The Fall and cold weather is upon us if you live in Calgary and will soon be arriving if you are elsewhere in Canada. This time of year can often make people feel more tired, lower energy levels, and, can leave one feeling sad/anxious/depressed. This is likely a combination of the change of weather reducing outdoor activities and hence social time. People are more likely to ‘hibernate’ in their homes during the cold months leading to a feeling of loneliness which then perpetuates the low mood. This is why it is so important to try and keep up with any group activities during the fall and winter months so that you have an opportunity to be around people and be social! Ideally, one should incorporate a balance of alone time and social time in their lifestyle because this balance helps achieve optimal health.
The malaise and fatigue could also be related to decreased Vitamin D production during the cold months – more on this at the end of this post.
Being alone can be liberating and healing. Everyone needs to spend some time alone because it can help one establish goals, desires and find direction in his or her life. This is why the trend of #selfcaresunday has been started. Self-care is all about doing what you need to do to take care of your body and mind. The goal should be to be able to spend time alone without feeling lonely.
Loneliness and feeling lonely is something that can negatively impact health. It changes our emotions which in turn alters our neurotransmitter balance; alters eating habits and can lead to unhealthy food choices; affects our hormones; and may contribute to weight gain. Overcoming loneliness doesn’t just mean being around people because you may have found that sometimes, even if you are with a group of people, you may still feel lonely. It’s not about the QUANTITY of people you are around but the QUALITY of the relationships and how connected you feel to the people you are with. Brene Brown does a great job on distilling where loneliness stems from in her book Braving The Wilderness. She says the feeling of loneliness comes when we feel a sense of disconnection with the people we are around or the space in which we are in. Yes, your spatial environment can play a big role in creating a sense of belonging. This may be the reason people travel or move to different countries or cities – to try and find a city they connect to where they can live their best life. The act of turning your house into your ‘home’ by decorating it how you want can make you feel more connected to your living space rather than just feel like you are living in a house.
The key to overcoming loneliness is finding ways in which we can connect with others and with places we are in so that even when we are alone, we don’t feel lonely.
How do we make those QUALITY connections?
The problem is that it is easier for people to accumulate lots of friends and people in their lives but hard for people to truly connect and form those rich, strong bonds that enable for a sense of connection between two or more people. Why is this so hard? As Brene Brown says
“Fear is the biggest reason for preventing us from finding a real connection in our lives – with places and with people. The fear includes a fear of being vulnerable, fear of criticism and failure, fear of conflict, and a fear of getting hurt”.
If we can overcome our fear, we will find it much easier to get to know others which will help in establishing a connection and build better relationships with others.
So this Fall and Winter, don’t isolate yourself in your home but try and do something social at least once a week – go out and meet people, maintain your connections and build new ones. Put yourself out there and tell yourself it is OK to be vulnerable. You will notice that it helps you get closer to people. Once you do this, you will feel more comfortable with being vulnerable over time. Developing a good social circle helps to elevate mood and reduce feelings of anxiety/depression because humans are meant to be around people – we are social creatures. Positive social interaction raises serotonin – the happy neurotransmitter. Serotonin can help with sleep too (serotonin makes melatonin in our pineal gland) and optimal sleep is important for helping with weight loss, reducing inflammation, improving energy, and lowering blood pressure to name a few benefits.
If you are feeling a sense of disconnection to the environment you are in – go travel, spend a few months in a different city or country and see how you feel in that environment. Maybe it is time for a move and do not let fear hold you back! Or maybe it is just something as simple as redecorating your living space to make it resonate with you more.
A Note on Vitamin D
Vitamin D helps with immune function, mood, and energy levels and levels are commonly lower during the Fall and Winter months due to the fewer hours of sunlight and weak sun rays in the northern hemisphere that are not conducive for our bodies to make vitamin D efficiently. Speak to a healthcare provider about how much Vitamin D you should take and if you would like to get your Vitamin D tested, your medical doctor may not be able to do this unless he or she has a justifiable reason to order the test. Naturopathic doctors can order Vitamin D testing for an additional fee. Read more about laboratory testing I offer in my practice here.
I recommend my patients get their vitamin D tested if they have been supplementing for a while to ensure they are absorbing it. If your vitamin D levels are sufficient, you may not need high doses of vitamin D.
There are many other therapeutic agents that naturopathic doctors can recommend to help you boost your energy levels if you are feeling in that “energy slump” that comes with the change in weather.
Brown, B PhD, LMSW. (2017) Braving The Wilderness. New York, NY: Random House.