How to stay well throughout the winter

Salam alaikum! I hope this winter is finding you well and in good spirits. Winter, especially if you’re living in the west, can really take it out of you. The extreme cold, the short days, and battling the snow can leave you feeling exhausted. Not to mention, the shorter days may it seem harder to get everything done for the day. Winter months bring their blessings and their challenges with them, and if we can create a structure on how to manage our wellbeing, then we can indeed make the best of the months ahead.

Alhamdulillah, each season brings its own blessings with it. So, let’s begin by reminding ourselves of some of the blessings of winter. The days are very short, and this is a natural sign for us to slow down; we see this in nature all around us. Animals hibernate, plants shed, lakes freeze and so on. Winter, though brutal on the surface, presents us with opportunities that we may not otherwise claim. It brings us the opportunity to rest and recharge our batteries. We know the importance of reflection within our deen, and winter provides us with an opportunity to take stock of the year gone by, to reflect on how we did, and to plan for where we would like to go. We can only reflect when we are not busy doing things; the cold ensures that we do less. Winter, then, is the perfect opportunity to think and plan for the year ahead. Keep this in mind as you plan your days so that you allow some space for reflection as you look after your health and wellbeing. Let’s explore some practical ways in which we can really look after ourselves during the winter.

Tip 1: Utilise light

Are you usually happier on brighter, sunnier days? Winter can make us feel depressed simply due to the lack of sunlight. Our body clocks don’t function properly when we don’t experience a sharp difference between light and dark. We need both light and dark for our body clocks to function correctly. What often happens is that we don’t get enough bright light, and we sit indoors with bright lights well into the late evening. The key principal to follow is to get be exposed to more light early on in the day, and reduce exposure to light in the evening.

So how do we make this happen? Firstly, we need to be flexible in the winter so we can make the most of the sun when it presents itself. One can’t really plan too far ahead for this, but when there’s sunshine, aim to get some of it. For those of us who are living in the United States, or Europe, this can be difficult. So if being outside isn’t an option, aim to get some light in through the window.

Another option is to use artificial light. There are a few different types of artificial lights that allow us to get the light we need. The idea with these special lights is that the brain registers the rays as daylight, and so our bodies respond as if we were getting natural light. Invest in one of these and ensure that you get daily exposure during the morning hours. These lights are normally known for treating Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Another option is to get a light that simulates dawn. They allow us to experience waking up with a natural sunrise. Admittedly, these are not the same as being out in the sun, but they play an important role in allowing us to feel productive and well during those dark months. . If you keep a very well lit home at night, then reduce the lighting in the early evening so you have a restful sleep. Reduce fluorescent lighting and opt for time, and opt for warmer, cosier lighting in the evening time instead.

Get more rest:

It is probably a given that you lead a very busy life, and have tons to get through any given day. Do you notice your energy levels are lower during winter?  This is nature’s cue telling us to rest. If you have a job, career, and a family, it may be challenging to adjust your routine, but it will make a real difference to how you feel day to day. Winter demands that you give your body and mind the required rest. Re-evaluate what you’ve got on your plate. Prioritise your to-do in terms of importance, and focus on the most important things. Remember that this rest will really support you when it comes to revving up the engines again in the spring.

Create and exercise and detox combination:

Winter does require rest, however, exercise is something you shouldn’t compromise on at any time during the year. Keeping active not only helps your body to function better overall, but it has the special benefit of keeping the blues away. In addition to the exercise, plan a detox regimen towards the beginning of spring. This is a good time to remove toxins from the system. Whichever methods you use, make sure to do some research before you start, and begin slow, so that your body can cope with the detoxing effects as it energises itself towards spring.

Adjust eating patterns:

We hardly feel the impact of the seasons anymore in terms of food. Living in the United States, I see fruits and vegetables from all over the world, even during the winter. If we reflect, we notice that Allah swt provides us with different fruits and vegetables according to the seasons. Eating seasonal produce will mean that we are giving our bodies the nutrients they require according to the time of year. Experiment with some new foods and try out new recipes including seasonal produce in your diet at least 2-3 times a week. Also, eat an earlier, lighter, meal in the evening, and having your heavier meals in the morning and lunchtime.

Top up on Vitamin D:

It is often challenging to provide our bodies with the nutrients needed, and one particular vitamin is often neglected. Vitamin D is called a vitamin, but it actually works like a hormone, and so, plays a key role in several functions within the body. Having low vitamin D levels will affect our energy levels and our mood. Vitamin D is produced in the skin when we expose ourselves to direct sunlight. So if we don’t get the required exposure, for whatever reason, our vitamin D levels are bound to be low. Ensure that you take a vitamin D supplement. If you suspect that your levels may be low, then do go to a doctor and get it tested. Wherever you feel you are at present, vitamin D supplementation will be useful when sunlight is short.

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