Thursday, February 16, 2012

5 Ways to Melt Away the Winter Blues and Stay Motivated!

how to beat the winter blues

I'm going to be totally honest with you guys.  Winter bums me out.  I've made jokes here and there in past posts about how I'm not a winter person, but it goes beyond just not being a fan.  Seasons are obviously different all over the world, but here in Chicago, the leaves turn brown and fall off the trees in November.  Then the sky becomes grey and everything is sort of dismal and colorless for several months.  And then slowly but surely, bits of green peek through the ground, buds form on trees, and flowers start to bloom.  Well, my mood tends to mirror this cycle.  For me, I notice it the most between late January and early March.  I'm much more unmotivated and uninspired than usual, I'm more tired, and I just feel sort of blah.  Once the sun returns, the color comes back to the world outside, and the days become longer, I am back with a vengeance. 

Unfortunately, feeling a bit "meh" in the late winter months isn't uncommon, and many of us struggle with how to stay driven and upbeat.  This can be especially hard for those of us who work in creative fields, where our livelihoods are dependent on feeling inspired.  I've had to work hard to discover how to motivate myself and feel good (inside and out) during this time of year, and there are a few things in particular that I've found to help me get out of my slump and back on track. 

Did you notice that several of the words I used when admitting to my winter doldrums involved color - or more specifically, lack thereof?  I mentioned bland (even depressing) colors like brown and grey, and even used the word colorless.  Now think about spring and summer, and what colors come to mind?  For me, it's colors like yellow, green and orange.  No offense to brown or grey (which happens to be one of my favorite colors), but for most people, summertime is associated with colors that are much brighter and more cheerful, and evoke images of sunshine, flowers, and even happiness.  In the winter, I find that it instantly lifts my mood to add a pop of color to whatever I'm wearing.  If I'm wearing a grey dress, I'll put on some red lipstick, or accessorize it with something bright red.  I even like wearing full outfits composed of summer tones like vibrant yellow in the winter.  I also try to add some brightly colored decor to my home during these months, like a bold orange pillow or a yellow scented candle.  And speaking of scents and color, natural smelling citrus or floral scented candles or bouquets of fresh cut flowers can work wonders for bringing a little bit of summertime to your home in the winter.

I know, I know.  If you're like me and feel waaaaay less motivated in the winter months, sometimes just the act of dragging yourself out of bed can feel physically grueling.  But being physically active is probably the best way to feel less gloomy and sluggish during this time of year.  This doesn't mean you have to force yourself to two hours of hardcore cardio at the gym every morning.  On days where my 'to do' list is endless or I'm not up for anything major, I just take breaks once an hour or so to get up and stretch, then do 25 jumping jacks or run up and down the stairs for 5 minutes.  It sounds weird, but it seriously works!  If you do this throughout the day for several days in a row, you'll notice an improvement in your energy level, your ability to concentrate, and your quality of sleep.  Before Bubby dog passed, I would take him on even longer walks in the winter than I did in the summer, just so we could both get a little extra exercise.  It helped!  This winter, I try to take short walks by myself a few times a week.  Try to find a physical activity that you enjoy and devote an hour to it.  Take a fun yoga class or find a yoga program online that you can do at home.  Or make an upbeat playlist and dance around your living room (nobody is watching - feel free to go crazy!).  By physically moving, you're telling your body - and your mind- to feel alert and energized rather than sleepy and stagnant. 

I find this one to be a little more complicated, so I'm going to break it down into two parts.  I am by nature a social person, but during the depths of winter I find myself spending a lot more time alone.  I often just don't feel like going out, and sometimes I don't even feel like leaving my house.  For me, February tends to be especially rough because my husband's band tours almost the entire month, and I work from a home studio, so there are days when I have very little face-to-face social contact.  This is the first winter in 16 years I've had without Bubby dog too, so this year has been especially challenging.  Unfortunately, the more lonely I become, the less I tend to feel like doing anything.  A lot of the things I've read about beating the winter blues suggest forcing yourself to get out and socialize as much as possible, but I find this to be sort of a black and white suggestion.  Even for those of us who live in urban environments, our minds and bodies tend to be in tune with nature.  There is a reason that some animals hibernate in the winter, and it's my opinion that if your natural cycle favors being less social or active in the winter, forcing yourself to fight that can backfire and leave you feeling even more lethargic.  That said, it can also be easy to fall into a trap of never leaving your little hibernation den or making essential human contact, which also tends to make things much worse. What I recommend - and what is helpful for me - is to make sure to create a balance between participating in social activities and nurturing whatever seasonal need you may have for alone time.  Here's how I break this down into two specific goals:
  • Get out at least once a day.  By just grabbing a coffee, making a run to the post office, or going to the store, a small and easy step is made to break out of my winter hibernation bubble.  Just saying "hello, how are you?" to another human - even for a few seconds - establishes some level of contact. Even if you work in an office with a ton of other people, try to get out for lunch or to grab a snack away from your workplace.
  • Reserve one day each week for plans with a friend(s) or partner away from your house or apartment.  In the summertime, I get out to do things with friends on a regular basis, but sometimes when I push myself to make nonstop plans for social outings in the winter, I end up feeling exhausted and only partially "there."  However, when I make one solid plan for social activity each week, I'm able to benefit from the experience by having something to look forward to, and by getting the social contact I need without feeling overwhelmed.  For example, this week, I made plans with my friend Cheri to go to a huge jewelry show tomorrow and then to go back to her place to hang out and admire our awesome new purchases.  It's something simple, but it will get me out of the house and enable me to do something I enjoy with another person.  It doesn't have to be the same day every week, and it doesn't have to be all day.  It can be a one-on-one outing or a group event.  It can be a lunch or coffee date, a shopping outing, going to a museum together, meeting for cocktails, going to see a band, going to a party, or just hanging out.  If other plans come up during that week that sound fun, you can of course participate in those as well!  But by setting aside that one day or part of one day every week, you are creating a simple opportunity to get out and be social without putting too much pressure on yourself - especially if you tend to naturally feel more introverted in the winter.

Ahhh, the sun, my most fairweather of friends.  You make me feel so alive and happy when you're here, and then you get up and leave me for months at a time.  Seriously though, there are all kinds of scientific studies proving that sunlight improves mood and physically energy.  When sunlight is limited during the short days and dreary skies of wintertime, our bodies and minds take notice.  But even when the sun is hidden by a blanket of clouds, spending time outside can make a major difference.  Taking walks - even short ones - outside will allow you to get a little sun and get some exercise (see #2 above!).  You can also switch out your lightbulbs to full spectrum bulbs, which mimic natural light.  If you're able, make plans in the fall to a trip to somewhere sunny in January or February.  During my trip to Mexico with Robbie's band last month, I took advantage of the sunlight (with SPF, of course) as much as possible, and I noticed a difference even a full week after I got home.  I also invested in a lightbox a few years ago, which can help provide that extra boost of sunlight that winter's grey skies and shorter days lack.  These can be really pricey, but as long as the box produces 10,000 luxe of light, you're getting what you need.  Mine is a portable model and was about $60, which is considerably less expensive than the full size boxes but provides the same therapeutic level of light. I'll admit that I'm not always good at remembering to use it, but I've found that if I keep it by my bed and turn it on first thing in the morning while I'm waking up, it makes a difference in my day.

That's right, happy me time - at the end of the day, everyday.  One of my biggest challenges is that I tend to be a workaholic, and I'll catch myself feeling super stressed at night when I haven't accomplished all or most of my tasks for that day.  This is much worse for me in the winter, because I tend to feel less motivated and can't concentrate as well, so I often work more slowly and scratch less of my daily 'to do' lists than normal.  When this happens, I can very easily slip into the habit of working until very late into the night to try to compensate, which results in an overwhelmed mind, a crappy night's sleep, and sometimes a full-on attack of the winter blues.  The next morning, I feel even more sluggish and less motivated than I did the day before, and the cycle begins.  During the winter, even if I had a really unproductive day, I find that giving myself an hour or two every night to just relax and do something I enjoy is incredibly beneficial.  When my husband is home, we'll make popcorn and watch a movie or listen to music.  When I'm by myself, I'll light some candles and read my favorite blogs or magazine, take a long bath, watch Netflix on my iPad (this winter has been full of Mad Men and Portlandia reruns!), or paint my nails (how about those fancy Sally Hansen nailstrips above?!).  Giving myself that time to wind down helps me fall asleep faster, wake up with more energy, and feel more motivated the following day.  It also establishes a pattern of self-nurturing and rewarding myself for the work I did that day - regardless of how much I got done.  You might feel less like yourself in the winter, but you are still awesome!  Take that extra time at night after you've finished work or put your kids to bed to treat yourself to some downtime.  You might not wake up feeling as eager and blissful as you do in the summertime, but you will wake up feeling infinitely better than if you hadn't allowed yourself the time for a little self love.

For my fellow non-winter people, I hope these tips are helpful in melting away the winter blues and recharging you so that you can stay motivated and cheerful!  I'd love to hear what works for you as well.  And remember, if all else fails - there's always chocolate.

Photograph used in top image taken by Bliss Studio.

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  1. I too hate grey skies!!!!

    Wonderful tips. I'm VERY short on time right now, but your tips about using pops of color and getting out once a day are still doable. TFS

  2. It's so weird that you would post this just as I was trying to figure out how to stay sane until spring break. Definitely taking some of your advice, especially the adding color...I think it's time for a little room makeover.

  3. Ohhhhh I so needed this!!! I have been pretty sad and sluggish lately. This is when winter feels like its dragging on for me and I don't wanna do anything!!! I need to make an effort to get out once a day and make plans once a week, I think those are awesome tips and the happy me time too. I might print this out and tape it to my wall! :-)

  4. All very important advice! I would add, do some outside sports! It is easy when there's snow just to pack the skis and get to the woods for some skiing or sleighing, or ice skating! Gets our blood circulating and makes you happy!

  5. What an uplifting post!! I am motivated!

  6. Thanks for this! I'm not a winter person either, and the gloomy weather can get me down. Lately, I've been drinking a lot of lemonade and buying things in bright colors because I just miss summer so much. It seems to help :) Strangely enough, it hasn't gotten too dark or cold where I live. Usually this time of year is insanely rainy and windy.

  7. i really needed to read this today. ive been really uninspired and tired of winter. im going to try to take a walk today and take some me time tonight. i also want to get a light box, i had no idea they were available for so cheap. thank you so much.

  8. this is a wonderful post melissa! i'm going to take some of these tips to heart. perfect photos to emphasize your points. :)

  9. Really great suggestions! I think a lot of us can get a little bit down and unmotivated during the winter months, so this is a great post with tips to cheer up. =)
    I just joined Bloglovin' and yours is the FIRST blog that I'm following. It's one of my all-time faves. Yay!
    from Blogging Buddies

  10. I totally agree with you. Such great advice. I think keeping moving is such an important way to stay motivated. It's so hard to get going sometimes, but once you do you feel so much better. I could really use some sunshine right now.

  11. I've been feeling a little down in the dumps lately. I love your use of color throughout the post! Thanks for sharing these tips. :)

  12. Awesome post - you always have such great advice to offer. I definitely feel like I need some color lately and I need to get moving! Winter is certainly about a lot of siting!

    - Brandi

  13. Yay, I'm so glad you guys like these tips! They certainly don't completely cure the winter blues, but they definitely make this time of year a little more manageable. Sonya, I think winter sports is a great suggestion on how to get both exercise and sunlight, especially for those who live in the country or have access to nature. Something I definitely need to try more of (it sure was more convenient when I lived in Colorado!)

    I hope you've all been able to find some sunshine in your day :)


  14. Looove all of these :) Especially getting some sunshine! I usually hate the beach, but I've been craving it all week! Lucky me, I'm only 20 minutes away from one!
    xo Heather

  15. These suggestions come at the perfect time for me. Thank you.

  16. These are great tips. I agree 100% with the first one, and I think that's why I have so many brightly-colored winter coats and sweaters and scarves. I think I probably wear more color in winter than I do in summer. It makes a difference. I'm horrible about the socializing bit. I have hermit-like tendencies anyway, but if the weather's crap outside, it's even worse. These are the only times I miss having a car...because it's so much easier to deal with going out in the cold if you're driving as opposed to walking and freezing while you wait for buses, etc. Also, I'm trying to be better about taking time to do nothing at night instead of always feeling like I need to be productive. By the way, did you see Portlandia last week? So hysterical. I was crying at Two Girls Two Shirts and really the whole show. Hope you have a good weekend! xoxo

  17. There is soo much truth here! Although I live in California so I don't feel like I feel the Winter blues as much...but still, I feel like this works for any part of the year because just having those days when you don't talk to anyone can really affect a person negatively. I like to go to the gym for human interaction (I'm a new college grad and partially unemployed). I also try to go out with my friends as much as possible/my parents will let me :/ because despite how much I love my parents, I just need to hang out with people my age to feel happy.

  18. This was such a helpful post. I work for myself and I live in Boston so I can totally relate to the way seasons can do damage (or help) your moods. My sanity thanks you for the tips!


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