Written by Sarah Loker
With the clocks changing this weekend, it marks a decisive end to the warm summer months and the start of the colder, darker days of winter. This shift in the time of the year, and also in literal time as we shift the clocks back an hour, impacts our health and wellbeing - the colder winter months are commonly referred to as ‘flu season’ with our bodies becoming more susceptible to coughs, colds and other viruses. The lack of sunlight in the winter months can also impact our mood, with some getting the ‘winter blues’ or SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). With the clocks changing, our circadian rhythm, or internal body clock, can become disrupted, which can have far-reaching effects on our overall health and wellbeing.
With all of this being said, there are many simple and effective ways you can support your body and mind during this transition to winter, so you can feel your best at all times of the year. Keep reading for some tips and tricks you can use to nourish yourself as we transition into the darker days of winter…
Go for a morning walk
One benefit of the clocks changing is that our mornings become lighter, meaning we have more opportunity to get outside at the start of the day. Walking in the morning has a variety of benefits to our health and wellbeing at all times of the year, but taking a morning stroll is particularly powerful as we transition into winter, as a way to regulate our circadian rhythm.
There is evidence that changing the clocks by 1 hour can really impact our natural body clock. Our circadian rhythms are physical, mental, and behavioural changes that follow a daily cycle. They respond primarily to light and darkness - when the sun comes up it activates our daytime processes, and when it sets our sleeping processes start up. By shifting the clocks back we disrupt our bodies ability to naturally adjust to the changes in light, and this can leave us feeling drowsy and jet-lagged in the days following the change of clocks.
Exposure to light on a morning walk helps reset circadian rhythms, as well as giving a natural energy boost to start the day. If you can, taking your morning walk in natural surroundings can enhance the benefits to your health even more - studies have found that walks in nature compared to urban walks have a greater impact on decreasing cortisol levels, sympathetic nerve activity (fight/flight stress response), blood pressure, heart rate, and anxiety levels.
It can be difficult to get ourselves out the door early in the winter months, but getting sunshine on your skin to start the day is a really powerful and accessible way to positively impact our health and wellbeing - so wrap up warm, take a thermos of coffee or tea to sip, and morning walks can become a wonderful way to nourish yourself in the winter.
During the winter we are naturally exposed to less natural sunlight, which means less exposure to vitamin D. This vitamin plays a vital role in our overall health and wellbeing, enhancing cognitive function, supporting the functioning of the immune system, strengthening bones and muscles, regulating hormones, supporting sleep, and boosting mood. Vitamin D is often called ‘the sunshine vitamin’ because it is produced under UVB rays from the sun - when skin is exposed to the sun, a chemical reaction occurs to produce vitamin D. So, with less sunlight during the winter, this can leave us with lower mood, energy levels, poorer sleep, decreased functioning of the immune system, and more. The NHS advises that in the UK from October to March, it is best to supplement vitamin D or increase foods naturally rich in vitamin D into your diet to support your health and wellbeing. Foods rich in vitamin D are: oily fish like salmon and mackerel, red meat, egg yolks, spinach, and mushrooms.
Switch from TV to reading for evening entertainment
As the evenings draw in and it gets darker earlier, our use of artificial light increases to fight off the gloom. This disrupts our circadian rhythm, decreasing sleep health and the functioning of the immune system. The artificial light from screens also impacts our internal body clock, and being exposed to this throughout the day and into the evening means it’s harder for our bodies to switch off and get ready for sleep.
Dimming the lights, and using candles and orange or yellow lights rather than harsher white lights in the evening helps our circadian rhythms to function properly. Switching from watching TV and phone scrolling to reading a book for night time entertainment is an easy lifestyle change that decreases screen time in the evening. Cosying up under a blanket with a hot drink and a good book in the winter is a wonderful way to relax and support your wellbeing during the winter months.
I love reading books set in winter at this time of the year. I find books can help me connect with the season on a deeper, more imaginative level, helping me to appreciate the season and find moments of magic in the darker, colder months. One of my favourite winter reads is The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey.
Slow down and take time to rest
During autumn and winter, our decrease in energy levels isn’t necessarily a bad thing - the Ayurvedic tradition views the human body as being integrally connected with the natural world, following the same cycles of the seasons. In Ayurveda, ritucharya means “seasonal movement” and describes the cycle of the seasons and practices that connect us with them. In spring and summer we naturally have more energy, just as nature does. But after the intense activity of the summer months, the slower pace of autumn and winter is needed as a time to rest and replenish.
With the changing of the seasons, autumn and winter is an especially important time to care for the nervous system and prioritise slowing down to support the transition from an active and outward summer toward a more restful, inward winter. This is a time to honour the natural stilling of the outer world and give ourselves permission for a sacred pause to replenish.
Prioritise supporting your immune system health
Winter is commonly referred to as ‘flu season’, with colds and flus increasing as the seasons change. As we have already seen, a number of factors negatively impact our immune system health during the winter. The daily nourishment of your immune system can make a huge difference to your overall wellbeing during autumn and winter, helping you feel your best all year round.
Practices like eating a nourishing diet, exercising and moving the body, getting plenty of sleep, sunshine, and water, and proper hand washing are essential to ward off nasty germs and viruses at this time of the year. Other ways you can enhance your immune system in winter is with the support of herbal remedies and aromatherapy.
Herbal teas are an easy and accessible way to harness the healing powers of herbs and plants - some of my favourite immunity boosting herbs that make delicious teas are elderberry, echinacea, and ginger. Research shows antioxidant bioflavonoids and proteins called cytokines in elderberries destroy the ability of some viruses to infect a cell and regulate immune response. They are also rich in vitamin C, known for its immune boosting and antiviral effects. Echinacea fights infection in all body systems by enhancing immune function, and is widely used to support symptoms of colds, flu and upper respiratory tract infections. Ginger has antiviral properties and is effective against viruses that cause respiratory illnesses.
Aromatherapy and essential oils promote wellness by enhancing and strengthening our immune response to disease. Some essential oils stimulate production of disease-fighting white blood cells, such as phagocytes, T-cells, and B-cells, which are vital to the body’s defences and immunity. Eucalyptus essential oil has been shown to encourage the process known as phagocytosis, where larger white blood cells called phagocytes engulf and then destroy, or deactivate, bacteria and viruses. The compound linalool, which is found in high levels in essential oils such as lavender and eucalyptus, has also been shown to increase the efficiency of the body’s white blood cells.
If you are interested in finding out more about how to support your immune system health during the winter, come along to our next Wellness Workshop - Yoga and Aromatherapy for Immunity, on Saturday 11th November, 12-2pm at The Studio Bartlow. Learn how yoga, meditation, breathwork and essential oils can support and enhance your immune system health - you’ll leave the workshop armed with a toolkit of wellness tips and tricks you can apply to your everyday life to keep you feeling your best during the wintertime. For more information and to book your space - https://www.thestudiobartlow.co.uk/service-page/yoga-aromatherapy-for-immunity?referral=service_list_widget
The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative by Florence Williams, p23
The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative by Florence Williams, p151
Living Ayurveda: Nourishing body and mind through seasonal recipes, rituals, and yoga by Claire Ragozzino, p28
Living Ayurveda: Nourishing body and mind through seasonal recipes, rituals, and yoga by Claire Ragozzino, p189
Living Ayurveda: Nourishing body and mind through seasonal recipes, rituals, and yoga by Claire Ragozzino, p247
Little Book of Herbs by Tipper Lewis, p23
Little Book of Herbs by Tipper Lewis, p21
Essential Oils by Susan Curtis, Pat Thomas and Fran Johnson, p16