Stress is a huge challenge in winter, considering the very low temperatures, the long hours of darkness and the constant colds and flu. Even when you have experienced the long winters all your life, it makes no difference. The body still gets stressed and responds in its usual way of producing stress hormones which reduce your immune system, making you prone to more infections. You want to avoid that. In order to stay healthy, you need to reduce stress and to strengthen the immune system to prevent illness. Here are a few suggestions.

  1. Get into the sun daily. You only have a few hours of sun every day but make sure that you get a few minutes of sun exposure daily, especially at mid-day. Sunshine stimulates the release of a hormone that relieves stress. It also produces vitamin D in the body and that will lift the mood and improve the general sense of wellbeing and that way reduce depression and anxiety. Artificial light will not do this for you so you have to go out and walk in the sun.
  2. Stay active. Cold weather and shorter days make it difficult to get up and exercise to stay fit and healthy. However, inactivity is the foundation for a weak immune system, leading to illness. Therefore, get up and exercise. Exercise is a natural stress reliever. It relaxes muscles, relieves body tension, produces happy hormone serotonin and uses up excess amounts of stress hormones. Exercises like yoga, weight training, biking and stretches can be done indoors so begin. Make sure you take your limbs through their range of motion and you increase your heart beat every day.
  3. Stay in the moment. If possible, practice mindfulness for 10-20 minutes every day. Do not be caught up too much in planning for when spring finally arrives. That will increase your stress levels unnecessarily. Just live in the moment.
  4. Get enough sleep. It’s cold out there so go to bed early and get a good 8 to 9 hours of sleep. You want to get up feeling rested with enough energy for your exercise and your daily work. Sleep deprivation affects your energy levels and brain function and increases your stress levels.
  5. Eat immune-boosting foods. Increase your consumption of foods that are rich in fibre, essential fatty acids, antioxidants, vitamins A, C and E, and minerals. Include in your diet the following foods.
  • Dark green vegetables (spinach, kale, Swiss chard) for fibre, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other nutrients.
  • Chicken soup because it has anti-inflammatory properties that will calm down inflammation in the upper respiratory tract.
  • Herbal teas such as ginger, turmeric, ginseng and green tea to strengthen the immune system and to reduce symptoms of colds and flu.
  • Blueberries and other berries that are rich in antioxidants that fight or prevent coughs and colds.
  • Tomatoes because they are rich in vitamins A, C and E (all of them powerful antioxidants), four major carotenoids, and other nutrients. Drink the juice, include them in your salads and cook with them.
  • Foods rich in vitamin D such as cod liver oil, mackerel, sardines and salmon. Salmon is also rich in zinc which reduces the severity and duration of colds and flu.
  • Foods rich in vitamin C such as oranges, lemons, and red bell peppers. Vitamin C reduces the risks of getting colds and flu.
  • Broccoli which strengthens the immune system and also contains vitamin C.
  • Extra virgin olive oil which boosts the immune system and contains oleic acid which reduces inflammation, and antioxidants which also reduce inflammation,
  • Various nuts and seeds as snacks or ground raw and added to salads. They contain a long list of health benefits.

You will want to avoid dairy products because they increase the production of mucus in the body and mucus is a favourite environment for disease-causing microbes. Avoid foods that contain gluten as it damages the digestive system, leading to leaky gut syndrome which then leads to inflammation and auto-immune diseases. Remember, you want to avoid any diseases that will increase your stress levels.

  1. Invest in a humidifier. Winter air is dry. You can use a humidifier to put moisture back into the air. Humid air reduces the ability of viruses to cause flu and colds. It also makes your skin softer and glowing, makes your sinuses comfortable, keeps your voice normal when you wake up in the morning, reduces snoring and helps you to recover faster from colds and flu.
  2. Cook with herbs and spices. Make sure that you add garlic, ginger, turmeric, onions, black pepper, chili, rosemary and other herbs and spices to your food. Turmeric, for example, is a strong anti-inflammatory and antibiotic.
  3. Stay hydrated. Make sure that your intake of teas and water exceeds 2 litres (8 glasses) every day. Fluids loosen up trapped mucus.
  4. Get vitamin D supplements or light therapy to prevent seasonal affective disorder (winter depression), weak immune system and other problems linked to vitamin D deficiency.