We’re in the last stretch of winter, and spring is right around the corner! But that won’t make these last few weeks of winter any warmer.
Wintertime comes with unique challenges for staying healthy, including low temperatures, which can make outdoor activities less likely, and viruses that make infections more likely. In order to maintain your health, especially in the face of stress, it is important to plan ahead and take steps to support your health.
Tips for Reducing Stress and Staying Healthy in Wintertime
1. Get a good night’s sleep
While you sleep, your body recovers from stress, recalibrating your levels of cortisol, the main stress hormone. Research shows that a lack of sleep leads to imbalanced cortisol levels and decreased immune function, leaving you vulnerable to viral and bacterial infections, as well as many other potential health issues.
Here are things you can do to ensure a good night of rest:
- Plan on getting 7.5 – 9 hours of sleep
- Use the hour before bed for less stimulating activities (turn off the TV and iPad)
- Lower the lights; they stimulate hormones that keep you alert
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and large amounts of food in the evening
- Use an app, such as Sleep Cycle, to track your sleep
You’ll know that you got enough sleep when you wake up without an alarm and feel rested.
2. Make time for you and for stress reducing activities
Research shows that certain activities lower cortisol (when it is too high) and help your body recover from stress. These activities also allow you to take a break from your day, giving your body a chance to improve your immune function and fight off any viruses that come along.
- Make time for indoor exercise of your choice—such as strength training, yoga, and/or Pilates—3 to 4 times per week for 15 to 30 minutes
- Take an all natural calming nutrient, such as theanine, up to three times per day to support the calming part of your nervous system
- Enjoy a cup of green tea
- Schedule a massage
- Take a hot shower or bubble bath
- Curl up under a cozy winter blanket with a good book
- Put on your favorite “feel good” music
- Set a reminder to eat every 3-4 hours and include protein with every meal
Related: 7 Ways to Get Motivated to Exercise
3. Choose foods that rebalance cortisol and optimize immune function
Avoid dairy products (anything made from cow milk), alcohol, and sugar (white, refined sugar, as well as its many other forms), because they are known to lower immune function and make you more prone to infections.
Gluten—the protein commonly found in bread, pasta, and baked goods—should also be avoided, because it is know to increase inflammation in the body, which makes you more susceptible to infections of all types.
On the other hand, here are foods that will support immune function:
- Nuts: walnuts, almonds, pecans, and hazelnuts — contain healthy fats and proteins which help maintain healthy cortisol levels and immune function
- Fatty fish: wild salmon, mackerel and sardines — prevent cortisol from rising and provide healthy fats for a successful immune response
- Berries: strawberries, blueberries and cranberries — help maintain healthy cortisol levels and antioxidants to protect your cells
- Leafy greens: spinach, kale, chard and more — contain magnesium, which helps muscles relax, and calcium, which is calming, plus antioxidants
- A healthy amount of proteins and fats, in addition to gluten-free carbs — to help balance your blood sugar and cortisol, which supports healthy immune function
With these three tips in place, your body will be more resilient to stress and viruses, leaving you healthier overall. If you do catch a virus, these three tips will also help you to recover faster.
Take our quiz here to find out how stressed you are.
Dr. Donielle (Doni) Wilson, a nationally celebrated naturopathic doctor, teaches women, men and children how to make life-changing differences to improve their health using natural approaches. In her new book, “The Stress Remedy,” she discusses how and why we experience stress and its impact on health and wellbeing, in addition to providing expert guidance on how to reduce stress and reclaim optimal health.
Photo by Scarabei