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Thriving in Winter

When I moved to Minnesota I was a little wary of life in the winter. Of course everyone loves to tell you the horror stories. I didn’t grow up shoveling feet of snow or driving on ice. Winters were pretty mild in Georgia! I’ve been here for 8 years now and I feel like I am finally finding my winter groove.

Lately, I have been hearing from patients about how their depression, fatigue, anxiety, and chronic ailments are flaring this winter. I know how hard it is to keep up your self care in the winter. I have really struggled in past winters my back pain would always flare severely limiting my mobility.

One thing I am hearing a lot right now from patients is that their level of physical activity really declines in the winter. I hear you, and I understand it’s much more fun to go for a walk around the lake when it’s warm out and the sun is shining. BUT our bodies need that activity just as much in the winter as they do in the summer. Staying active this winter has revolutionized my health. This is the first winter I don’t have back pain.

We have to find solutions to maintain being physically active. The two things that have made the biggest difference for me are adding a treadmill to my basement and using yaktraks to run/walk outside. Now I don’t have any excuses, I have to exercise every day. If the weather is a little more harsh than I can stand I do it inside. If the sun is shining or it’s over 20F I get outside!

Some other ideas include:

-Try ‘fat tire’ biking

-Cross country skiing

-Workout in your home, you don’t need fancy equipment

-Use a gym; the YMCA; or your office gym

-Shoveling is exercise- I started taking over more of the shoveling for my house and it’s a great workout!

Keep in touch with friends. It’s so easy to isolate yourself in your home during the winter (an introverts dream!). What I have found is that when I isolate myself in the winter I end up over planning in the summer months trying to cram in every BBQ which leaves me exhausted by the time winter rolls around. This year I am staying social the entire year in small bits that work for me.

Sunlight in your eyes in the morning helps reduce melatonin levels and leads to better sleep that night. Walking my dog in the morning before work has been doing the trick. If you don’t have a good excuse to walk a few blocks in the morning I highly recommend adopting a rescue dog (!!) or using a light designed to reduce seasonal depression often called SAD or HAPPY lights. These lights have specific directions so make sure to read them.

Plan a getaway. I heard this advice from so. many. seasoned Minnesotans and I am finally taking it. Just knowing that I was heading to Hawaii the first week of February definitely lifted my spirits. Getting a nice dose of sunshine and warm weather was amazing but I wonder if the anticipation of knowing that the vacation was coming did almost as much for my mental health! It doesn’t have to be a major getaway. Even a road trip a few states south would give you a break and something to look forward to.

Embracing hygge. I have created a little haven in my home with candles, comfy chairs, nice blankets and we are embracing the simple things. Adding more mindfulness and taking time to appreciate the beautiful snow showers. Mindset matters and this winter I am choosing to have the mindset that I enjoy winter, I can stay active, keep connecting with my friends and take pleasure in the little things. I hope you can too!


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