It’s the coldest and darkest time of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. We celebrate and make merry with the holidays, but the passing of the winter solstice near the end of December reminds us we have a lot of dark winter ahead.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a serious manifestation of winter blues, but the cold and dark can have many effects that are more subtle. In Denmark, the lifestyle concept of hygge aims to introduce warmth and coziness during this time through candlelight, cheerful company, and indoor activities. We have no such formal notion in the U.S., but a few strategies stand out as accessible to the average American.
The first is inviting in the light during the dark time of year. This can take many forms, including candlelight or a wood or gas fire. The light and warmth of fire can help burn away the winter blues.
When fire is not an option, flickering LED lighting provides a surprising amount of coziness. I’m not sure our brain can tell the difference save for the lack of heat produced. Another option is to string Christmas lights indoors and use them year-round. In our home, we installed orange or red lights in our bedrooms and the hallway between. This provides a soft glow when winding down before bed. The warm colors simulate firelight and do not disrupt the nighttime rise in melatonin. Bright white light from device screens and overhead lighting is stimulating and can interfere with a healthy sleep rhythm.
That’s not to say bright white light is unhealthy. We need a healthy dose of it in the morning and through midday to set our circadian rhythm and regulate hormones such as cortisol. Morning exposure to artificial bright light is a favored strategy for those suffering from SAD.
The next strategy is increasing body temperature to counteract the cold of winter. Externally applied heat is a medical therapy known as hyperthermia and can take many forms, including a hot bath, a heating pad, or a sauna.
In ancient China, practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine harvested, processed, and compressed the fiber from the plant mugwort to light and burn over areas of the body for warmth. Known as moxibustion, this was done over large areas with fistfuls of mugwort or over specific acupuncture points with tiny “grains” of the herb.
Moxibustion is effective but rather smokey. Heat lamps or heating pads offer a more convenient solution but not without a tradeoff. They aren’t smokey, but they may create a harmful electromagnetic field. It’s better to apply a hot water bottle or warm a heat lamp or pad and then unplug it before applying it to the body.
A hot bath also works wonderfully to heat the body and gives you the option of adding therapeutic bath salts or oils. Baking soda and Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) are great additions. Baking soda is energetically cleansing and makes the bath water alkaline; I recommend using 1 cup. Epsom salts provide a solid dose of minerals; I add 2 cups to hot bath water and soak for 20 minutes.
Bath oils are another lovely addition. My favorites are True Botanica oils, which combine organic and biodynamic essential oils with trace minerals from healing gemstones. (Use code PR106 for a discount.) If you’re going to take a bath, you might as well pamper yourself.
The final strategy is sweating. Detoxification tops the list of benefits from sweating, with research showing the ability of hyperthermia to release toxicants, such as heavy metals and pharmaceutical drugs.
Exercise invigorates circulation and will generate enough body heat to induce sweating even in colder temperatures. Hot baths also cause sweating, even though it’s hard to tell when we are in the water. Beads of sweat on your brow when taking a bath indicate you are getting the added benefit of sweating.
The most efficient method of inducing a sweat is a sauna. Many types exist, ranging from traditional Finnish saunas and Native American sweat lodges to steam rooms and modern infrared saunas. They all work, so my general recommendation is to use what is accessible. All will produce significant sweating when used appropriately.
If you are considering purchasing a sauna for home use, an infrared sauna has the added benefit of increased depth of penetration into the tissue, accelerating detoxification. Infrared saunas generate heat via near, mid, or far infrared wavelengths, with the best providing all three in what is known as full spectrum infrared heat.
LED bulbs work great to make the home cozy, with candles and hearth fires being the old-school treatment for the winter blues. Combine the traditional approach with full spectrum light and heat from saunas, and you need not suffer from the cold and dark this winter. Avail yourself of one or more of these strategies, and radiate your light to all those around you.