The clocks have gone back and winter is in full swing. This means our mornings and evenings have just got a whole lot darker. It’s easy to feel gloomy this time of year, but there are certain lifestyle changes you can make to boost your well-being and cope with the darker mornings and evenings…
Brain function and energy can be much improved by meditation, according to a study from the University of Waterloo, and another study from Case Western Reserve University found that it improves attention and efficiency at work.
Try this body scan meditation for five to 10 minutes: Sit comfortably and close your eyes. Bring your attention to the top of your head and consciously relax and loosen the area. Move down your body doing the same, part by part; face, jaw, neck, shoulders, arms, chest, back, stomach, legs and feet. When you’ve finished, take another minute to just savour your refreshed mind and body.
2. Get moving on darker winter mornings
Exercise is a fast path to clearing morning grogginess and getting a blast of feel-good endorphins to set your energy levels up for the day.
It could be anything from sun salutations (see YouTube for guidance) to walking part of the way to work – preferably detouring through a green space, as this raises feelings of energy, according to researchers from the universities of York and Edinburgh.
Cycling is also a great option – it’s associated with better general and mental health, according to a study published earlier this year, while another found it lowers stress.
3. Avoid the screens first thing
Yes, you’ve heard it before, but this is the number one way to kick-start your mornings. The time immediately after waking should be a time of peace for your brain – don’t check social media, the news or your email until you’ve created a strong, focused frame of mind.
Leave your phone downstairs, along with your iPad or laptop. ‘Engaging with the digital world when you’ve just woken up puts you into a reactive rather than proactive state,’ says Stuart Sandeman, transformational breath coach (on Instagram as @breathpod).
‘You’re immediately at the mercy of what’s coming in, but if you take the time to work on your emotional state before opening a screen, it puts you in control.’
4. Silence your inner critic
If there’s one way to sap energy it’s ruminating over past events, such as an argument with your partner. ‘It can take time to learn, but develop a mindset where you give yourself a break,’ says Toby.
‘Think about the short-term ways you can make things better, such as sending an apologetic text, and then move on from it with renewed energy.’
5. Do something creative on darker winter mornings
‘If you have time in the morning, take 10 minutes to do something absorbing and creative, from reading a novel to doing a page from a mindful colouring book,’ says Stephanie.
Allowing your mind to be fully immersed in something and losing a sense of space and time – known as flow – results in an energised focus that will do wonders for your day.
6. Reframe your feelings
If you feel stressed about the day ahead, remember it’s not always a negative thing. ‘A certain amount of stress can focus your mind and boost performance,’ says Stephanie.
‘Recognise that you can’t control how much of it comes into your life or banish it altogether but you can control how you respond to it. Your mind can often jump to the worst case scenario when you think about the day ahead, but every time you have a negative thought, practise switching it.
For example, if you think “I’ve got so many emails to answer when I get to work – I can’t cope”, say to yourself “I’ve got a lot of emails to answer today – I’ll work through them as best I can”.’
7. Practice gratitude
Gratitude helps to shift your mind away from rumination and gives you positive energy.
‘Rather than scrolling through your phone while the kettle boils, stand and think of three things you’re grateful for, whether it’s your health, that you have a home or just that you have a nice cup of tea coming up,’ says Stuart.
‘Or set positive intentions by thinking “what would make today great?”’
8. Learn to breathe well
‘If you’re feeling sluggish or anxious, your breath can become shorter and shallower, emanating from the chest,’ says Stuart. ‘If this becomes habitual, you lose the ability to breathe deeply, which can lead to a lack of energy. By starting your day with breathing practice, you can retrain yourself into a healthy breath pattern and charge your body with energy.’
Try this exercise to cope with darker winter mornings…
- Sit or lie comfortably with your back straight.
- Put both hands low on your stomach, index fingers just below the navel.
- Inhale deeply through the nostrils, opening and expanding the breath into your hands.
- Your chest should not lift or expand until you have a full expansion in the belly.
- When fully inhaled, relax and let go as you exhale through the mouth (no effort, just let the air leave your body).
- Repeat for 10 breath cycles.