Bears do it.
Koi fish do it.
So do frogs, squirrels, and several other animals. So why should you allow yourself to feel bad when you feel it’s effects? What I’m talking about here is hibernation.
Of course, humans don’t hibernate fully, but when the cold and short days of winter come around, many of us feel a physical change. We may want to sleep more. We may want to eat more. We may want to be less active and leave our home less frequently. I had a revelation about this recently. Since this is totally normal and most everyone experiences it, then there is absolutely no reason to feel bad about it!
The way to transform your winter blues is simple. Reconsider these winter changes from a new perspective. Here’s how:
Change the labels you put on the physical changes that you feel. Instead of calling these changes the “Winter Blues,” call them what they are: the “Hibernation Effect.” It’s not bad or good. It just is. Just like your hair color. It’s not bad or good. It just is. You decide what label to put on it. You decide how to perceive it.
If you want the “Hibernation Effect” to work for you all you have to do is decide to take a few simple steps, most of which are wrapping your mind around the situation differently.
Making the Hibernation Effect Work to Your Advantage
1. Stop Judging Yourself. If you’ve ever called yourself a loser for not wanting to get out of bed in the morning on a cold day, you can stop right now. Yes, that’s right. You have full permission to stop being critical of yourself. It’s not you! It’s the weather! And everyone else feels the same way you do! The same goes for all the other things you’re feeling. Instead begin to revel in the cozy rejuvenating aspects of the Hibernation Effect. You have the power to make these winter changes work to your advantage!
2. Get More Sleep. Yes, Yes, Yes! I know that many people in today’s frenzied world are looking for ways to do more on less sleep. “How to Sleep Less” type articles are very very popular. Here’s the deal, though. If you are getting less sleep than YOUR body needs, then you will not only be grumpy and tired everyday, you’re also likely to gain weight and die younger than if you got enough sleep. How much is enough? The most recent health guidelines say 7-9 hours per night. Listen to your body to find out what is right for you. If you’re tired every morning, go to sleep a little earlier.
3. Wake Up Slowly. We keep our home on the cooler side at night and I’m rarely excited about putting my feet down on the cold floor in the morning. The way to make it a little easier is to set your alarm so that you have about 15 minutes to wake up slowly. Establish a routine that works for you. Here are some ideas:
- Drink a warm cup of tea in bed. (Keep a hot pot in your room to make the tea in the morning.)
- Read the morning headlines on your cell phone.
- Sit up and write out your plan for the day or journal your waking thoughts.
- Sit up and daydream.
- Sit up and meditate for 10 minutes focusing on a positive mantra for the day.
- Do some deep breathing to bring some fresh air into your lungs and energize you.
- Stretch: up to the ceiling, child’s pose, sun salutations, twists, whatever feels good.
4. Enjoy Indoor Activities. If you don’t feel like leaving your house on a particular day, then don’t. And don’t feel guilty about it or else you may as well go out. Give yourself some “free days” to stay inside when it’s really cold. (I think taking the odd sick day to rejuvenate your mind and soul is a healthy choice probably resulting in less actual sick days.) Enjoy those things you don’t always get around to doing such as watching a movie, reading, practicing music, doing some art or a creative project. Give thanks to the Hibernation Effect as you enjoy a fully deserved lazy day.
5. Getting Out of the House. On the days that you’re feeling some cabin fever, by all means, get out of the house. Bundle up and go for a walk. You will feel so good! Here are some other ways to help get you out of the house:
- Take a class in something fun, interesting or that involves body movement, such as belly dancing!
- Join a gym with a friend. Make dates to meet at the gym and you’ll be more likely to stick with it. Focus on how you’ll feel afterwards for motivation.
- Go for a walk in the mall on cold days.
- Go see a movie, a show, an art gallery opening, etc.
- Reward yourself for getting out.
6. Eating Right. Enjoy a little comfort food each day whether it’s a couple cookies, a muffin, a slice of pizza, or whatever you are craving. Try to save it for the end of the day after eating lots of fruits and veggies during the day. The reason to save it for the end of the day is that if you eat highly nutritional food early on in the day you won’t have such a big craving for bad foods. At any given point during the day, try to make healthy choices. If you do this 80-90% of the day, you’ll be golden and won’t have to worry about gaining weight.
7. How to Handle a Grumpy Day. If you wake up on a particular day and you feel tired and aggravated right from the start and you can’t afford to take a day off, then do the next best thing. Take it slow. Plan your day with lots of transition time and buffer time. Be kind to yourself, to others and take lots of breaks during the day. Take 5-10 minutes to close your eyes, breathe deeply and remind yourself to take things slow today. The world can wait. In most cases the rest of the work can get done tomorrow when you have more energy. Avoid or decrease your intake of caffeine so you can reduce agitation and so you can get to sleep a little earlier tonight.
8. People Power. Be with people. Talk to people. Seek out your good fun friends. Make a call. Send an email. Set a laughing lunch date. (What is that? I don’t know, but it sounds good, right?) We lift each other up. It’s like magic. Go grab some for yourself. Be on a mission to lift someone else up too. If this is hard for you to do, set up electronic reminders via Gmail or Outlook or whatever calendar program you use to get in touch with friends on some periodic basis.
9. Moving & Grooving. You may be feeling more sluggish given all the layers of clothes we need to wear in the winter, but at the very least, ease yourself into some activities at least every other day. Be sure to give yourself credit for things like shoveling, stacking wood, and other winter work. The best way to enjoy exercise is to do it to some music or make it a social activity or both! If you don’t want to go outside to exercise, get yourself a rebounder which is a mini-trampoline. Minute for minute, it’s about the equivalent of jogging although it is easier on the knees. For those icy and snowy days it’s a great replacement for people who normally walk or jog. And they are cheap compared to most exercise equipment.
The Bottom Line
Remember that it is natural, normal, and ok to feel a little different in the winter. Don’t criticize yourself for this. Find ways to enjoy it and make it work for you.
Of course, if you feel like you have a little more than the winter Hibernation Effect going on, check with your doctor for other treatments that may be helpful for you whether it’s talk therapy, light therapy, or medication. This is also nothing to judge yourself about. It just is. Getting some help through it can lead you to finding the silver lining.
How do keep your spirits up when winter gets you down? All comments big and small are very welcomed!