While the holidays are behind us, winter is still in full swing. Many of us can “hold on” through the holidays, but once they are over it can be challenging to stay energized, focused, or motivated. With supermarkets, artificial lighting, and central heating, our bodies are a little confused about what to do this time of year. In ancient times, winter meant limited food, sun, and heat and changing our diets and spending extra time sleeping in a warm bed was likely useful. Today, hibernating seems out of place and can create difficulties with productivity and overall health. Staying well in the winter, for many people, requires extra attention.
Putting together a winter wellness guide for yourself can help you to overcome these challenges. There are eight dimensions of wellness to consider when putting together a winter wellness plan: Physical, Emotional, Intellectual, Social, Spiritual, Environmental, Occupational, & Financial. Within each dimension, you likely have strengths and areas of growth. Let’s take a closer look at each one to help you create your plan!
Physical activity and diet often look different in the winter, and probably should! Give yourself permission to change up your routine and shopping list. Try new recipes using seasonal items at the grocery store. Cook warm, soothing meals. Use this time of year to incorporate more stretching exercises at home. Our ability to engage in activity changes in the winter is challenged but not impossible if we give ourselves permission to expand our routine.
It is very common for people to have mood changes during the winter. This can be due to lack of sunshine or light in general, challenges with family members, trauma history, memories of loss, or something else. Sadness and a lack of motivation make it hard to accomplish anything on top of a dreary time of year. However, winter can also bring a chance to reflect, to remember, and to plan. Make a list of what you can do to be emotionally well during the winter. These may be things you do year around (like keeping a journal), but just need to be reminded to do them again.
“Cabin fever” is a real thing. Staying indoors more often due to weather can cause and increase in mental health challenges. One can feel trapped if their home doesn’t bring comfort or a sense of peace. This can compound the mystery that people feel during the winter as it limits your ability to be in the sun, outside, or just drive to the store. What can you do to recreate your indoor space? What are some new ways you can enjoy the outdoors?
Whether you are currently working or not, additional responsibilities during this time of year, changes in routine or schedule due to the weather, and illnesses can add more stress. It can make an already packed routine suddenly feel overwhelming. We can start to feel very isolated if we don’t leave the house. Make a list of things that provide meaning to your day or week. Create some rhythm or routine to parts of your day that you do have control over. Winter can be the perfect time to start volunteering, start a new hobby, or tackle a project (at home or work)!
Spiritual wellness can mean many different things to different people. At the root, however, is finding a sense of personal purpose. For some that’s attending church and for others it’s being in nature or meditating. Consider how you can renew or refresh your purpose. Make a plan to maintain that practice to help find meaning, peace, and purpose during the winter. This could be as simple as expressing gratitude everyday or as in depth as exploring your own values and beliefs.
Winter can be isolating. It takes extra effort to be social and stay connected with others. The holidays can feel like a big burst of social activity, leaving you feeling alone when they are over. Identify your support system and stay connected. That could be in person or maybe it’s a monthly skype date with friends from around the country. Pay attention to what works for you – do you need more or less social engagement in the winter? How can you enrich your social wellness? Know your limits and plan for a proper balance of activity and relaxation.
It can be easy to “shut down” when the sun goes down. In the summer that means we tend to be productive well into the evening. With it turning dark at 5pm during the winter, we had a tendency to end our days work around then as well. This sluggishness can affect energy levels, concentration, or desire to do anything but watch t.v. Find ways to keep yourself mentally sharp during the winter. Hit up the library for a good book, try a crossword or sudoku puzzle, or even switch up your binge worthy drama series on Netflix for a documentary.
Yes, shopping for the holidays can put a dent in your finances. Past that, heating costs and electricity bills are higher all winter long and can create additional financial strain. The emotional slump after the holidays can something contribute to impulse spending as well. January provides a fresh financial start and is a perfect time to create a plan. Review your finances from 2019 and set your goals for 2020. Learn from your spending habits and set goals to improve them. Identify where you can better manage your spending and see what small steps you can take each month to save.
These eight dimensions overlap. They do not create a perfect wheel. Therefore, a boost in one can create a boost in another. Your plan should reflect your unique lifestyle and provide a helpful visual to identify your areas of strength and growth. Play with your plan and keep it close until spring arrives!
Emily Betros is a licensed clinical social worker, certified health coach, and owner of Reclaiming Health, LLC. She specializes in body image support, eating disorders, anxiety, life transitions, mindfulness, and women’s issues. More info: www.reclaiminghealth.net.