November 7, 2012 by mybattlebuddyfitness
Battling the Early Winter Blues? Here’s Some Help…
The time of year has come again. The beautiful fall colors peaked a couple of weeks ago and most of the trees are naked now. The mornings are chilly—“there’s frost on the pumpkin,” as my Momma Bear would say—and darkness falls before 6 pm. Winter is upon us. It comes every year, but some years it hits me a little harder than others. Historically, I tend to feel the blues most prevalently in the late fall. I think it’s because I mourn the loss of summer and dread the coming of winter—not because I hate winter, but just because it means the end of the long summer days. In addition, I think it’s a holdover from my school days. Fall always meant the start of a new school year, which meant a lot of change, which typically depresses me.
The cold weather typically does many negative things for our progress towards our health and fitness goals. First, the days are much shorter. For many of us, it’s dark in the morning when we head to work and dark by the time we get home. This makes it much more difficult to get your workouts in, especially if you are someone who prefers to workout outside. Second, the cold weather does something very interesting to our bodies. Suddenly, those cravings for light summer salads go out the window, and are replaced with cravings for chicken pot pie, pasta with creamy sauces, and mashed potatoes. Lastly, this is typically the time of year when our social calendar begins to explode. The holiday season is almost here, which means more time spent at happy hour with friends and more time around the buffet table at family gatherings. I have a whole other arsenal of tips for how to make it through the holidays without gaining a pound and derailing your fitness goals, but we’ll save that one for next week. Today, I am going to focus on ways to win the battle against the early winter blues.
As I mentioned before, this time of year is historically very difficult for me. So, I have developed some key ways to help myself cope.
(1) Don’t skip your workouts—the absolute worst thing you can do for yourself when you are feeling the blues is skip your workout. Strenuous exercise (notice I used the word strenuous here) will trigger the release of endorphins, which will help keep you feeling happy. It’s so easy to convince yourself to skip your workout when you’re feeling down. I know all the tricks you try to play: I’ll just go home first. Maybe take a little power nap before I hit the gym. Before you know it, the time to workout has come and gone, and you’re still on the couch. When I am really feeling like I don’t want to work out, I tell myself something that works every time. I tell myself that I am “just gonna go for 15 minutes.” Inevitably, once I get myself sweating, I don’t want to stop after 15 minutes. And the days that I don’t want to work out the most, are the days that I feel the best after I am finished.
(2) Try something new—one of the easiest ways to get excited about fitness is to try something new. Grab a friend and get brave. Try that kickboxing class that you’ve always wanted to attend. Or think outside the box and try rock climbing or Cyga (spinning + yoga). You may end up finding something you really love, and how great would that be?
(3) Eat seasonably—fall is a terrific time of year for trying new and interesting vegetables. There are countless varieties of squashes to try, each one with a different flavor profile. My personal favorite is the butternut squash because it’s easy to prepare and it’s so delicious even by itself. Now is the time of year to experiment with pumpkin flavors. Here is a link to an excellent recipe for Pumpkin Cashew Curry. It’s amazing, you won’t regret trying it. Pears are fantastic this time of year, and they make a great snack when you are craving something really sweet. Have you ever tried parsnips? They are sort of like spicy carrots. Incredibly delicious and interesting–you can use them in place of cauliflower or mashed potatoes…try it!
Just because your body is telling you to stuff yourself, doesn’t mean you can’t stuff yourself with the RIGHT foods. Fruits and veggies that are in-season will be much cheaper than trying to find fresh raspberries in November. Also, don’t be afraid to use frozen fruits and veggies. Many times they are much cheaper than their fresh versions and you will still benefit from all their nutrients. By making an effort to eat more according to the seasons, hopefully you’ll look forward to making healthy meals. I know for sure that you will be proud of yourself for adding some new recipes to your repertoire.
(4) Lay off the alcohol—I am the first one to admit that when I am feeling blue, I typically begin to crave red wine and delicious winter ales a little bit more. Let’s be honest, alcohol has the ability to make you feel warm and content. Unfortunately, it’s a friend that will love you and leave you. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but alcohol is a major depressant. When you drink, you cause your body to release a burst of serotonin (which explains why you feel better while you are drinking), but once that buzz wears off, your body is left depleted of serotonin and it’s hard for it to re-charge it’s supply. Simply put, alcohol will undoubtedly make you feel melancholy, not to mention all of the nasty things it does for your fitness goals. If you feel like you MUST drink, limit yourself to just a few—you will thank yourself in the following days.
(5) Give yourself something to look forward to—other than eating right and working out, this is a tactic that always pushes me through the winter. November isn’t too bad because we have Thanksgiving to look forward to (or dread, depending on who you are), and December always seems to fly by with the Christmas season in full swing. Come January 1st, I inevitably hit a low. All of the holiday hustle and bustle is over and I am left to look at what state my life is currently in. This is an especially important time to plan something to look forward to. This can be anything—big or small. Maybe it’s a massage at the end of month to reward yourself for working hard. Maybe, if you’re lucky enough, it’s an awesome trip—which will serve as a bright spot and a motivator. I always encourage you to choose an athletic event to train for. Whether it’s a local 5K or a destination marathon, it will give you something to put your efforts towards. Active.com is a great place to look for events. When the days are dark and cold, it’s so nice to be able to look at the calendar and countdown to that exciting event, whatever it may be.
(6) Be honest with yourself—It took me many years to follow my own advice on this one. When I was younger, I would spend weeks denying the fact that I was feeling a major case of the blues. I think this made it worse. Since I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that I am able to overcome my blues much faster by getting real with myself. As soon as I recognize the signs (sleeping too much, wanting to eat inordinate amounts of sugar and carbs, feeling the urge to cry at silly things, being overly sensitive, etc.), I am quick to examine my current routine and adjust accordingly. If I can catch it before it gets out of hand, then I am able to save myself from a full-blown case of depression.
Please feel free to share some of the things you do to help get you through the winter. As always, I’m here to listen…