Thanks to Jen Huber, who runs Ecology Runner with her husband, Sam, for this wonderful post. Check out their blog and see how you can improve your health, life, and the planet. I hope you enjoy reading!
When the days get shorter and colder, many of us feel…well, a little blah.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the autumn and winter. Back to school, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s–these are some of my favorite holidays and seasonal markers throughout the year. I love the changing of the leaves, fall harvest, pumpkin spice and the smell of cinnamon and evergreen.
Fall and winter are great! BUT, it’s also a time when many of us struggle a little.
First of all, it’s a busy time of year. Compared to the lazy-days of summer, fall and winter feel like it’s “back to the grind” after vacation. There’s the expectations of the holidays, going home for a visit (which can be stressful) or being homesick (which can also be stressful). Many of us put expectations on ourselves from the onset of the season. We plan to make this the perfect school year, the perfect Halloween, the best Thanksgiving and Christmas.
At the same time, our fitness goals, health and self-care, often slide during this season.
Typically I do a big race or participate in a run or two right at the beginning of autumn. It always seems as though, once I’ve finished that goal, my running and exercise slip into “hibernation mode” for the winter months.
We all crave comfort foods when the weather gets cool too. Who doesn’t love to tuck into a nice big casserole, a hearty stew or carby pasta dish? It just FEELS like fall, right?
Plus, let’s face it–shorter, darker, colder days are hard. When I leave for work at 7am, it’s barely light and when I come home it’s already dark. There are days when I barely even see the sun.
So what can we do to practice self-care during the fall and winter months? How can we be sure to keep our mood lifted, our fitness and food goal in check, and keep our motivation going into the new year?
1. Eat Your Veggies
Seasonal produce abounds in the summer and early autumn. Then, after the frost we might notice it tapers off a bit. Suddenly we’re stuck choosing from frozen broccoli or canned green beans.
First of all, frozen veggies can still be a great source of nutrition. In fact, because they’re often picked and flash frozen right away, they can retain nutrients that fresh vegetables might lose after hanging out in the produce section for a days (or weeks). So, pick up that bag o’ broccoli!
Remember there are many citrus fruits in season during this time of year. Squash, root vegetables like carrots and parsnips, and even some leafy greens like chard and kale are in season too. Adjust your veggies to meet the seasonal availability, but don’t skimp on the produce!
Veggies and fruits give us tons of vitamins and nutrients–essential to keep up energy and mood during this time of year. Plus, who doesn’t love a great comforting bowl of veggie soup?!
2. Move and Make it Fun!
Even if the season of 5 and 10Ks has ended, slugging away on your couch for the winter won’t improve your mood or your fitness. I know, running on the treadmill isn’t nearly as exciting as running outdoors and 5 am seems horrible in the winter, for most of us.
Find alternative ways to fit in your exercise. Explore seasonal activities–snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and ice-skating. Enjoy nature walks, where you can admire the leaves, snow and Christmas lights in your neighborhood.
Look for indoor tracks or even walking opportunities at your local mall. Many open in the mornings for walkers to get some indoor steps, for free! You don’t need to spend on a gym membership or buy tons of workout equipment for your home gym. Find simple, easy solutions to keep yourself moving.
Join a fitness group online or check out a fitness challenge opportunity! There are tons of ways to keep yourself motivated and moving. Getting exercise will help keep you upbeat and energetic even when the weather is grey and icy.
3. Learn to “Upregulate” your Mood
Some aspects of our mood are chemically regulated. If you suffer from anxiety or depression, these feeling can spiral out of your control. You may need to seek assistance from a doctor or counselor in order to fight Seasonal Affective Depression and other mood challenges during this time of year.
That said, there ARE ways we can choose to either lean into our mood or fight it. Some days, we all feel melancholy. We may want to listen to sad music, leaf through old photos, or look at posts online that feed our ennui. While this is perfectly normal (we all go through it), remember we have the option to instead find ways to fight and “upregulate” our mood.
This might mean turning off the news if it’s upsetting to you. Taking a break from social media, listening to upbeat music or watching some standup comedy on Netflix. What makes you feel really happy? Is it pictures of kittens? Old reruns of Friends? Baking cookies? Dancing to 80’s pop music?
Find something that shifts your mood. Do a random act of kindness for a stranger. Donate a few dollars to the Salvation Army kettle, or read an uplifting story. When you try these mood-shifters, make an effort to deliberately notice how your mood adjusts. Tap into these “upregulating” tools whenever you need a little lift.
4. Take Some Me-Time
As we’re running our kids to school, decorating for the holidays, hosting family members and buying gifts, it can be challenging to remember to take some time for yourself. In fact, we might even feel like it’s selfish or wrong to take “me-time” when there’s so many things going on.
Here’s the deal though, we have to charge our own batteries before we can put energy toward everyone else in our lives. If we’re feeling depleted we won’t be able to give as much to our spouse or kids. We won’t have energy to care for our home. We won’t give our all at work.
Make yourself a priority. If you need to schedule out time to exercise, to journal or just to read a book or soak in the tub, block it out on your calendar. Make yourself a priority, just as you would make time for everyone else.
Me-time doesn’t mean you need to spend hours at the salon or shop-’till-you-drop (who has the time and money, anyway?!). It can mean taking five minutes to sip some hot cider, read an article you find interesting or do some meditation. Take some time to care for yourself.
Water is a basic necessity. We can only survive a short time without it. It’s vital for life.
Dehydration can affect our mood, our health and basic body functions like digestion. It can make us feel hungrier, tireder, and just generally crummy. Fall and winter time can be especially drying and dehydrating times of year.
Yet, many of us forget to drink, drink, drink in the fall and winter months. Maybe a cold drink of water doesn’t sound as refreshing in 40 degree weather as it does in 90 degree temperatures. Maybe it’s just that we get busy and it slips our mind.
Drink a glass of water first thing in the morning. It will help you wake up and jumpstart your metabolism. Continue to enjoy water as much as possible throughout the day. Keep a bottle on your desk and carry a water bottle with you when you go out.
6. Get Some Sunshine (or Vitamin D)
Vitamin D helps ward off depression, exhaustion and a myriad of other winter-blah-symptoms. It’s a vitamin we get from sunshine (as well as in our diets). So it makes sense that during the winter our vitamin D levels often start to decline.
If you drive into work early in the morning and leave after dark, you may feel as though it’s been weeks since you’ve seen the sunshine. Schedule a few minutes to bundle up and step outside during your lunch hour, if you can.
On the weekends spend some time outdoors. Enjoy a walk and get outside to keep your energy up and your mood lifted.
If you suspect you might be low on vitamin D, there are plenty of plant-based sources including fortified juice and cereal, where you can get an extra boost of D. Tofu and mushrooms are also vegetarian sources of vitamin D.
7. Focus on the Highlights of the Season
Sometimes the hustle-bustle of the fall and winter gets to be so busy we lose the meaning and fun of this time of year. If you feel like you’re stressed out or just disconnected from the happy seasonal traditions, it may be time to take a step back and do some reprioritizing.
It may mean you need to simplify and even lower your holiday expectations. Every year needn’t be the “ultimate Christmas” or perfect trick-or-treating experience. Simple decorations and a re-focus onto experiences and memories can help.
If your schedule feels jam-packed, don’t be afraid to edit some of it down. You don’t need to decorate the whole house if it doesn’t bring you joy. You can opt for simpler, easier options and still be able to connect with your loved ones and enjoy your time celebrating the season.
Pick one or two thing that are your favorite holiday traditions and focus on making these activities your main priority. If it’s watching a Christmas movie with your spouse, or hosting a get-together for pals, go for it. Then, let go of some of the other activities you don’t enjoy as much. It’s okay to pick and choose.
8. Take the Rest Your Body Needs
If you’re tired, take a break! Most of us need 7-8 hours of sleep a night to feel truly refreshed and energetic. If you feel like you’re dragging, take a look at how much sleep you’ve been logging to see if you’re getting enough.
If getting up on a dark morning is a struggle, you may want to shift your exercise time to the evenings or another time throughout the day. Logging an extra half hour or 45 minutes of sleep in the morning might help you wake up more refreshed and alert.
Watch your caffeine intake too. Many of us don’t realize caffeine has an effect on our sleep and can disrupt our pattern even hours later. Allergy and cold medicine can also have an effect on your sleep, so if you struggle check out the ingredients and avoid stimulants in the afternoon and evening.
Turn off electronics at least an hour before bedtime. Read a book or do another activity that slows down your thoughts and helps you relax. Make sleep and rest a priority and you’ll have more energy to get everything done during your waking hours.
The fall and winter can be the best time of the year! The key is to focus on the joyful aspects of the season and take care of yourself. Make your health and energy a priority and you’ll have a wonderful winter!
Jen Huber runs the blog Ecology Runner along with her husband Sam. If you’re looking for quick, easy ways to improve your health, your life and the planet, visit www.ecologyrunner.com. Ecology Runner is founded on the idea that personal responsibility and small, healthy steps add up to big gains. Learn realistic ways to crush your goals, embrace sustainable living and impact the world around you for good.