How to start your day in the darker and colder months

As the seasons change and the weather gets wetter and colder, it’s time to accept that summer is over. 

But going from bright summer evenings to dark and gloomy winter nights and mornings can be very anxiety-inducing, especially if you suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD): a type of depression related to changes in the seasons.

‘We’re actually biologically hard-wired to wake up when the sun comes up and to then go to bed and get some sleep when it goes down, so it’s no wonder that getting up as we head into winter is so hard,’ explains Simone Thomas a Bioenergetics practitioner, nutritionist and founder of Simone Thomas Wellness.

The weather can also impact our desire to get up and start the day.

‘Dark, cold mornings can make getting out of bed a harder task than it already is,’ says Health and Wellness Expert for Zeal CBD, Jay Riggs.

‘Snuggling under the duvet might be all people want to do, but unfortunately, not everyone gets to hibernate for winter.’

So as we say hello to autumn, how can we start our days properly despite the bleak mornings?

Prepare the night before

Plan for the next day the evening before, so you can go to bed feeling more prepared for what’s to come.

Write out your to-do list, and keep a notepad by your bed for any last-minute worries or ideas, so that you can go to sleep with a clear mind rather than racing anxiety.

Don’t press the snooze button

‘A mistake that many people make is that they tell themselves that ten extra minutes in bed isn’t going to make a difference,’ explains Jay.

‘You could come up with a million excuses why ten extra minutes will help you feel better if you’re tired, but it will make getting out of bed much more challenging. 

‘Try to train yourself to get out of bed as soon as you hear that alarm. Make it an automatic part of your routine, which will eventually mean getting out of bed straight away will just become a habit.’

Consider buying a light box

A light box or SAD lamp will simulate sunlight and can help improve mood.

‘The lack of sunlight can have a big effect on people’s moods when they wake up,’ adds Jay. 

‘Getting a light box can help you adjust your body clock and will help you feel more awake in the morning. It could also help to improve your mood, energy and productivity.’

Have something to look forward to

Ultimately getting out of bed is a lot easier if you have something to look forward to. 

‘It doesn’t have to be something big, but it could be something as simple as enjoying that first sip of your favourite drink in the morning or the next chapter of your book,’ Jay recommends.

‘Turn this into your morning ritual, and you’ll wake up ready to get started on the day. Whatever it is you decide to do, you’ll be glad to have something to look forward to as this will help you start the day right.’

Avoid coffee

Pauline Cox, functional nutritionist and nutritional adviser to Wiley’s Finest sustainable supplements, says: ‘Upon waking, the temptation is to go straight for the coffee.

‘Try and hold out for 90 minutes after you’ve woken up. This will allow your cortisol levels to naturally balance out without the stimulation of caffeine.’

But you don’t have to avoid all warm drinks.

‘One of the best tips to start the day in colder months when it’s dark outside is to drink warm liquids immediately upon waking up,’ recommends Jon Callahan, the Founder and CEO of SkiJunket, a fitness expert and ski instructor. 

‘This will help you get your body temperature back to normal and promote overall health. To kick off the day healthily, try drinking bone broth or tea. These drinks have hydrating properties that will help you stay hydrated and energised all morning.’

Food 

When it comes to breakfast, typically referred to as the most important meal of the day, neurophysiologist, sleep expert, and author Dr Nerina Ramlakhan advises eating a nutrient-rich breakfast containing protein and fat carbs, such as a bowl of full-fat yoghurt with homemade granola.

Getting the correct nutrients and vitamins from your diet will help you to maintain energy levels throughout the day.

Exercise

‘You might want to hunker down and not go out or see anyone, but fresh air and natural sunlight will be good for you,’ says Simone. 

‘Running, cycling, or taking the dog out for a brisk comfort break will all get you out of the house and into the light of day, which is key for reducing feelings of depression. 

‘Exercise allows our bodies to produce serotonin, the happy hormone, so the earlier you do it, the earlier you will feel the benefits. 

‘If you are out in the dark, make sure to wear reflective clothes and for extra safety, take your phone and tell someone where you are going.’

Pauline adds: ‘Walking also helps to calm the brain – the fear centre, the amygdala, is very responsive to a morning walk or run. It lowers anxiety and increases feelings of wakefulness.’

How to self-motivate

It can be hard to self-motivate, so Matt Boyles, a personal trainer and owner of Fitter Confident You, has three tips to help:

1. ‘Make exercise as frictionless as possible: Prepare everything the night before: plan your workout, your route to the gym, put your workout gear and work clothes out, pack your toiletries and even prepare the playlist or podcast you’ll listen to. The less you have to decide in the morning, the easier it is to get up and get out.

2. Accountability will make all the difference. If you have to meet a trainer or a friend at a certain time, you are much more likely to stick to the plan, as opposed to just turning up by yourself. When we do things that involve other people – especially when we don’t want to let them down – there’s additional drive and motivation to make it happen.

3. Set up a streak and keep it going. Create a wall planner and tick off your workout days as they happen; no one wants to break their streak once it’s started.’

But if you don’t fancy doing exercise in the morning, Dr Nerina suggests standing outside in the garden for 10 minutes.

‘This helps to reset your circadian rhythm (the body’s natural clock) and reduce cortisol levels, which is especially important if you wake up with anxiety,’ she says.

Read a book

Reading can help to steady and quieten the mind before a busy day of work, says transformation mindset coach Will Murtha.

He adds: ‘I strongly believe the more you read, the more your cognitive abilities will improve.

‘Reading positive or uplifting and inspirational books for just 6-10 minutes first thing can massively improve mood, self-esteem and hope for the future.’

It’s also a way better start to the day than staring at your phone.

Enjoy your morning routine

‘Early in the day, make sure you have a warm drink and just take some time, even ten minutes, for you,’ says Simone.

She also recommends avoiding the news, instead doing a little meditation or getting a new journal and writing down your thoughts. 

‘These can seem like hard habits to start, but in time you will find these rituals really do help you wake up and shine all year round,’ Simone says.

 ‘A shower with some uplifting shower gel is also a great way to bring your mind and senses alive, and make sure to wear something that makes you feel good.’

If you find that you really are struggling, you might have SAD. If your symptoms worsen, the NHS suggests talking to your GP for a referral to talking therapies or for a discussion about starting antidepressant medication.

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