SAD, Exercise & Endorphins
How to reduce Seasonal Affective Disorder, motivate yourself to exercise & increase those endorphins to reset your mental well-being and avoid winter hibernation!
Returning to the dark and chilly British winter after my most recent 3 and a half months in India has got me thinking about the role exercise plays in increasing our mental well-being. Have you ever finally dragged yourself out to that exercise class you've been promising you'd go to for months, loved it, and never managed to go back? It is said to take 21 days to form a habit, which is possible only through your own motivation and dedication. So why do we feel so lacking in this during the British winter?
200 years ago around 75% of the UK and Irish population worked outdoors, the majority doing manual jobs. This figure has reduced to just 10% in the 21st Century (www.sad.org.uk). Seasonal Affective Disorder is a medically recognised condition, that results from a disruption in our circadian rhythm. This means the human body does not get enough sunlight to produce a sufficient amount of hormones that usually encourage our body to feel wide awake, leaving us feeling lethargic, anxious, lacking libido, and increasing our desire to be anti-social and instead stay at home and consume excessive carbohydrates and sweet foods. As the UK is situated in the higher latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, daylight hours are significantly reduced during the winter months, making it even more important to take the time out of your day to go outside and experience the beauty of the winter sun.
Sitting at your desk before the sun comes up and leaving for home well after it's gone down may feel inevitable right now, however for your mental well-being it is crucial that you take even just 20 minutes out of your day to boost your body's seratonin levels, increasing your focus and productivity for the rest of your day! When you are feeling down or even depressed, motivation to change your habits for this can seem like you are climbing a mountain, however the biological benefits are scientifically proven to make it worth your while; you should start by altering your attitude.
Attitude: 'A mental state of readiness organised through experiences that influences the response of an individual towards an object or situation.' (Moody, 1980).
Cognitive Dissonance Theory states that an individual must provide themselves, or be assisted with, new and positive experiences that can modify their previous attitude of a situation. Going to bed in the evening and promising to wake up at 5am everyday to hit the gym is often pretty unobtainable. So start with something less daunting - wake up 15 minutes earlier and walk part of your journey to work, or set an alarm in the middle of the day, and ensure you leave your office and go outside for lunch. Not only will you feel better emotionally but you will also experience physical changes in your body.
As a yoga teacher, ballet teacher and outdoor enthusiast I love the positive feelings I get after a great exercise session. We are all humans however, and some days I just cannot motivate myself to do this. There is clear scientific evidence for the emotional benefits of exercise, including endorphins. These are chemical substances secreted from the central nervous system and pituitary glands to inhibit pain signals and produce feelings of euphoria similar to that produced by other opioids. Exercise and meditation both encourage the bodies production of endorphins, reducing your blood pressure and increasing mental well-being.
It also encourages adrenalin and seratonin, to wake your body out of hibernation mode, and then help aid sleep when the time is right, to reduce potential insomnia from a disrupted circadian rhythm.
I hope you take some time each day to focus on yourself - from a 5 minute guided meditation on youtube, to a 15 minute walk to an hour long yoga class. Find whatever suits you best and keep going for 21 days. Before you know it, your mental health and well-being will start improving, to keep you going through the dark winter months!
Take care, Jeny.