From Woe to Wellness: Strategies for Surmounting Winter’s Worst
Changing seasons are often followed by changes in mood or healthy habits. And while biology and behavior vary naturally from season to season, that doesn’t mean there aren’t strategies for combatting the winter blues in all its forms. We identified five of winter’s most widespread woes—whether that’s ice on your running route, the darkness that creeps in around 4 o’clock each day, or the temptation of an extra ginger bread cookie (or three)—then drew on our well of contributing experts to find answers on how to cope best when the season takes a turn for the worse. Implementing these strategies help see you healthily through the holidays—not to mention serve as a great foundation for Dare to Do 2017, our 30-day New Year’s Challenge that kicks off January 17.
Seasonal Affective Disorder
With less light and less heat, it’s easy for your brain to feel the impacts of winter weather. Sometimes these seasonal changes can result in bouts of depression. Pamela Sheffield, a doctor at UW’s Neighborhood Clinic, often addresses Seasonal Affective Disorder— also known as SAD.
While it takes more than “just feeling down” to be diagnosed with SAD, Dr. Sheffield recognizes that alleviating symptoms associated with SAD remains crucial to many people. An effective strategy that benefits over half of the people who use it is light therapy. The best time to begin, she says, is before symptoms of SAD start showing, usually in October or early November to allow for a more gradual adjustment. She also stresses the benefits of eating well and exercising regularly. If these methods don’t do the trick and your symptoms won’t subside, Dr. Sheffield recommends visiting your doctor.
Learn more from Dr. Sheffield and get her tips to deal with SAD here.
Whether you’re loading a plate at the holiday buffet or making snack choices while shopping, staying mindful about your eating habits during the holidays can keep you well-fed and feeling great. Judy Simon, a dietitian at the Roosevelt Clinic and Nutritional Sciences instructor, offered tips to manage meals, quick-trips, and big holiday events that add up to a comprehensive guide to help you eat well.
She says to stick to your routine and avoid skipping meals to “save room for later.” She also suggests adopting a general sense of mindfulness as you eat samples at the store or the items on your dinner plate, because there’s evidence it can keep you from overeating. In addition to shopping on a full stomach, Simon recommends keeping a small snack on your person and staying hydrated to keep your energy up for a lengthier shopping trip until you can find the time to sit down and eat a proper meal.
How are you supposed to jog your usual route when it’s pouring down ice-cold rain? To top it off, what if you don’t have an indoor facility (like one of our many discounted fitness partners) to help keep you active? When winter weather wears your patience for outdoor workouts thin, that’s when you take your outside workout…in.
During our Dare to Do challenge to kick off 2015, we focused on how to get you moving and dared you to try out some indoor exercise alternatives. Without having to buy bulky equipment or spend your hard-earned dollars on fancy fitness technology, you can get in regular exercise in a variety of fun, creative ways.
One tip: release your inner kid again by using jump rope routines to get your blood pumping, or bust out a hula hoop to get your hips grooving. If neither of those is quite your thing, find some stairs, pop on your favorite tunes or podcast, and challenge yourself to see how many up-and-downs you can do. Even small-yet-conscious adjustments in your daily routine like choosing to take the stairs at work and skip the elevator add up big time. Winter is a great time to focus on improving daily habits so that when spring rolls in, you’re ready to take it outdoors again—and up a level.
Core workouts don’t take much space, so take it to your bedroom floor and try holding a plank position for a minute or more. Take a short break and then challenge yourself to repeat the feat another two times. With dedication and diligence, you’ll start to see improvement within just a few days. Indoor workouts can be so much more than just crunches on a carpet. Prepping for a holiday house party or cleaning up after long-weekend guests? Turn the slog of chores into a solo workout session by starting a solo dance party: pumping up the jams will do the same for your heart rate.
Need some playlist inspiration? Check out a full list of exercises with music and routine suggestions here.
Bitter-cold winds combined with a decreased desire to drink water often results in dry skin—one of the most dreaded and unwelcome symptoms of winter living. During our Summer Throwdown series earlier this year, we learned a lot from UW’s Division of Dermatology assistant professor Jennifer Gardner about keeping your skin looking and feeling great – including ways to keep it hydrated.
While staying active certainly leads to a myriad of health benefits, Gardner warns of post-workout showers’ ability to dry out your dermis. Oils keep our skin moisturized, but soothing, yet scalding-hot showers regularly wash away oil’s protective sheen, leaving the skin feeling dry and setting conditions for more brittle hair. To combat this dryness, Gardner recommends keeping up good hydration habits during your workout and regularly applying a preferred lotion or cream after you bathe to help your skin from the outside.
Get the whole skinny on skin health here.
For all the cheer that surrounds seeing family and loved ones during the holidays, there’s always potential for an increased amount of stress whenever you’re packed into the same house or room with all of them for an extended period. Stress has been something we’ve addressed year-round, but it can become especially acute during the busy, end-of-year season.
During this year’s Dare to Do Challenge, we compiled a list that dared you to pause, take in your surroundings, and put yourself at ease. From the physical (taking a hike, practicing your breathing, and stretching) to the mental (visualizing your “happy place” or becoming a proud plant owner), there are limitless ways to de-stress depending on what works best for you. The holidays give us plenty of things to worry about, but our Stress Less series dedicated to finding solutions to stress within the holiday season specifically showed us that there are ways to use the spirit of the season, new traditions, and simple recipes to put mind at ease.
There isn’t just one way to Stress Less – there are many! Find one that speaks to you here.
What’s winter’s worst woe? Share yours in the comments—and which strategies work best for you.