Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist, patient advocate, and writer who specializes in helping clients—as well as their family members and professional caregivers—deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.
Freezing temperatures. Dark, gloomy days. Snow. Wind. Why bother?
December is at least broken up by the holidays, and that first snow is kinda pretty … the novelty wears off in January … February can feel like the longest month of the year … and then March, with a little hint that maybe … no, never mind. Unless your greatest joy is skiing or snowboarding, the winter months can seem to drag on and on.
Yes, it’s that time of year when the winter blues can start to kick in.
How are you coping during the cold months? Finding yourself struggling to maintain your positive attitude as well as your self-care? You’re not alone.
If you are living with a chronic condition, the winter months can be especially rough. The cold can result in symptoms flaring up. It’s hard to get exercise when you barely leave the house except to get to the car. Winter and comfort food go together, unfortunately. And being stuck inside, those extra hours of nighttime, and not feeling at your best, can all have an impact on your emotions.
So how about standing up to the winter blues by deciding to make the rest of winter a time to thrive and grow? Here are some ideas to help you move in that direction:
Set limits on eating and drinking. How often have you told yourself that you’re probably going to put on a few pounds over the winter, and then put on a few pounds? Our cravings do seem to change when the weather gets colder. Comfort foods with lots of fat and carbs, sugar, alcohol, too much caffeine … many of the things you crave during the winter months can make you feel worse instead of better, physically and emotionally. So watch what you keep on hand to help curb those temptations. If possible, try to get your housemates to support you. Look for recipes that can satisfy some of those cravings in a healthy way (right here on Diabetic Connect).
Find a way to exercise. It’s easy to give up when it’s too cold to get outside. But think about doing something to keep moving on those days when the ice and snow keep you in. You may not be able to take a walk most days, but look around for ways to exercise in your home. Watch an exercise show. Put on some music and dance. Drive to a shopping mall and get some walking in. It might be worth a conversation with your doctor or a diabetes educator to see how you can pick up your activity level safely.
Set some healthy goals. Given that it’s easier to slip up on your self-care routine when the winter blues hit, you might want to set some specific goals to keep yourself on the path. Get specific by putting your plan in writing then commit to following the plan. Think of how great you’ll look and feel in April!
Spend time with people. When it’s cold out, it’s all too easy to hunker down for the evening, one evening after the other. But hibernation is only effective if you’re a bear. So reach out for some human contact. Give a friend or family member a call. Pay them a visit or invite them over. Get yourself to a social or religious group meeting. Give yourself a push to stay connected.
Bring something new into your life. It seems like the conventional wisdom is to view winter as a time to let ourselves go. To stagnate. While we wait for better weather and the rebirth of spring. So how about switching things up and making winter a time to add to your life? Pick up a book or two that you have been putting off. Try a new hobby, one that works well with winter, like a craft you can do at home. Take a class. Stimulate your mind! Make it a goal to look back on this winter as “the time I finally got around to …” And then get around to it.
Schedule something fun each week. Don’t let yourself get caught up in that “let me just get through this until spring” attitude. Even if that’s the way you feel. Instead, have something to look forward to each week. Get something on the weekly calendar that makes you smile.
Find a reason to love winter. Watching a beautiful snowfall? A pace that is a little less hectic after the summer, fall, and holiday seasons? A chance to catch up on a home project? Come on, use your imagination. There has to be at least one reason to look forward to winter. No? Then how about this: right after winter comes spring!
P.S. If you are feeling overwhelmed by the winter blues, you could be suffering from something called Seasonal Affective Disorder – SAD – a condition that can cause symptoms of depression. Have a talk with your doctor!