By Marian Connor

I was thinking…

The clocks go back this weekend ergo darker day’s loom ahead.

As far back as I can remember when winter approaches I get that sinking feeling, less keen to be physically active, more eager to eat, developing the ability to turn niggly little irritants into insurmountable problems to overcome.

In general I feel SAD, little did I know all this time I have been emoting the acronym for Seasonal Affective Disorder which causes depressive episodes linked to the season.

It is thought that SAD sufferers secrete more melatonin which affects circadian rhythms and sleep cycles. The pineal gland processes the essential amino acid tryptophan to produce melatonin; this is regulated by the blue light in sunlight. When light is scarce in winter sufferers have been found to secrete more melatonin resulting in tiredness, lowering of mood and an increase in appetite.

This often results in a renewed love of your duvet, frequent episodes of growling in public and the inability to refuse snacks. Which brings me to the food situation. When my poor light starved brain starts to scream for carbohydrates it’s a very brave soul that would deny it.

Nature probably engineered our increased winter appetites to build up reserves for the long dark days ahead. Supersized carbohydrate ingestion is one way to release more of that multi-tasker tryptophan so that it can convert serotonin to lift our mood. But without large quantities of physical activity to match, the consumption shoots itself in the foot because it would take a shed load of serotonin to overcome the gloom of not being able to fit into the contents of your wardrobe and rendering miracle underwear non-miraculous.

Although our bodies require us to adapt to seasonal changes, the pace of our lives seems to steer us further and further away from living in harmony with the seasons fluctuating energies.

Ayurvedic, Tibetan and Buddhist philosophies believe adaption to seasonal behaviour is needed to prevent disease and to harmonise our humours.

In autumn we begin to turn within, becoming more reflective as winter leads us into a time when the external world weakens, whilst our inner world grows more powerful.

There are many strategies for managing our mood and wellbeing in winter including light therapy, diet, complementary therapies and exercise to help synchronise hormone production. Although this may be a more difficult time for physicality it certainly lends itself to cerebral activities which have been my saviour for many winters.

When it feels like a time for hibernation I say it’s time for renewed curiosity and education. This is a time to learn something new or revisit something old, to help manage the change in humour. Just because my brain is telling me it’s time to hunker down doesn’t mean I have to be comatose. I need to nurture my inner world.

Learning is a gift, it is creative and creativity makes you feel alive and invigorated. Learning encourages neurogenesis, it changes the brain, it’s a win, win situation, you enjoy the activity and the act of taking part will make new connections between neurons in your central nervous system.

This includes learning through movement, there is a direct biological connection between movement and cognition, it enriches the environment of neurons to help them survive and connect. Plus many forms of movement increase serotonin production which can lift the mood and help negate the need to consume the gross yearly production of chocolate from the Ivory Coast.

The variety of learning possibilities and the benefits are multitudinous; all you need is curiosity and the will to do something.

“I think, at a child’s birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift should be curiosity.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

So what do you fancy doing this winter? Move, make some noise, tap dance, tango, lindy hop, knit, sew, paint, bake, write, sing, Cantonese, quantum physics, sculpture?

 

 

Opening the prospectus from the City Lit or Morley College is like entering a Willy Wonka World of Opportunity, but instead of streams of confectionary there are rivers of things to know and do that will enhance your enjoyment of life and the very fabric of your body and brain.

I just need to choose so when the long shadows of winter hang over me, I can sit back and warm the cockles of my heart by the warmth of self congratulation that I am actively doing something to alleviate the gloom.

You should try it. You never know where it may lead.

Here is a little something to get you started – the moustache is not obligatory.

 

 

Image Tile/Header – Blue Tree – by Hanna M.M.K

These may inspire you:

YouTube – Matt Cutts: Try something new for 30 days

CNN Health – Learning something new – your brain will thank you

Marc and Angel Hack Life –  Top 40 Useful Sites to Learn New Skills

 

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Photo of Marian Connor and black text saying "Always looking over the horizon to discover treasures to share. Often times whilst partaking of a fine red."