Julia, a dental assistant in a local dentist’s office has a distinct twinkle in her eye that never fails to light up a room. That is, until February hits. Something happens in the cold, dark months in New England that slowly builds within Julia. Perhaps it is Seasonal Affective Disorder, although she has never been formally diagnosed. It’s as if she hits the wall for the midwinter months and then by late in April she slowly begins to emerge from her cocoon. Julia is in good company with those among us coming undone in February and suffering from the “winter blues.”
Holidays well behind us now, the snow plows this year in perpetual motion, a general malaise seems to have settled throughout New England. Unless you’ve managed to get up to ski country, it’s easy to go into hiding. The roads are difficult to navigate and who wants to leave the warmth and safety of their abodes, unless it is to bask in the sun some place far, far away.
What I observe in my office and among my friends is that this is the time of year when depression typically sets in for many – with or without Seasonal Affective Disorder. Complaints like lethargy, flu-like symptoms, lack of concentration, weight gain, stress, anxiety and increased pain issues abound.
It takes determination and commitment to win the battle against the “winter blues,” but it can be done. Taking certain proactive steps can counteract the doldrums and despondency that this season sometimes brings.
Here are ten strategies that are guaranteed to guide you back to a place of balance, well-being and heightened energy.
1. Start your day with a positive affirmation. Create a simple, positive statement that resonates with you about yourself, your family, or your work that you can resort to as you move through the day. Remember your higher purpose, rather than focusing on the annoyances of the day. Think about the big picture. For example, “I feel balanced, blessed and happy.” When negative thoughts come up, reframe them with a more optimistic perspective. Positivity is a skill that can be learned with regular practice.
2. Build exercise into your day: a brisk walk, floor exercises, a swim, dancing in the living room, watching a yoga tape, visiting the gym. Movement will keep you warm as you feel good energy flowing.
3. Practice a meditation or relaxation exercise. Ten to twenty minutes of meditation or relaxation changes you psychologically and physiologically. It’s one of the most concentrated actions you can take to feeling more centered, focused and happier. If you don’t want to meditate, then build in some extra down time, since the winter can be more demanding on your body physically.
4. Spend some time with a friend(s). If you cannot get together physically, then catch up with a friend on the phone, skype or some form of social media. Face-to-face contact is best, but connecting via any mode of communication trumps isolation. You might also consider enlisting a friend’s support in following through with some of these strategies.
5. Maintain a healthy diet. White sugar and white flour products can seem quite comforting on these dark and cold days. However, foods that are devoid of nutrients tend to zap your energy level and can affect your mood and ability to concentrate. It is better to stabilize your blood sugar levels and go for the fruits, vegetables, complex carbohydrates, lots of water and foods rich in Vitamin D.
6. Get sunshine whenever possible. Try to get some sunshine (again Vitamin D) and fresh air when possible. Sunlight releases neurotransmitters, which positively affect mood and feelings of well-being. On sunny days you might consider cranking up the heat in the car and keeping the sunroof open, even if just for a few minutes at a time; the cold air can be quite exhilarating.
7. Embrace the beauty of the winter season. Perhaps take up snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, downhill skiing or buy crampons for the bottom of your shoes so that you can safely walk outside. Once you find a way to enjoy the season, you will find it not only easier to tolerate, but you may begin to appreciate the magnificence of a cold, crisp wintry day!
8. Make a fire at home and get cozy. If you’re lucky enough to have a fireplace, make a ritual of snuggling up with a book or game with friends or family and enjoy the cozy time. You can relax and not feel as pressured to be outside as sometimes happens when there’s warm weather in New England.
9. Engage in flow activities. Flow activities are any activities that you find pleasurable in which you lose track of time. For example: singing, dancing, painting, yoga, writing, long walks, nature, photography, connecting with friends. These activities help enliven the spirit and bring you back into a state of equilibrium and happiness.
10. Focus on the big picture. What are your priorities? Are you moving forward with the realization of your priorities? Everyday that you put energy into A-list goals and don’t fritter the time away sweating the small stuff, you bring yourself a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. Finding balance and happiness is about making your day, even in the dead of winter, by combining all of the elements that make you feel good physically, psychologically, and spiritually.
What do you do to take pleasure out of the winter months?