Get ready for winter

It’s the first of November and I somehow can’t quite believe that. Where does time go?
Apart from a nice holiday and more time with my family during the half term holidays, I’ve been busy working with more clients, gave a talk at a local Cancer Support Group on St Mary’s and have been delving into the world of positive psychology.

For those of you that haven’t yet heard of this fascinating field, positive psychology is the research-based study of human thriving. Rather than looking at what makes people emotionally and mentally unwell (which is what psychology has focused on for a long time), it instead looks at “what works” and focuses on aspects that create happiness and wellbeing in individuals/groups. It’s action oriented and to be honest just very satisfying to learn about. I’m studying this as part of my new life coaching course that I’m hoping to complete by the end of Spring 2019. Life coaching/positive psychology and nutritional therapy combined will be a super powerful tool to help my clients live the life they want to live!

Snow on the beach - lots of happy memories from last winter

Snow on the beach - lots of happy memories from last winter

Anyway, this blog post is about getting yourself ready for winter. For many of us living on the Isles of Scilly, winter means having more time for things other than work. Fantastic! But it can also mean being physically less active, spending less time outside, overeating and choosing more comfort foods than we perhaps would during the warmer months of the year. And then there’s the dreaded coughs, colds, and sneezes that some of us catch all too easily or struggle to shake off.

So how can we support our immune system to get us through the coming months without succumbing to frequent infections?

Well, there’s lots you can try doing to support your health. Yay! As such, the following list is quite long, and I’m sure even more could be added, but please don’t feel overwhelmed and instead perhaps choose just one or two things and see how you get on. As always, please feel free to leave comments and let me know of things that have worked for you in the past. I would love to know!

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  • We want to avoid overeating. Try to think about whether you’re eating because you’re actually hungry. Particularly when the evenings are darker and colder, we can all too easily eat far more than we normally would. Ask yourself: Am I eating because I’m bored? Because I’m tired of the weather? Frustrated? Lonely? If so, well done for recognising that and see if you can replace any automatic eating with something else instead, perhaps a herbal tea, a bath, a chat with a friend, reading your book or going to bed if it’s already late in the evening. You’ll know best what it is that you need in that particular moment.

  • Vitamin D plays a huge role in regulating our immune activity. Good food sources include oily fish and eggs (and they’re great protein sources!) so ideally include them regularly in the diet, and then there’s natural sunlight that we really need to try and get the most of during the winter. Make sure you’re not always completely wrapped up and expose some of your skin to sunlight when you’re outside.

  • Homemade stock is one of the most healing foods I know of. It’s full of minerals, helps heal your gut and really useful to drink particularly when you’re having a cold. Making your own is actually pretty easy if you’ve never made it yourself. It doesn’t cost a lot and adds so much flavour to soups and stews.

  • Eat your veggies and eat a rainbow of it! Fill half your plate with veggies - these are the foods that supply us with lots and lots of nutrients. Your immune system depends on them, as do your energy levels, your skin, hair, gut…the list goes on and on. Certain vitamins are particularly important for the immune system, such as zinc, selenium and vitamin A, C and E. If you don’t think that your diet is providing you with enough nutrients, perhaps because of some other symptoms, you could look into taking a daily multivitamin and mineral complex.

    Choose seasonal vegetables where possible, but make sure you’re not just going for the starchy ones. Soups are a good way to incorporate lots of veggies into your diet! I’ve made a beetroot soup the other day and forgot just how delicious (and easy) it is!

  • Eat onions and garlic! Particularly good if you like them raw, so adding minced garlic to salad dressings is a great idea. They have antiviral and antibacterial properties so I’d suggest including them into your diet every day. And if we all do so then we don’t need to worry about bad breath. Winner!

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  • Sleep, sleep, sleep. Sleep serves an absolutely vital function and many of us routinely don’t get enough of it. Sleep deprivation makes a living body susceptible to many infectious agents.(https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5768894/) Do all you can to help you get sufficient sleep, ideally night after night. Zzzz zzzz….

  • Drink enough, around 1.5-2l of water/herbal teas a day, more if you’re exercising.

  • Exercise regularly (but not excessively - you’re body is likely to tell you if you’re doing so). The hardest part of exercising is often the beginning of it: to motivating yourself, putting your gear on and getting out to do it. Once you’re up and running it often turns into a fun and invigorating activity! Do whatever exercise you enjoy doing most, or you’re capable of doing. For some, this might be a brisk 30min walk, for others a run, cycle, swim, or a trip to the gym or classes etc. Keep going and get sweating! It’s so good for your overall health including your immune system!

  • Try to reduce foods and activities that rob the body of nutrients and offer little in return, such as smoking, excessive alcohol and caffeine, processed foods and drinks.

  • Rest and relax. The stress response suppresses the immune function, so do lots of whatever it is that helps you reduce your feelings of stress. Breathing techniques, mindfulness meditation, muscle relaxation, yoga, or perhaps regular prayer if that is for you - whatever works. Reading, baths, going for a walk, playing an instrument, connecting with somebody else, playing a game… again, you will know best.

  • Wash your hands regularly, particularly if you’ve been in public places. I personally don’t worry too much if I've been walking outdoors in the fresh air, picking up sticks whilst playing with my daughter or playing on the beach. If I’ve just come home from the shop or boat, however, it’s a different matter.

  • Keep warm. Normal exposure to moderate cold temperatures is not likely to make you catch an infection. It’s much more likely that the increased infections many of us get during the winter have to do with spending a lot more time indoors, in closer contact to people who can pass on their germs. But obviously wrap up warm if you’re going to spend considerable time outdoors and would otherwise feel uncomfortable! (https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/relaxation-techniques-breath-control-helps-quell-errant-stress-response)

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Happy November everyone!