Seasons Change And So Do You
How your biology responds to seasonal changes and what you can do about it
Autumn is a fascinating time of the year wherever you are in the world. As the clocks go back and we lose more daylight, it is important to know this:
Your body and mind will go through some extraordinary yet subtle changes you may not be aware of.
Since ZOLA’s objective is to help you reach your zenith (where you can experience the peak of your powers), it is best to understand why seasonal changes can block that flow of mindful living, and how to prevent it so you can sail through autumn and winter super-healthy from the inside out!
HOW DOES OUR BODY & MIND RESPOND TO SEASONAL CHANGES?
It is not unusual to be affected by changing seasons and weather. You might find that your mood or energy levels drop when it gets colder, you may become more prone to colds and infections, or notice changes in your sleeping or eating patterns. For some people, these symptoms can be severe and have a significant impact on their day-to-day activities.
This “Winter depression” we may experience is often linked to reduced exposure to sunlight during the shorter autumn and winter days.
Here are three of the many physiological changes occurring in your body and mind during this great shift from light to dark.
1. High melatonin levels interrupt your sleep patterns
Melatonin is a hormone that prepares our body and mind for sleep. It is secreted by the pineal gland in the brain when the eyes are exposed to reduced levels of light. Interestingly, some people produce much higher levels of melatonin during winter – a phenomenon which also happens to animals when they go into hibernation.
A sudden spike in melatonin levels can drastically alter your circadian rhythms (the sleep-wake cycle that helps you function at your best within a 24-hour clock). This knocks the “biological clock” out of sync – which can wreak havoc on your sleep patterns and mood!
Furthermore, when your circadian rhythm is off-balance, it can also affect your digestion leading to gut issues.
2. Diminishing levels of sunshine and low mood
In the transition from October to November, we are suddenly dealt with shorter days and longer nights. This significant shift from natural light to more darkness plummets vitamin D levels – which are intimately connected not just to our mental health, but also to our immune, hormonal and digestive health amongst others.
Now, how can you revive your vitamin D levels during these melancholic times?
One way is through optimising the amount of natural light and minimising the amount of artificial light that you expose yourself to. That means getting as much sunlight as you can during the day, and reducing the amount of screen time (phone, computer, tv) or any other bright lights during the night (the moon and stars being an exception).
Some ways to mitigate this issue include wearing blue light blocking glasses at night or installing apps on your phone or computer such as f.lux. Both these tools work to reduce the amount of blue light reaching your eye’s retina, thereby mimicking the effects of the red light from a setting sun. A more traditional approach would be to use candles or sit around the fire instead!
Finally, the third consequence of a seasonal change from autumn to winter is:
3. Increase fat storage
For some people, weight gain is a natural response when the temperatures drop over autumn and winter.
That’s because, during those times, the body increases its insulin resistance, the liver begins to increase fat production and our appetite surges. In other words, your body knows it needs to store more energy or heat reserves as fat in your tissues in order to be better prepared for the winter ahead.
The best way to fight off excess fat build-up like that is to stimulate your metabolism by eating seasonal nutritious food and keeping active throughout the colder months. For those of you a little more adventurous, a regular cold shower will also get you burning through fat to keep warm!
Lastly, this winter seasonal change in physiology towards fat storage is a natural process that happens in all mammals including humans. Simply accepting this fact can take away a lot of the guilt, shame and negative thought patterns commonly experienced around this time of year.
THE SEASONAL LESSON?
Next time you’re caught in a cascade of emotions and physical changes during a seasonal shift, remember this:
It is OK. Understanding why seasonal changes can cause a precipitous drop in your physical and mental health is the first step toward protecting yourself from their potentially negative consequences.
Eating well, keeping good company, taking the time to move, rest, quiet your thinking mind and listen to your body’s signals will all go a long way towards reconnecting you to your inner healer when navigating through these challenging times.
For this reason, at ZOLA, we provide personalised journeys with a strong focus on mindset, nutrition, movement and continuous support to help you get the most out of the colder months ahead.