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It’s that time of year again! The days are shorter, the weather colder and I start to feel like a hibernating bear. Staying motivated during the winter becomes a struggle. Sound familiar?
I cherish the few days the sun shines brightly on the sparkling snow. I feel generally happier and wish that every winter day were the same. It’s not though. It’s usually grey, cloudy and dark by 4 pm.
I experience this decrease in motivation with many others in the northern hemisphere (Canada here!). We can’t avoid the seasonal changes, it’s something we have to live with, but we can also create habits to stay motivated during these winter months.
Before tackling your habits it’s important to figure out why you’re feeling down this winter. There are usually two possibilities.
IS IT WINTER BLUES OR S.A.D.?
There’s a difference between the “winter blues” and what has been classified as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
The winter blues are extremely common. You’re experiencing this general decrease in energy, however, it doesn’t affect your ability to enjoy life. The colder darker days cause this gloomy feeling and make it harder to stay motivated during the winter months, but your life is otherwise not impacted.
On the other hand, Seasonal Affective Disorder (also known as S.A.D.) is a form of depression that starts in the Fall and last through the Winter. People with the disorder find it affects all areas of their life and impacts them every day. They may notice they are sleeping more than usual, have a loss of interest in activities they used to like, have trouble focusing, and have a feeling of hopelessness. In some cases, people suffering from S.A.D. have suicidal thoughts.
If you think you are affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder please see your doctor. You may need help during the seasons you are affected.
HOW TO STAY MOTIVATED DURING THE WINTER MONTHS
Whether you’re suffering from the Winter Blues or are diagnosed with S.A.D. here are some habits and routines you can incorporate in your life to help you stay motivated during the winter months.
1. Get Up Early
With less sunlight during these months, it’s so important that we’re active during the hours the sun is actually up. I know, it’s easier to stay in your warm bed when it’s cold. However, maintaining that early to rise schedule has its benefits.
Getting up early will help keep your melatonin and serotonin levels balanced.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter and mood regulator. Low levels have been associated with depressive disorders, including S.A.D. There are several reasons why you might not be producing enough and lack of sunlight is one of them.
Sunlight is also a natural regulator for our circadian rhythm or our internal clock. It controls our sleep cycle – when we start to feel tired at night and when we begin to wake in the morning. In fact, before the invention of electricity, our bodies relied heavily on the decreasing sunlight to signal our brain to start producing melatonin – the sleep hormone.
As you can see. rising with the sun can help you stay motivated during the winter months. However, if you find it hard to get moving in the morning, look back at your sleep. One way I ensure a good night’s rest is by using my weighted blanket (try it, it’s a game-changer)!
2. Take Nutritional Supplements
Certain vitamins can help support your brain, body and nervous system during the winter months when those vitamins aren’t as naturally available.
I religiously take a Vitamin D supplement during the winter months and I recommend anyone living in the Northern hemisphere pick up this habit.
Our skin naturally produces Vitamin D when it’s exposed to the ultraviolet light in sunlight. This is extremely easy to do during the hot summer months when a lot of our skin is exposed and the days are longer. However, during the winter we’re covered in warm clothing and don’t get enough hours of daylight to produce enough. A daily Vitamin D supplement is a good temporary alternative during these months.
In addition to the sunshine vitamin, magnesium can benefit your overall wellbeing during the winter.
Our body needs magnesium for a whole host of processes, including regulating our neurotransmitters. These affect the brain and nervous system, including the part that controls our moods. If these bodily processes are working as they should be, such as producing enough serotonin, mental problems such as anxiety and depression will be less common.
Therefore, magnesium can be an important supplement during the months when our moods are generally lower.
3. Exercise And Staying Active
Exercise comes up often as a solution to a lot of our problems, including fighting the winter blues. Staying active fights disease and it’s also a mood booster! If you’ve ever been in a funk and felt better after a walk or run, then you know what I’m saying here.
When you exercise your body releases endorphins which boosts your sense of happiness. Exercising also suppresses the hormones adrenaline and cortisol that cause stress and anxiety (source).
So next time your feeling lethargic and unmotivated, especially during the winter months, consider adding exercise into your routine. It’s never been easier to get a workout wherever you are. There are several health and fitness channels on YouTube, all you have to do is search “fitness for beginners” or “calm yoga”. Whatever floats your boat and fitness level.
Moving your body will increase your sense of wellbeing which will make you feel happier and more energetic.
4. Spend More Time Outdoors
Yes, even if you are afraid of the cold. Just dress warmer. Seriously.
It’s incredibly easy to become cooped up indoors when it’s cold and dark outside. I know I’ve decided many times to stay home in my fluff tortilla rather than face any form of activity. However, this can start to affect your wellbeing, cause isolation, and eventually lead to low mood.
You don’t even need to exercise, just enjoy the fresh air to get the benefits
Stay motivated during the winter months by getting outdoors when you can. Dress for the weather and go for a stroll if it’s is a mild winter day. Or, grab a bus and head to a bustling area in your city. Be around people. Go skating or sledding. Find your way to your local coffee shop.
In many instances, research has shown that fresh air has both physical and mental health benefits. It’s been pointed out that recycled recirculated air makes our bodies work harder for oxygen. Less inhaled oxygen leads to lower levels of serotonin, which we know can contribute to anxiety and depression. Therefore, fresh air rejuvenates the body, maintains a healthy level of serotonin, leading to a better sense of wellbeing and energy. (source)
There are plenty of ways you can plan some outdoor activities during the winter. The fresh air and change of routine will energize you and uplift your mood.
5. Artificial Light Therapy
A useful tool used by people with Seasonal Affective Disorder is artificial light therapy. Even if you don’t have S.A.D. but are lethargic during the short winter days, artificial light can still benefit you.
Simulate the natural rise of the sun at any time
One method I find really interesting is wake-up light therapy. Companies such as Philips have manufactured light therapy alarm clocks that help regulate your circadian rhythm by syncing it with the rising and falling of the sun.
As you sleep the light therapy works by slowly becoming brighter, like the natural rising of the sun, until the specified time you set it to wake up. The creators of these technologies claim you wake up feeling more rested because it works with your natural circadian rhythm, rather than a jarring alarm clock noise.
I haven’t personally tried one of these light therapy alarm clocks but have always wanted to test one out. If you use one please share your experience in the comments below!
6. Maintain a Healthy Diet
Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.Hippocrates
Like exercise, eating a healthy diet is important for our overall physical and mental wellbeing. Maintaining a healthy diet prevents a lot of diseases and enables our body to work at optimal levels.
To help you stay motivated during the winter months, focus on consuming nutrient-dense foods that will improve your mood and health.
The food and nutrients you should focus on
Foods with tryptophan, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B-12, magnesium, vitamin D and selenium will help you avoid the low energy associated with the winter (source).
Whole grains, nuts and seeds, lean meats, eggs, beans, legumes, and green leafy vegetables should be readily available in your home throughout the winter when possible.
7. Be Kind to Yourself
Lastly, I always like to remind everybody to be kind to yourself. Nobody is perfect. We all feel low and lethargic in the winter at some point, and it doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with you.
It’s unrealistic to expect yourself to be motivated and ready to go the minute you wake every single day. There will be days when you feel amazing and other days you need a boost to keep you going.
On the other hand, if you think you are suffering from more than the winter blues, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder, please seek the help of your family doctor.
Otherwise, give some of these tips a try and see if they help you.
Do you find you lack energy during the winter? How do you cope? Leave a comment below!