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. 

Eat Well, Feel Well

Over the last few years I have been diving deep into the connections between mental health and physical health. As I have been working with mental health clients using physical exercise some surprising interventions have made the most impact. One that continues to be a solid help is eating a balanced diet at regular intervals.  Here are some reasons to care and tips to track your own moods as they relate to your food choices.


Easy Budget Meals Your Family Will Love

When we look at the links between blood sugar and mood we see some themes. When one doesn’t eat for long periods of time irritability, depression, sadness, a general feeling of malaise are common. My clients articulate this as “blah” and it makes sense given that feeling low energy often gets tagged as depression in our culture or “what’s wrong with me because I can’t get things done”. Things just aren’t as vibrant, colorful, interesting, or exciting when you aren’t feeling well. When you don’t eat for long periods of time, you don’t feel well.

In the body the brain registers this as dangerous and a slew of chemicals is pumped from the endocrine system to accommodate this threat. Some describe feeling a “little high” or “being detached” from the world and people around them. They report using food to help them achieve these states helps them “numb out” from painful emotions. The problem becomes this behavior feeds its own cycle and often the thoughts around these somatic sensations are distorted. As noted above people label their low energy as depression, the shaky nauseous feeling as anxiety, and the lack of focus as ADHD. However, what’s really going on doesn’t need a psychotropic med it needs a balanced meal.

To begin your own exploration of how food impacts your moods tracking can be helpful. Note what time you eat, what you ate, what emotions you were feeling before and after the meal, and any physical (or lack of) sensations you had. Track for 1-2 weeks without changing anything.  This can help you see patterns in your behaviors, moods, and physical sensation. It is important to begin this process without judgment. There is no need to judge, you are doing what you are doing, just allow yourself to objectively see what it is you are doing. From this place of observation it becomes easier to determine what you would like to change and how you’ll be most successful changing it.
Here’s to happy eating and contented feelings!
Food Diary Log Example:
Date
Meal (can include calories or nutrition info if wanted)
Time eaten
Emotions Before
Emotions After

Physical Sensations

 Photo Credit: www.naimamohamed.com