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SAD

As winter approaches the days get shorter, darker, colder. The last thing you want to do is exercise. I get it. Who wants to get a sweat on when comfort food, wine and Netflix beckons?

I suffer from what is known as SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) and it always seems to creep up on me slowly. Up until Christmas time I’m usually too busy and dazzled by lights and merriment so don’t notice the brain and heart fog blanketing my soul, but come the cold harsh reality of January, I notice that I’ve lost interest in so many things that I usually enjoy and I feel like I’m just existing. And waiting. Waiting for the green shoots of spring, longer days and a return to my zest for life.

In winter I feel like a slug. A slow moving sticky slug. I feel like my worst self. Grumpy. Down on myself. No sparkle. Just a sense of foreboding, a sense of dread. How could darkness have such an effect on me? And why can’t I just turn the lights back on?

THE BIG TURNAROUND

A couple of years ago I decided enough was enough. Either I move abroad, spend winters elsewhere with more daylight and heat, which by the way I did in 2016, when I spent 3 months in Venice Beach. And yes that worked brilliantly. Or I try and deal with this thing once and for all. I simply wasn’t prepared to spend another 5 months in suffering and instead went about researching ways to significantly improve my mood and activity levels.

First I cut out alcohol. It worked. I felt less anxious, less blue. Then I got myself one of those Lumie SAD lights. This worked too though I did find it annoying to use. I ate keto, not military strict but I definitely reduced my consumption of simple carbs and upped eating good fats. I religiously meditated and visualised a happier me every day for 20 minutes minimum.

All of these tricks worked and the combination of doing them all at the same time had me thinking yay, I’ve nailed this. Only I hadn’t. Not really. Not intrinsically. Yes I felt better more of the time and I definitely had more energy. But I still had that sense of claustrophobia I get when the days become shorter and the nights set in, all the way up to mid-Feb, when finally, I start to feel normal again. When the joyful me returns.

This called for answers. I wanted to find something over and above the experiments I had already done.

I was searching for something that truly turned the dial, that stuck and turned this SAD around.

I had to look at it like a scientist. I had to experiment with something that was already staring me in the face. EXERCISE. Consistent, mind-altering exercise.

I recognised that despite loving exercise, as soon as the shorter, colder days arrived the less exercise I did. Way less. During British Summer Time (BST) I’m out and about all the time and find it easy peasy to do high intensity exercise nearly every day, a decent yoga practice at least 3 times a week and I tend to walk pretty much everywhere.

Yet as soon as Autumn arrives, I severely limit how much time I spend doing exercise of any kind, even my beloved yoga. I don’t do this intentionally. It just happens without me even realising and subsequently has a significantly negative impact on my mind and wellbeing.

Why was this? And could exercise be the answer?

Could it really make that much of a difference?

I’ve written about how exercise makes you happy and smarter here and I’ve learned a lot about the neurochemistry exercise has on the brain. This led me to thinking ‘Yes come on Dimple’ This is the gamechanger. I intuitively felt that this was the answer. I had to keep doing daily exercise in winter just as I do in summer, no matter how hard or ludicrous that seems.

In Autumn / Winter 2019 I did just that. I did an experiment.

I created a routine and it looked something like this:

NO MATTER WHAT, I did 10 minutes of High-Intensity Training, 10 minutes of Yoga and 10 minutes of Lifting Weights, every day for 40 days.

I made it my mission to exercise no matter how busy, tired and stressed I was. Exercise took on the same importance as brushing my teeth and having a shower. This meant doing micro-workouts instead of my beloved hour long sessions so I could fit in enough to make a meaningful difference and turnaround my SAD.

I say this because at the time my son was only eighteen months old and naturally he needed me which kept me very busy on top of my work. I refused to make him my excuse for curling up on the sofa at the end of a long, sometimes stressful, sometimes busy day instead of doing what I had to do which was exercise.

This worked. This was the GAME CHANGER.

MY RESULTS

Within 10 days I was less bothered about the dark evenings and the exercise seemed to have a compound effect. At first I noticed I ate less comfort food naturally without trying. I quit drinking alcohol because that too had helped me the year before and I noticed that my energy levels and the way I spoke to myself had radically changed for the better.

I felt Positive. Optimistic. Happy. Content. Grateful.

I was military about doing the micro-workouts. If I missed a day then I had to make it up the next. I was determined not to let one day slip. Which only happened twice. I noticed that even by Day 30 I was doing 60 minutes of micro-workouts per day and by Day 40 this was at 90 minutes per day. And this didn’t include walking.

Doing exercise every day for 40 days was more a mental achievement than anything else. There were some days my mind and body felt like glue and I didn’t want to step onto my my yoga mat or lift weights, but self-determination and a fear of a return to the doom and gloom of SAD days kept me in check.

Astonishingly my mental strength really improved over these winter months and by end of Jan, typically a time when I feel at my worst, I felt happier and stronger than I normally do in the summer months.

This time was different. I felt brilliant. On top of the world. Strong. Expansive. Hopeful. Energised.

Physically I never lost any weight, though my body shape and composition changed quite remarkably. Less love handles. Barely there bingo wings. More long lean legs and sculpted arms. My abs felt strong. My back lifted me that wee bit higher, improving my posture and hence my standing in the world. My confidence returned.

Like I said exercise has a compound effect.

My mind now sharper, more creative, in turn allowed me to focus more and have the discipline I needed to finish the things I had started. This bolstered my self-esteem, and this increased trust in myself led me to feel really good. Of course this impacted my life in other positive ways. Better decision making, more patience and having a greater presence. All of which gave me the sense that I was living life to the full and not letting it pass me by.

I felt happy. I felt content and whole. Happy. Grateful. Optimistic. Expansive. The claustropobia had gone.


For the first time in winter I no longer counted how many hours of sunlight I was getting. You see I used to be one of those people who looked at the website that shows sunrise and sunset times religiously, daily, and now I only checked it once a week.

JUST DO IT

As hard as it may seem you should definitely get going and move that body of yours. Exercise counteracts depression at almost every level. In the UK doctors regularly recommend exercise as the first line of treatment for depression.

I know its easier to get off the couch and get your body moving in the summer, but if you suffer from the winter blues and SAD in particular, then it is even more important to exercise daily when autumn and winter arrives.

And the sense of accomplishment is even higher.


MY TOP TIPS FOR KEEPING ‘SAD’ AWAY

  1. Get outside and walk at least 8000 steps per day whatever the weather. Dress up warm and just do it!
  2. Do at least 2 Ten-minute Micro-workouts daily, preferably one weight bearing and the other with as much high intensity as your current fitness allows
  3. Take Vitamin D3 1000iu minimum daily
  4. Get at least 7 hours sleep a night and meditate for at least 5 minutes either side of hitting the pillow and waking up.
  5. Stay off the sugar and simple carbs at least 5 days per week. Only eat as a treat. This is the season of festivities after all. Diwali, Hannukah, Thanksgiving, Christmas
  6. Reduce your alcohol consumption. I recommend at least 3 days off the booze per week or better still quit completely for three months mid-Nov to mid Feb during the darkest days. Or simply take part in Dry January. That way you’re not alone and in it with others.
  7. East more good fats like nuts, seeds, olive oil, coconut oil, eggs, oily fish, and avocados. Preferably consume at least three of these daily.
  8. Practice the Art of Appreciation daily. Think of as many things that you appreciate in that moment and really feel those feelings of appreciation coursing through your veins. Do this at the bookends of your day. Trust me this works and puts your head in an undeniably vibrant space.

Dimple xo

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