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Protect Your Mood From the Weather

Growing up in a family mechanic shop, I learned early on about the need for “winterizing” your car. You check to make sure that your antifreeze will not freeze. You may use a different weight oil. If you have a convertible that you won’t be using driving for a few months, you add fuel stabilizer to keep the gas in good shape for use in the coming spring. In short, you take care of the thing that takes care of you.

It is also important to “winterize” yourself. The winter brings about lots of changes. We have shorter days, less than optimal weather, and holiday season (not just a day or 2 – a season) where we eat and eat and eat. “Lake (pool, beach, picnic, etc) season” is over, and it is time to hibernate. Basically, lots of food – presumably unhealthy, lots of Netflix binging, lots of sitting in. It is easy for that lifestyle change to occur. Oh well, pick it back up in April, right?

But what happens when our lifestyle changes completely for nearly half of the year? Research tells us a few things about that kind of change. First, lack of social interaction and social support can hurt our ability to cope with tough things going on in life. Another issue is that we may stop doing things we enjoy (it is no secret that we can’t swim in a drained lake or tan in a bathing suit when it is 30 degrees, but we can find other things to do). The loss of vitamin D, as well as the loss of other needed nutrients and introduction of unhealthy foods have the potential to have a pretty nasty effect on our emotions, giving way to anxiety, depressed mood, irritability, and issues with focus and distraction. We also know that physical activity aids in cognition (it makes your brain work better). For some of us, the lack of sunlight causes problems that we may not be able to fully avoid.

Now the problems have been laid out. This isn’t supposed to be a “drag me down” type of blog though, so let’s look at potential solutions.

  • Do we have to deprive ourselves of Mom’s honey ham and chess pie, or Dad’s fried turkey, or Grandma’s fried chicken and carrot cake? Of course not! Here is what can be done before going to the big holiday event: eat a plate full of vegetables – whatever you want – and drink plenty of water. These steps will help curb your appetite when eating “the good stuff,” and you will be more likely to eat in moderation.
  • Social interaction is important – we can organize a weekly dinner or lunch, morning stop for coffee with friends, daily trip to the gym with an “accountability partner,” etc. Something that will get us out with others (sorry, but group text and facebook chat may not completely cut it for this one).
  • There is a world outside of the house! The next 4 episodes of Orange Is The New Black will be there for a very long time. But today is only here right now. So maybe I catch one episode. Then, the possibilities are endless. I could go to the mall and “people watch,” hit Target for the things I would’ve bought on Amazon (and park in the back of the parking lot for a little walk). Then I may go to the YMCA or Rec Center and swim indoors with the little one. 2 words: Get out.
  • Then there is the dreaded physical activity. The “dreadmill” at the gym to work off the holiday food. Sure, that’s an option. Other options? Walking around the mall or swimming indoors with the kids (as mentioned before), going to a trampoline park, playing basketball in the gym, taking racquetball lessons, hiring a trainer to get “swole.” And here is a wild idea: the more we move, the more heat our bodies generate. We could venture outside – in the cold – for a hike or even a run (common sense is needed to avoid getting too cold, and swimming is not recommended).
  • If it is truly a sunlight issue, therapy light bulbs can provide some relief from this, due to the type of light that they put out and the effect that this light can have on the brain.

Long story short, it is okay – even fun and expected – to have days where you stay inside and drink hot chocolate, wear PJs, and watch your favorite show or movies all day. It can be relaxing and enjoyable, and we need that in life. The danger is when these things become a habit, because it can start to affect our moods, minds, relationships, jobs, and ultimately our lives negatively. We can avoid some negative effects of the change in weather by being aware of changes in the aforementioned areas. If we know that we tend to suffer emotionally or mentally during the winter, we can go ahead and plan for that beforehand.

And remember, there have been no Tennessee seasons that have lasted forever up to this point. Rest easy knowing that your favorite season will be coming in the next year!