatologists may or may not agree, but I have always believed sunshine is a cure for what ails you! I used to love the 60 degree temps that we would randomly get during the winter in Charlotte. Take advantage of them!
I would love to hear your suggestions on staying healthy and happy during over the next couple of months. Stay warm, stay cool (if you’re in the tropics), and have an amazing winter! I’m trying to keep positive- the blues are rough but I’ve decided blue is my new favorite color.
Ashley Cates, St. John USVI blogger.