Also known as “How to Keep your Fire Lit” Part II. Yesterday, we discussed Seasonal Affective Disorder, related Winter Depression and coping mechanisms. In today’s post, we will present 10 Ways to keep your motivation intact when the weather outside is not conducive or even discouraging.
Let me get this out of the way: DISCLAIMER: I am not a medical professional, just someone who has had (out of necessity) to find ways to keep motivated and focused, during the winter season. I recommend speaking with your practitioner before starting any new diet or exercise regime, or if you are facing depression to the point that it is adversely affecting your life. Especially if you are having suicidal thoughts or having issues with chemical abuse. The world is a better place not only with you in it, but in it healthy, active and well: Physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
I have to admit I am writing this post as much for me as you. I live with depression. Most of the year it is mostly manageable. Winter is more difficult. As I mentioned in the prior post, this depression can impact my ability to stay focused on my long term health goals. I have come up with a game-plan that helps although honestly, I have some bad days, (and occasionally bad weeks). But these 10 steps when followed faithfully have helped. And to pilfer a truism from AA, it is progress, not perfection. So if you try some of these steps and they are benefiting and then you fail, remember the importance of growth. It works if you work it. At least it did for me.
10) Do something you really like to do.
While this is true in all areas of life, it is especially true when it comes to exercise. Find an activity that really makes you feel good doing it. No matter how many calories you burn doing something you hate, it won’t matter if you don’t actually do it often. I don’t believe anyone can overestimate the importance of consistency when it comes to achieving your health goals. You need to find something you won’t mind doing over the long haul. And it will be easier to talk yourself into getting up and doing said activity if you know a couple minutes into it you aren’t regretting your decision. For me, it’s swimming. I love to swim. And even on the days I really don’t want to leave the house, if I can just get off the couch, I know once I hit the water, I am glad I went after all. But what about the days when the weather is just not conducive to driving to the gym? We have number 9:
9) Find an activity you can do housebound.
Sometimes the ritual of going to the gym, or the track is kind of pleasant. But in the winter, it can often be hazardous or just not fun to make the trek. For those times, it is essential to have something you can do at home. Perhaps a workout DVD. I found a Yoga for heavier people on Youtube I love ( it really kicks my butt). Don’t let anyone fool you. Yoga can really give you a good burn. You may even need to turn the thermostat down a little after. Even some strenuous housework. Just do something, don’t let the cold and snow deter you.
8) Body/mind connection is vital in the wintertime.
Losing this connection in the winter months is easy. We wear heavier clothing that occludes our body from view, (even our own). We can start to have a disconnect. I tend to live in my head a lot as it is, so this time of year is especially difficult for me. If I get out of touch with my body, I can’t hear what it needs or doesn’t need. I tend to overeat because I am unable to listen to my body tell me its full. I don’t sleep when I need to and oversleep when I should get up. You get the picture. So for me, including a body/mind exercise such as Tai-Chi, Yoga or even Meditation helps me become cognizant of my body and my place in it. This awareness helps me avoid pitfalls common during the colder months.
7) Find a way to be accountable
This one is crucial to me. If you are reading this, you may be a blogger or at the very least have some type of social media account. Tell people you trust about your goals. Be aware that maybe not everyone will be supportive. Sadly, some people just aren’t positive, but you may find more supportive people are than realize. A support system also means you will have people who can offer encouragement. Having someone who is following your progress can be a great help in keeping you on task.
6) Consider a Fitness Class
If you are an introvert like me that is a bit of a terrifying thought but bear with me. Find a class of peers who are in a similar physical condition. Having somewhere to go each week can make the season move a lot faster. Look for an activity you’ve never done before, like a dance class, or maybe martial arts. and who knows, perhaps you might find you are more social than you realize. (I know for me, it’s shocking when I see myself actually being social. But I usually feel better after provided I can balance it out with some alone time).
5) Make sure your Vitamin D is in balance
As I mentioned in Part I, lack of sun can mean less Vitamin D absorption. Also, supplemental Vitamin C may be in order since there are usually Flu bugs in the air. At the very least try to get out on those rare winter days when you have full sun and if it isn’t too cold try to spend about a half hour in the direct sunlight. If you are feeling depressed, you may look into a lightbox as well. Warm light can often with the Winter funk.
4) Consider more “Winter vegetables.”
With modern technology (and a lot of burned fossil fuels) many of us can have summer vegetables all year round. But in the winter, much of it comes from the hemisphere that is having summer, or from hothouses. By the time it arrives at the grocers the vegetables have been in transit for a while, and some of the nutrient-rich freshness has degraded. Or even worse, has been enhanced with a chemically based preservative. So try vegetables that can be harvested in colder temperatures to ensure you are eating locally. These vegetables include Cabbage, Broccoli, Squash, beets, and any other root vegetable. Even some fruits such as grapefruit and Oranges are grown in the warmer regions of the northern hemisphere in winter.
3) Avoid the urge to cram simple carbs
Part of it is pure biology. When the weather gets colder we tend to move slower, become sedentary, and hole up until summer comes. It’s in our blood, we have been doing it since the cave days. The tendency is to put on a few extra layers of fat to keep us warm and nourished for the season. And it is also in our brain chemistry. Less sunlight means the brain produces less Serotonin which helps us want to be active and more Melatonin which makes us sleepy and lethargic. This lower energy level also means lower blood sugar, and we often crave carbohydrates to make up for the energy deficit. Often we tend to gravitate toward Simple carbs such as “Energy drinks,” candy, cookies, and sweetbreads. These carbs give us a sudden spike in blood sugar but burn quickly which lead to more lethargy and feeling of nausea. The cycle is often repeated and can sap a person’s motivation and can also damage their sense of well being.
2) Remember that time is not expendable.
A day (or week) lost is a time you won’t get back. As I get older this point becomes more and more resonant. I can’t spend time fretting over past mistakes because the clock is always running. (And that almost feels literal anymore. Time is truly sprinting.) So while there are days I don’t feel like working out or maybe sliding into the Taco-Bell drive through, I have to say to myself. “You will never have today again. Do you really want this to be your legacy?” Sometimes when I remember if I choose to make a poor decision that I will only have further to go in a limited time. And I am not just talking about “The Big Sleep” either. My body is getting older, I may not have the luxury of blowing off days in the future, or the physical ability to recover. Not trying to be a downer here, but part of healing and recovery, is taking an honest inventory.
1) Be good to yourself. You are ultimately doing this for you.
You can have loving friends and family (and count your blessings if you do), you can have support from the whole world, but your journey is at the end of the day your own. You walk it by yourself. We all do. The only one you are taking with you when you get to the journey’s end is yourself. And you need to care. If you are losing weight for a partner or friend, you may not stick with it. Even if you do, it won’t really matter. St. Paul said if You can do all things, but if you don’t have Love, it doesn’t even matter. I wrote a post a while back about the importance of Self-Compassion. I often have to remind myself I am worthy of Love. Perhaps I am not alone in this. What helps me about staying motivated is when I feel resistance, I ask myself why.
Am I doing this as a way of punishing myself for a perceived wrong? (It often is). Am I genuinely tired or is it sadness or depression masking as fatigue? When I feel like quitting or crawling up in bed and listening to The Cure, I tell myself: I am worthy of being loved, I deserve to be healthy, and well, I AM healthy and well. How can I ever truly express Love for another, if I deny it to myself? It all starts with you. And you are worth being healthy and well. YOU ARE healthy and well, even if it isn’t fully realized as of yet.
I Hope this helps. It’s all a work in progress. As always feedback and comments are always welcome. GG