The recent blizzard, snowfall, and brutal cold blanketing much of the nation reminded me of how much I love winter -- at first.
Chilly December winds invigorate me as they push me through the tasks of the holiday season. Cooking, shopping and rushing to the next party. We ring in the new year, full of hope and high expectations.
With the Super Bowl behind us and the groundhog predicting six more weeks, there can be a letdown for many of us, the winter blues and blahs.
When the glow of Christmas lights are gone, and the snow starts to melt, the landscape is suddenly bare and gray. It's hard to get going on hazy mornings when blankets are warm, the air is cold, and the car is covered in ice. And darkness seems to fall so early, before we've had a chance to do much with the day.
Kind of makes me relate to animals that hibernate, putting much of life on pause to wait for spring.
But then I think, hold on a minute, I want more from the winter months than that. I want to find joy and purpose in every day, every moment.
Also, I know as a health educator that giving in to an inclination toward stillness and isolation -- doing only what we think we must, instead of making time for what we love -- can throw life off-kilter. Other priorities, such as work and family, all eventually suffer if you don't take care of you.
If you've noticed yourself slipping into a seasonal pattern of joylessness and self-neglect, maybe it's time for a wintervention.
• Step 1: Take this seriously.
The connection between dips in temperature and dips in mood and motivation is real. The short days and cold that drive us inside can also deprive us of natural light and exercise. That, in turn, can leave the body less able to produce the right balance of mood-regulating neurotransmitters, such as serotonin. The result can range from a mild case of the blahs, to a moderate case of the blues, to clinical depression. It can also affect the immune system, making us more vulnerable to other illnesses.
• Step 2: Find time for sunshine.
During the shortest days of the year, it can be dark when you get up for work and dark by the time you get home. To keep that from taking a toll, consider using whatever flexibility your schedule offers to commune with the sun. That could be as simple as taking a walk or running errands on your lunch break, or moving a meeting to a room with lots of windows. It might also be worthwhile to buy a light therapy box -- a lamp that gives off something close to natural light.
• Step 3: Boost your mood by boosting your heart rate.
Exercise is important year-round, but this time of year it can require a more concerted effort. If it's too dark or cold for a run along your favorite route during your free time, how about a dance class? Or yoga? Don't be afraid of looking silly. Silly is good for the soul.
• Step 4: Counter gray days with a little color.
I've never understood why so many coats and raincoats are beige or gray or black. Who wants to blend in when it's bleak outside? Think of colors that brighten your mood and pull them into your wardrobe and your work environment. A bright scarf. A green plant. A polka dot pattern. You might be surprised how far a pop of color can go.
• Step 5: Pile your plate with happy foods.
A diverse diet with lots of fruits and vegetables can help to ensure you're getting the nutrients you need to stay happy and healthy, but nutritionists tell us that some foods are especially potent. Salmon and other oily fish deliver mood-boosting omega-3 fatty acids. Dark chocolate (in moderation) may reduce stress hormones. Leafy greens, such as kale, provide B vitamins that also affect mood. And some researchers compare the spice saffron to the active ingredient in the anti-depressant Prozac.
• Step 6: Try something new, or revisit something old.
Monotony can make life seem dreary, and there is no reason to give in to it when there is a whole world of options out there. Give yourself a thrill by trying something new. It needn't be complicated -- a dish you've never cooked, or a class on a topic that has had you curious. Another way to go is to rediscover a simple joy that for some reason you have set aside. Sing like you did in high school, when your favorite band made you swoon. Or pick up some crayons and open a coloring book!
There are certainly other ways to lift your spirits when the weather seems to work against you. The most important thing to remember is to be mindful about your mood, and embrace opportunities to smile and take care of yourself.