If you’re not a winter person but you live where it’s cold and gray right now, you can take heart for two reasons: First, spring’s coming! Second, there’s a lot you can do to make the winter months more satisfying.
By Elizabeth Babcock, LCSW
Winter is difficult for many of us. There’s less daylight to keep our moods up and fewer attractive options for outdoor activities in the daylight hours that we do have. On top of that, it’s often simply not inviting to go outside at all. We become more sedentary by default and more prone to turn to comfort food for respite. Months go by that we merely tolerate as best we can while suffering incremental losses to health and mood throughout, but it doesn’t need to be that way.
Take Control of Your Winter Experience
One simple strategy is to plan one or two special events through the winter at four- to six-week intervals. It feels good to have something to look forward to, then you get to enjoy the event itself, then you get to enjoy the memories of that good time while looking forward to the next one that’s just weeks away. You’ll be amazed at how much this can break up your winter and improve your experience of the season.
But there’s so much more you can do if you’d like, starting with taking advantage of seasonal activities and diversions that are not available to you at other times of the year. Hey, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. That actually works sometimes.
If you’re the socializing type, consider planning more of your times with friends around activities other than eating—most of us are eating more and moving less in the winter already. You might choose to have food available if an activity will go on long enough that you’re likely to get hungry, but food can simply be there to be enjoyed when it’s needed rather than being the whole point of what you’re doing.
In case you have trouble coming up with alternate ways to focus your time with loved ones, here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Games, puzzles
- Parties for painting and other home improvement projects
- Book club
- Walking/jogging together
- Walking/playing in the snow with kids
- Museums, zoos, shows, exhibits, other local attractions
Make Time for Personal Plans and Projects
Because so many of our preferred activities are unavailable during the winter, it frees up time for other options that are quite fulfilling during the colder months. Some ideas:
- Books, classes
- Organize closets, drawers, file cabinets, computer files
- Try a new wellness class
- Visit distant family members
- Call friends more often
- Home renovation projects
- Make regular time to read for pleasure
Take Good Care of Your Health
Many people lose focus on self-care in the winter and especially during the holidays. This is a mistake for many reasons, not least of which is that it’s your health—your most precious resource—and it makes no sense to neglect it just because you find winter demotivating.
Your health is already taking a hit because you’re more sedentary and more drawn to carby comfort foods in the cold months. Since both of these lay the groundwork for general malaise, it pays to offset them in the ways that you can.
First and foremost, that means maintaining a routine of regular exercise. You need that in the winter more than ever because of the lower activity levels that winter brings, but it’s about far more than burning calories.
Regular exercise gives your days a reliable sense of rhythm during a time of year, especially during the holidays, when many of your usual patterns get broken. It also helps you to maintain a more health-oriented mindset when you face the many food challenges that are bound to come your way. Exercise affects your body chemistry in ways that support better mood, more resilience, and clearer thinking. It even strengthens your immune system so you’re less vulnerable to getting sick when everyone you know is falling victim to the latest bug that’s going around.
In addition to regular exercise, here are three simple choices you can make each day that will keep you feeling and performing your best:
- Eat breakfast every day
- Base your diet on whole food and have protein at every meal
- Stay adequately hydrated (yes, even when you’re not diving!)
These strategies boost mood and life satisfaction no matter when you do them, but they pay off the very best during your more difficult times. By taking control of your winter, you can make it a productive and fulfilling time rather than just suffering through it waiting for the weather to get better again.
Elizabeth Babcock, LCSW has been a certified diver since 2000. She is a psychotherapist and community educator who has written extensively on topics of interest to anyone seeking to maximize their health and overall enjoyment of life, though her primary specialty is the treatment of overeating. She recently published “Why We Overeat and How to Stop,” (available at Amazon.com), a new approach to overeating which empowers readers to end the cycle of yo-yo dieting once and for all. She resides in southwestern Pennsylvania where she spends as much time as possible outdoors, preferably on, in, or near water. She can be reached through www.elizabethbabcock.com and on Facebook.