13 Things to Keep Your Spirits Up This Winter

Fall is here! Beautiful weather, gorgeous trees, crisp clean air – at least for most of us. Many of us love it. Some of us hate it. Many of us use it as a signal to turn inward, to slow down, to hibernate. For others it means dark, cold, lonely days. As a psychologist, I tend to see the latter this time of year. 

No matter which camp you are in, here are 13 things you can do to keep your spirits up this winter:

  1. Accept your feelings about winter coming. Acceptance of our current predicament allows us space for choice about it, no matter what it is, even if I hate my current predicament. Acceptance of it will get me out of it a lot faster. Acceptance doesn’t mean you agree, condone, or want the current reality. All it means is you acknowledge this is what is truly going on in this moment. 
  2. Make a pros and cons list – what do you like and not like about the season? From here you can build up thing you like and work with what you do not like. 
  3. Take stock of your Pros & Cons list. What can you use to help you? Even if you have nothing good to say about winter, we can reframe what you wrote. Trapped inside can become: trying new indoor spaces, time to rearrange your furniture, or making small steps to get outside a little bit at a time. 
  4. Make a plan to tackle dark days and loneliness now. Find out what local organizations offer for connection and outings during the winter. As you collect these items, put them on your calendar so you have things to look forward to moving into winter AND commit to going to them no matter what. 
  5. Get moving. As an exercise scientist who turned psychologist, I am amazed at how many people do not use their body to treat their moods. You were born into a body to move it. When we don’t move, our energy gets low and we tend to try using calories to increase it. Hello weight gain – see #8 below. Instead move. I don’t care if your pushups are against the wall and your squats land you on the couch, just start moving. This is another great place to try a new activity in the winter – check out the Rec center in your area – being in a warm pool is pretty nice when it’s snowing outside. See #3. 
  6. Find some beach oriented guided meditations. For those of you longing for a cabin fever get away – you don’t have to spend a dime. Take a mental vacation. The power of the mind is great. Just think about a succulent, bright yellow, juicy, aromatic, zesty, lemon. How many of you salivated? Do not underestimate your mind’s ability to transport you and create a different experience once you decide to focus. Next blizzard, cozy up, plug your earphones in, close your eyes and take a 20 minute beach vacation in the comfort of your own home. 
  7. Get a new blanket (try a weighted one), sweater, bathrobe, slippers, hat, or scarf. If you’re like me, you get cold easy and being cold is not fun. If it’s cold you hate, make sure you have gear. I’m known for wearing long johns and hats in my house all winter long. Make sure you have items so you can be cozy and warm. Layer it up. Get a fake fire app on your phone, TV, computer if you don’t have the option for a fireplace in your home. Why you ask? See #6 above … fake fire or not, you’ll be surprised at your mind’s abilities to create an experience for you if you let it.
  8. Take a look at your diet. Many of us do not eat for mental health. We eat foods that actually leave us feeling depleted, low in energy and overall SAD (standard American diet). Eating for mental health includes eating a variety of foods, especially leafy greens. This gives the body the base nutrients it needs to start making the neurotransmitters you need to enjoy contentment, joy, pleasure, and ease. Look at your diet now, get to the farmers market and see what folks have preserved that you can take home and enjoy all winter long. Get with a nutritionist to review your diet and make sure you are getting what you need. In the winter we tend to want heavier foods. Look through cookbooks and find some items that look appealing to you and commit to making a new recipe every week or so. Again, this helps you be proactive and plan for things you are looking forward to. If you don’t like to cook, enlist someone to do it for you, take a class, or find a few local restaurants to sample over the season. See #’s 9 & 10 below. 
  9. Connect with friends and family now. Let them know winter is hard for you and you need some extra support getting and staying in touch during the long dark days. Set up reoccurring dates: game nights, lunch, and movie time. See #4 to remind yourself why you want to start scheduling now. 
  10. Some of you are saying what if I don’t have family or friends I can connect with? Again, see #4 above. Look around your community for options that interest you, even if you don’t know anyone yet, which I know is hard. Some of you may need to take an additional step, get into therapy, join a group around a task or activity you think you might like, reach out to an online community. Be open to trying and give it a real shot. Many give new groups one or two times and quit because it’s uncomfortable. It will be uncomfortable at first. I do not mean to be flippant about the difficulties that surround finding and making friends, however we have to start somewhere. Although many of us feel alone, if we are willing to be gentle with ourselves and open to trying new things we can make some sort of connection to help hold us through. Some of us need to be kind to ourselves and others. Work to have compassion for the humanness in all. People will say things you don’t like, do things you may think are weird, and may struggle to connect with you the same way you struggle to connect with them. Give them a break, remember you are there to connect and ask yourself how can you show up to support this person? When you shift the focus from yourself you’ll be surprised at how different your experience is. Again, it may be time for some therapy if you are overwhelmed and confused by this concept. If people aren’t your thing look into volunteering with animals. You will get the benefit of needing be outside a bit – see #3. 
  11. Take up a new hobby. Find something that’s healthy for you and commit to learning. Get curious and stay open, even if it’s a bit difficult or boring at first. By staying curious you access your pre-frontal cortex, this part of you, helps you stay in the moment, judge, plan, and respond rather than react. By committing and giving it a real shot, you teach yourself about perseverance and grit. When you have grit you increase confidence. When you increase confidence in yourself, things get a little brighter. 
  12. Take stock of your thoughts. Do not underestimate your ability to change your mind and impact your environment. Remember that lemon? Did you salivate again? If lemons don’t do it for you, how about a crunchy pickle? You can hate winter all you want, but the more you tell yourself you hate it, the more you will. If moving to “I love winter” is too much just go neutral in your comments “it is winter” without the heavy judgment and anger that accompanies hate and dislike. Move away from the emotional content of your statements and just be objective about your situation. So many of us remain trapped in the prison of our minds (about all sorts of things) because we refuse to give up our story about it. We refuse to look at it from a different perspective and change our mind about it. Doesn’t mean you have to like it, agree with it, or want it, just means you have to accept as it is, see #1. Acceptance gives you power back. Acceptance allows you to truly examine and decide what you want to do about it. Hard part of changing your mind … you have to be the one to do the work and be uncomfortable. No one can fix the way you think about things for you. You have to do the work. 
  13. Commit to yourself! No one else can fix this for you. Living in Durango we cannot, not have winter at your house. By being proactive and putting a few things in place ahead of time you can have a different experience this winter. By noticing the way you talk to yourself and if you set yourself up to learn how to shift your focus and manipulate your perception of your environment you stand a better chance at tolerating what you don’t like. 

And then winter be damned … it becomes spring. 

If you like this one, try reading Winter Activities or Changing Seasons, Changing Workouts

And as always, if you are struggling to engage fully in your life and would like to see how psychology might be able to help you, schedule a 15 min Q&A session with me. 

Group Ex Etiquette: Becoming part of the group exercise craze

 When I used to teach multiple classes a week – for a time up to 14 each week! – I always had clients coming up to me stating they would like to be in a class but didn’t know what / how to enter and fit in.

Here’s the basics. First, come a little early and let the instructor know you are new. This way they can help you know what equipment you need to have for the day, how to use it, and ask about any injuries or modification you may need.

Second, find a spot where you have enough room to move and can easily see the instructor. I know beginners like to be in the back row, however if you can’t see and you spend the whole class craning to look around a regular you aren’t going to get the best workout and your experience may be less enjoyable or not feel worth the effort and nervousness.

Third, pick a class that interests you and/or bring a friend. Having a buddy can really help take the feeling of being the newbie away. Fourth, have a good time. The point of group exercise classes is to have fun, not necessarily to be the best dancer or have the most flexible body or lift the most weight/do the most reps. If those were to goals you would be in what we call “training” not group exercise “class”.

And very last – don’t let your fear of looking silly or being a greenhorn in the room stop you from trying out something new. We need new and challenging activities not just for our bodies but also for our minds. Who knows the “class” you thought was interesting may become something you enter into “training” for.

Photo Credits: Rubber Tubing Group & Lunging Group

Be Present and Play Hard

Ok, it’s getting to be crunch time and you are bored with the same ole same ole workout. You hit the trail and see kids playing by the park. They look excited, engaged, and exhausted at the same time. You think to yourself … “if only I had their energy”.

Well, some of their energy comes from being in the moment, happy, and focused. Research as shown people who are focused tend to feel more fulfilled and less overwhelmed with daily life. So if you are feeling a bit burnt out – find a way to play.

Engage your whole body, all your senses in something fun and silly. Who cares if you look a little funny chasing your kids around the playground or laughing hysterically with your head thrown back and feet out riding your bike down the hill. Just trust that if you love what you are doing in the moment and all will fall into place.

High quality yoga accessories at great prices - YogaAccessories.com!

Photo Credits: Kids Playing ~ Journeys Are My Diary & Mindful Monday ~andrewmellen.com

 

The Power of Walking

DO NOT underestimate the power of this activity. It may seem like it doesn’t matter much, something you have to do each day, or “not enough” work for you, but DO NOT underestimate how powerful walking can be for an overall active and healthy lifestyle.



Fitbit Charge 2 Free Shipping

This Valentine’s Day, save up to $50 on select gifts + get free 2-day shipping on orders $50+** with code: 2DAY


Aim to get at least 10,000 steps in per day. At this level people tend to be more active overall and live a healthier lifestyle. Walking is a great way to get your body moving, help digestion, elimination, and strengthen your heart and circulatory system.

Find walking boring? Download your favorite podcasts or playlist. Try this workout and walk right in your living room! Enjoy.

When is your best time to workout? Morning? Noon? Night?

When are you feeling most energetic and most active? It can be hard enough to fit exercise in, not to mention trying to fit exercise in when you are tired and feeling worn out.

Some of naturally gravitate toward early morning – others toward evenings. Some of us like to be in bed early others could stay up all night. Which are you? Try out different workout times and see which ones fit best into your life.Running Specialty GroupRunning Specialty Group

Then start to plan your workouts around those times. Keep in mind performing an intense exercise session too close to bedtime can keep you energized and up longer than you’d like. Make sure you give yourself about 2 hours to settle down after a hard workout if you are doing your exercise close to your slumber time.

Finding a Workout Tribe

Working out alone has its benefits and its struggles. Many people prefer working out with a tribe.

Find your tribe by considering what type(s) of workouts do you like to do? What time of day? Where – inside, outside, a class, a small group? Then begin participating in the activities you like where others who like the same activity are.



At first it may feel awkward and weird – remember you might the new person in class, however stick with it and give relationships a little time to develop. It’s also important to put yourself out there at times.

300x250

If you are hanging in the corner making it impossible for others to get to know you, guess what – they won’t. Make sure you smile, make eye contact, and say hello on a regular basis. Making friends takes time and hopefully your time for socializing is limited by the time and effort you put in sweating.

Here’s a little help in case making new friends is the tough part.

If you liked this post try these: engaging your family and friends in your workouts or What to consider when choosing a workout partner.

Realistic Goal Setting

Photo Credit: All in The Mind.

People often underestimate what it will take to be successful in a goal. Many times they have chosen a large goal and then fail to break it into smaller pieces. For example I once had a woman tell me she needed to lose 50lbs in 3 weeks for a wedding and she “was ready to work hard to get this done”. Wonderful goal for this woman. It would allow her to move better in her daily life, play with her children and grandchildren, and have more quality of life in health, however 50lbs in 3 weeks is not healthy weight loss. It didn’t take 3 weeks to put that extra weight on, and it wasn’t going to take just 3 weeks to lose it. Healthy and sustainable weight loss happens around 1-2lbs per week. I worked with this woman to do the math and choose a more realistic weight loss plan for her wedding.

Check out this video on setting and keeping SMART goals.

Next we had to break the goal into steps. When planning for a long term goal it is important to break the goal into smaller  more doable chunks. This allows our inspiration, motivation, and behavior to have a focus point we see as achievable. The human mind isn’t so good at following through on long term goals when it gets mundane and things aren’t changing quickly. We humans are programmed to go with what feels good in this moment and what’s easiest, as we like to conserve energy.

Need some motivation? Check out this online course: “Secrets to Vibrant Health” by the Chopra Center.

Here’s the formula for creating a good goal structure. It’s called SMART goals.

S = specific, if I say I want to be more healthy, what does that really mean? Eating better? Working out? Sleeping more? Healthy relationships? Without a clear vision of what that means it is hard to figure out what behaviors I have to change. Start with your big goal and narrow it down again and again until you have a very specific vision.

M = measurable, again say I want to more healthy, how will I know when I get there? Let’s say I decided it was being at a healthy weight for my body and a healthy body fat percentage. These are two numbers I can measure. I can take a pre and post measurement to find out where I am in the process at anytime. Make your goal measurable.

A = attainable, if I want to be at a healthy weight but choose a number well below my genetics I am setting myself up for misery. I may make the number with hard work but to maintain it I will be stuck in a pattern of behaviors that may be too restrictive. There are many places to consult about your goals. Check reputable sources online, hire a expert in the area of interest, read a book, magazine, or blog related to your goals. You have lots of options for knowledge.

R = realistic, similar to attainable however in this one your willingness to put the effort in matters. It may be attainable for you to lost 50lbs however the length of time (approx 1 year) and level of needed attention to the goal may not be what you want to put your efforts into. When you pick your goal making it realistic is important to your success. You can hold the 50lb, year long goal as the larger goal, but make the one you are working on more about the next month or two. Do the math and break your larger goals into smaller chunks.

Finally, make your goal:

T= time sensitive. This is another important piece to holding inspiration and motivation. Again, when a goal feels so far away it’s hard to stay motivated and continue to find daily inspiration to keep us on track. It’s important to make your goal relate to time. For example: 50lbs may be your larger goal, but you get rewarded every week, when you’ve lost one.

The whole process of SMART goals is important to success, make sure to spend some time today focusing on defining and/or refining your goals.

If you liked this one try: Healthy Weight Loss Goals or You Will Reach Your Fitness Goals

Why Warm up and Cool Down?

 

When beginning a workout it is important to begin with a warm up and end with a cool down. In both cases the gentle movements allow the body to begin preparing the systems (musculature, circulatory, and neuro-muscular junctions) to work together. As the systems begin working together your muscles “warm up”. The blood begins flowing to smaller areas and the tissues become more playable.

Begin by performing some of the same movement patterns you are planning in your workout without the overload of weight or speed. This helps your brain get ready for the more complicated work of compensating for overload. Once the workout is over it is important to let your body “cool down”. This means you are allowing those worked muscles to slow down, blood flow to gradually decrease, and the tissues to settle.

Check out this cool down and stretching routine. I really like this website and the workouts these two create. It’s a great resource for those of us working out at home.

When when we stop moving abruptly the blood can pool in our larger muscle groups and make us feel dizzy, in addition, performing flexibility training after a workout is important because the muscles are “warm” and the stretch reflectors and proprioceptors are able to more easily stretch. They still need a gentleness to perform at their best, but it will be much easier with less potential for injury if your muscles have good blood flow. The job of these proprioceptors is to make sure you do not harm your tissues.

Try foam rollers to help you obtain a deeper stretch when you are ready for your flexibility training.

When getting ready to cool down, begin moving in similar movement patterns to your workout but slower speeds and less to no overload. To complete your workout plan to spend 10-15 minutes stretching all muscles of the body a few times each (compound movement stretches save time and are great here). Allow your breathing to become deep to take benefit from your increased endorphin flow and set an intention for what’s left of your day.

If you like this article, try these: How to stretch effectively or  What is flexibility training?

Workouts on the Trail – A Workout for Your Next Walk.

For many, working out is as easy as walking out our backdoor. Here’s a walking workout you can do during your next walk around the block, up the mountain, or around the park. Just find your favorite trail and GO.

Interested in packing your own exercise bands for an even easier way to workout while you hike? – check out Thera Bands – they are easy to pack. I have a set with handles I’ll bring when I know I can use trees or want the ease of a handle and I have a set without handles I’ve cut to the length I want and can tie/wrap around anything. I  tie these around my waist during a run for less to carry.

In addition to hiking a great trail for cardiovascular exercise, you can add strength training to your routine with a few simple movements. First focus on your lower body. As you move forward make your step wider. Lower your back knee towards the ground (be careful not to hit your knee on the ground – this hurts) and be sure to maintain alignment with your front foot out over your front ankle. This helps make sure you do not have too much force on the knee joint as you overload the body. Do 20 alternating lunges then continue your walk as normal.

After 2 minutes stop and do 10 push-ups. You can choose a rock or tree branch to elevate upper or lower body or just remain as level as you can, choosing to complete full body push ups on your toes or perform the movement from your knees.

Return to the hike. 2 minutes later, stop and begin to squat. Pretend you are sitting in a porta potty at the end of a long music festival. If you’ve never experienced this – you don’t want to touch anything with any part of your body. With your feet firmly on the ground, sit back and hover as though you didn’t want to touch anything and you don’t want to soil yourself either, but pretend you really have to go to the bathroom, so you’re going to have to figure this out. Pull your belly button towards your spine and length through your lower back. Again make sure your knees are not pushing out over your toes and focus on a nice diagonal line from the top of your head through your tailbone. Try to keep from resting your belly on your thighs. Again resume walking.


Next, it’s time for back work. You can choose a tree branch at a good height and grip circumference for you to do pull ups or find a rock you can grip to do rows. When doing rows I like to alternate between high and low rows to target the entire back. Take a lunge stance, support yourself with a hand on your thigh, and place the rock in the opposite (to front foot) hand. Using the rock as weight begin to pull your elbow up close to the body until it is behind you. Squeeze your scapula toward your spine and focus on the small muscles between them and along your spine. Next movement is the high row. This time move your arm straight out from your shoulder – same lower body position. Bend the elbow at 90 degrees and pull up, again focusing on the small muscles between the scapula and spine. Do 10 of each on each arm and return to walking. There are a few options in the video below that target your back. Get creative and see what you can add into your hike based on your environment.

At this point your could choose to be done or add in an “Arnold”. This move is a combination move targeting the biceps and deltoids. Begin with rocks in both hands. Make sure they are heavy enough to provide overload for you in both the shoulder press and a bicep curl but not too heavy that you can’t complete both with good form. Start with your hands down by your sides arms fully extended. Curl the hands toward the shoulders and then continue the movement by lifting the hands above the head.

To complete my arms, I like to add in a tricep move at the top of my arnold. If you feel comfortable with your weights in each hand go for it. If not do this as a separate move after 2 more minutes of hiking. Squeeze your elbows to your ears and drop the rock behind your head (be careful not to hit yourself in the head as this really hurts when you misjudge placement). Extend the arms back above the head, lower hands to the shoulders and extend the arms once again returning to the starting position. Complete 10 and then return to walking.

Now you can choose to add a few plank holds, back extensions, and quadruped curls (on all fours, wrists under shoulders, knees under hips, lift one leg and the opposite arm, curl the knee and elbow together and hold for a 3 second count.


Return to the starting point and repeat on the other side). Again return to walking.

Congratulations!! You have done a full body strength training session and created a walking workout on your favorite trail! Now you have the choice to continue walking without interruption or complete another set or two. Your choice will depend on the difficulty of your trail, your allotted time, and your current fitness level. Here’s to making every workout count!

If you liked this article, please leave a comment below and let me know how your workout went. You can check out more on Exercise on the Cheap and look at how to get creative on your vacation and find workouts all around you.

#fitnesspsychologist, #healthy, #walkingworkouts

7 Sentences for Successful Goal Setting

As with all things … things will be changing soon. Take some time to consider these questions. Although your answers are really just for you, it does help when you actively write things down.

When you write you take an abstract thought and make it concrete on the paper. It’s easier to stick with concrete ideas as you continue to change your behaviors. When you consider what you’ve learned through the last month, where do you see yourself going next? How do you want to continue to work toward and reach your goals? What did you try that didn’t work, that you might want to adjust? What worked great? What surprises did you have?

Here’s 7 sentences to help you notice your accomplishments, create motivation, find your focus, and set your next successful goal. Write a statement to your current self from your future self:

This last year has been_______. I am so grateful I accomplished ______. I am most proud of ______ and thankful to myself for _______. These last 5 years have been ______. I am so thankful to have accomplished_______. I am most proud of ______ and grateful to myself for _________. I am so happy I am planning to accomplish _______ next.

Answer them as honestly as you can. Answer as if you really have reached your goals, are the person you hope to become, and as though you’re ready to set your next goal for your future. Do not concern yourself with the how you are going to get these items done or financial burdens of completing them right now.


Tools that can help you stay on focused: 

Are you looking for a fitness community? Someone who can provide a workout and motivation for you? Check out the Top 10 Instagram Accounts for the Ultimate Fitspiration on Positive Health & Wellness’s Blog.

Do you need a fitness/health tracker to help you measure your progress and stay focused?

Need focus to Live with Intent? Try an online class to help you focus yourself and make your goals happen.


 

As you continue to focus on your goals you will find the opportunities you need to make them happen. Remember, what you put your attention to is what you will find. Want something different in your life … You better be focusing on what you want rather than what you don’t want. Need some motivation? Check out this video and let the words sink in … you can do what you put your mind to.

I have done these exercises for years. I like to distill my thoughts into bullet points I file away. Every so often I take them out and am amazed at how much I accomplished on the list, yet had forgotten I’d put on the list in the first place. Now it’s your turn – see what you can make happen next!

Photo Image Credit: Success Magazine – 18 Motivational Quotes About Successful Goal Setting | SUCCESS