I think it almost goes without saying that February is the most depressing month of the year. It’s still winter, and this year feels like a winter that might never end. It’s cold. It’s damp. It’s dark most of the time. It’s dreary. Football is over. The ground is covered in snow and ice; so much so that this morning I wondered if I should be wearing a pair of ice skates instead of sneakers to walk my dog. There are cracks on the sidewalks and never ending potholes on the roads, which makes walking or driving feel like navigating an obstacle course. And football is still over. Utterly depressing. No doubt a select few were able to escape to a warm climate for a few days, but for the rest of us, we are stuck in an endless cycle of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) or an informal case of the “blahs”. I hate winter with a passion, so I’m totally there.
The weather, sickness, and other unenviable obstacles of our daily lives on these cold, shortened days, absolutely add a layer of stress that might not otherwise be there when it’s warmer. I know that I’m much happier when I can just throw on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt and go about my day (ah, the life of a trainer), but the stress of winter, and stress in general, is something that can totally throw us off-kilter and make us feel pretty awful. But I haven’t given up on getting healthy for the change of seasons, and, thankfully, there are many ways to alleviate the stress and doldrums even when the dead of winter seems like it may never end. If you are crazy stressed, bored, or even depressed, here’s what you you can do to survive until spring rolls around:
- Get a Massage: In addition to being helpful for anxiety, headaches, digestive disorders, insomnia and fibromyalgia, a massage just feels really freaking good. Are you hunched over a computer screen all day, shoulders up in your neck and arms scrunched into your chest after hours of typing? Are you someone who works on your feet for hours at a time? A massage is a luxury, yes, I get that, but if your body is stressed out you are going to be stressed out too. And if you are looking for a low cost option, have your three-year-old walk on your back for fun. He’ll love it and as long as he’s not doing plyometrics on your spine, your back will love it as well.
- Set aside 15-20 minutes every day for yourself: How you spend these 15-20 minutes can vary, but I think that a little solitude, even for you Type A or super social creatures out there, is truly important. Maybe you want to read the book that is stuffed in your backpack (now I’m talking directly to myself), meditate, take a long shower, listen to music, stare at the ceiling or whatever, but try committing fifteen minutes a day to yourself every day for a week and see what happens. This woman wrote a novel in just fifteen minutes a day, so anything is possible.
- Eat or drink something you shouldn’t. Occasionally: Probably not the most prudent advice coming from a personal trainer/health freak, right? Maybe not, but the problem I see from a lot of my clients is that they are either 100% all in or 100% all out with their exercise and health and wellness routines, and neither side of that coin is entirely healthy. The hardest part is to try to find the balance in the middle. Although this isn’t easy for everyone, restricting yourself from something you want or crave ALL the time, such as a cheeseburger or a mojito, for instance, can be stressful in and of itself, and that stress can contribute to the yo-yo weight gains that I often see. So is it ok if every once in a while you indulge in that cheeseburger or mojito, or whatever suits your fancy? I say absolutely, because the stress of never indulging ever again simply isn’t worth it.
- Fully focused kid time. Or dog, or spouse, or boyfriend/girlfriend, whatever: I would say a fair of the time when I am with my kids, I am multi-tasking or doing something other than paying full attention to them. Or when I am with them, I am cleaning up a mess they made or simply telling them to do or not do something, and all of this combined can be super stressful. My way of dealing with this is to plan as far ahead as possible, so if I have time to lay out their clothes and prep for their meals in advance, I try to do it, but sometimes there just isn’t enough time. Even if it’s just the fifteen minutes I referenced above, setting aside just a bit of fully focused time on your kids, family members or significant others, no phone, TV, other tasks, etc., can be quite calming, and then I am better prepared for the stressful stuff that will inevitably follow. Besides, multi-tasking doesn’t work anyway.
- Yoga Therapy: Focusing more so on the mental aspects of Yoga rather than the physical, Yoga Therapy is new-age and a bit eccentric, but for you fans of meditation and other breathing and/or relaxation techniques, this might be for you. I did it a few months back with a local friend of mine and I left our session as relaxed as I’ve ever been. Yoga Therapy uses a bunch of different tools from typical Yoga and applies those tools to the specific health condition of a client, whether it is stress, anxiety, diabetes, autism, depression, etc. You have to be open minded to give it a shot, but it is becoming increasingly popular.
- Take a walk: I know you are probably thinking that it’s still -25 outdoors and this dude is asking you to bundle up, take a stroll and shiver, but I suppose that’s exactly what I’m saying. Most of us have been cooped up indoors for a majority of the winter, germs swirling through the air and heat blasting through the vents, but taking a leisurely walk, even if it is short, can lower your cortisol levels, a major stress hormone that can be a precursor to weight gain. Walking is also great for thinking, gathering thoughts and simply enjoying the outdoors, which, even in -25 degree weather, is literally a breath of fresh air.
Somehow, someway, Spring will surely come, but in the meantime I am going to do the best I can to get through the rest of the winter without any more runny noses, sore throats, or infections. If stress contributes to these things, any opportunity I have take to lower that stress in my life, I’m definitely gonna take it.