Beat Winter at its Own Game

January 17th, 2017

Welcome! After the holidays and year-end commitments, we're back with the last portion of our cold-weather series on maintaining and increasing health. We started with ideas for staying fit both outdoors and indoors, then shared recipes for winter squash, cruciferous vegetables, baked goods, soups and stews, and roasted foods. Today we continue this series with ideas to protect and improve your mental and emotional health despite the cold and limited daylight. Stay tuned for more.

Well, you made it through the busyness of the holidays. Now a good portion of the country faces the long stretch of winter, featuring dull, gray days, long nights, and very little in the way of holidays or time away from work to look forward to. If you fall into this category, the uphill climb to springtime and sunshine can be a rough one, but it doesn't have to be unbearable.There are several simple ways you can give your body and brain a boost so you don't have to only endure this season.

To combat inertia and "the blues":

Better out than in: Getting some fresh air - especially when the sun is up - will give your day a little "charge" and should help your body with a healthy sleep/wake cycle. Make sure you're dressed appropriately for the conditions, and then run an errand on foot or take a quick walk at least a couple times a week.

Get moving: Sure, this weather makes you want to sit under a blanket until the sun finally returns, but we all know being sedentary is never a good idea. If you use this time to get into or continue a workout regimen*, not only will your joints and your waistline thank you, but your sleep and outlook will also show improvement! When the weather cooperates, you can combine this suggestion with the previous item for even more benefit. *If you are under a doctor's supervision, be sure to discuss your plans so they can advise you on the safest way to begin a fitness regimen.

Fake it 'til you make it: If the limited sunlight hours of the winter make you feel sluggish and down, light therapy might be a good idea. A simple web search on the topic will yield a list of retailers that sell light boxes for this purpose. The premise is that sitting near one of these light boxes regularly simulates natural sunlight's effects on your brain and body.

To increase sleep quality and daytime alertness:

Unplug: By now, you have probably heard about studies that show how looking at smartphones, tablets, and TV late at night can negatively impact sleep. A few hours before bedtime, commit to turn off your device or stop looking at screens. Some models of smartphone and some apps allow you to schedule a block of hours during which the color and brightness of your screen are augmented so that, if you must look at the screen, your sleep will not be impacted quite as severely as if you looked at it at full brightness. While you're at it, put your phone on "do not disturb" or even better, airplane mode, so you don't accidentally see a work e-mail or get sucked into social media right before it's time to calm your mind and go to sleep.

Wind down: If late-night viewing of screens is a "don't" where sleep quality is concerned, observing a bedtime routine is a "do". While you get ready for bed, lower the lights so your brain knows it's time to rest. Take a warm bath or read a good book (preferably not something suspenseful or frightening) to relax your body and mind. When it's time to turn off the lights, you should be well on your way to drifting off.

Watch the clock: As much as possible, observe the same bedtime and wake time each day. Keeping a relatively consistent schedule allows you to work with your body's rhythms rather than against them, making for better quality sleep at night and alertness during the day.

NOTE: Although Liberty HealthShare does not share in mental health expenses, it is worth noting that for some, this time of year gives rise to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of depression that is linked to the change in seasons. The majority of SAD cases occur in fall and winter, however, some sufferers experience the less-common spring and summer variety. If you notice a change in your emotional and mental state that seems to be linked to the change in seasons, especially if it's noticeable more than one year in a row, you may wish to talk to your doctor to determine whether any specific therapy could help you. He or she may even recommend some of the ideas discussed above.

In reading these suggestions, you might have recognized some of the actions you already take during this time of year. You may have also realized some of the ways in which your current behaviors may be counterproductive to your health during the colder months. Of course, everyone is different. These ideas are generally thought to be effective, but many outside factors can impact their success. Be patient while you figure out your best approach. If instituting all of these ideas seems overwhelming, just choose one for now. Moving forward, make another change when you feel ready, and then another. Even small, incremental adjustments can yield big results.

Making positive shifts like the ones above will not only help you emerge from the cold in better spirits and feeling better in general, but it might also help you shift your perspective on the winter. Making lemonade out of lemons sure beats wishing three months of your life away!

Your health is a lot like riding a bicycle...stability is easy to achieve when you are in motion. It's when you stop moving that things get wobbly. Liberty HealthShare members are like-minded people who are committed to maintaining positive motion as they also share in the eligible medical costs of the rest of this community. If you'd like to learn more about this unique approach to paying for the costs associated with healthcare, visit our website or call 855-585-4237 to speak with one of our helpful representatives.