During the winter, it can feel like the forces of nature are conspiring to keep you from going anywhere or doing anything. Just getting to work can feel like an epic battle. With winter upon us, the increasing darkness and freezing temperatures can feel downright oppressive at times, and it can be tough to stay energized and motivated.
Although hibernation may feel like the best solution, there are other effective ways to cope. We turned to Kathianne Sellers Williams, MEd, RD, a registered dietitian and wellness coach, for expert tips on keeping energy levels up during the dark, cold days of winter.
How can people feel their best despite seasonal changes?
I lived in Minneapolis for 4 years and Boston for 10, yet I am not a fan of winter. All those years in the bitter cold and I never got used to it. Each year as the leaves started to fall I would dread the approaching darkness and the long, long cold months ahead. I’m sure I had seasonal affective disorder. Then one year I realized my complaining was only making me and those around me miserable. So I tried something new. I decided to embrace it. I couldn’t change that winter was going to happen, but I could change my attitude (and my behaviors.) Here’s what my “Operation Embrace Winter” looked like: I didn’t let myself say anything negative about winter. I bought a very warm and stylish coat (which was worth every penny) and focused on winter’s gifts: drinking tea, sitting by fires, making soups, etc. I kept up with my yoga and exercise routines (which are easy to skip when it’s so cold out!) and chose to view winter in a more spiritual way – as a time for reflection and renewal. Deciding to embrace the season is the best advice I can give.
Do you have any dietary suggestions to help people stay energized and alert throughout the workday?
Small frequent meals/ snacks are important to maintain blood sugar, and therefore energy levels. Hydration is also important for staying energized and often people forget about that when it is cold out. The heated air indoors can really dry you out. I recommend sipping tea during the day (preferably without caffeine) and having broth based soups to aid in adequate hydration. Finally, I would encourage people to learn more about Vitamin D, the “sunshine vitamin.” Recent research has shown that many people are deficient in this vitamin, which is actually a hormone. Deficiency is especially common in people who live in northern latitudes, where they aren’t getting adequate sunlight in winter months.
Are there any snacks you would recommend to give people a solid energy boost?
A combination of a whole grain/unrefined carbohydrate and a protein will do the trick. The size of one’s snack depends on their meal sizes and weight goals but, in general, some examples are: apple slices with almond butter, 1/2 peanut butter and banana sandwich on whole grain bread, a cup of veggie/ lentil/ split pea soup, or hummus and veggies.
What kind of exercise routine do you recommend for people to try to maintain during the winter? Should they adjust their routine at all?
It’s important for everyone to find what energizes them. Each person is different. I would encourage people to look outside traditional modes of exercise. There are so many options! Zumba, Nia, dance classes, rock climbing and ice climbing, hiking, snow shoeing, and cross country skiing, are just a few. Power walk with a friend and make it a social event as well. Just do something physical that brings you more life force. Choose something that you look forward to, NOT something you dread and do just because you know you “should.” If running on the treadmill isn’t your thing, no worries. Find what is. And be sure to get outside – even if it is cold out. Getting fresh air is important.
What are some practical ways people can increase their sense of motivation?
I encourage my clients to link their goals with something they wear everyday (i.e. a watch or ring) so they are continually reminded of what they are working towards. Set reminders on your computer. Finding support is also incredibly important. Surround yourself with people who positively reinforce your goals. Ask people for support and tell them specifically how they can help you.
What are some signs people should go visit a doctor or specialist for more help?
Symptoms of winter-onset seasonal effective disorder include: depressed mood, hopelessness, sleep disturbances, changes in weight and/or appetite, difficulty concentrating, and social withdrawal. If you think you might have seasonal effective disorder, talk to your doctor so you can start feeling your best.
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