• Amanda Essinger

10 Ways To Stay Motivated During Winter

How to keep your momentum going longer, even when the days are shorter.

Like it or not, the end of daylight savings is one of those inevitable factors we all have to work through. (Unless, of course, you're lucky enough to live in a state that doesn't observe it.) For many of us, this is can be a difficult adjustment, and for good reason. It marks the beginning of shorter days, colder temperatures, and dreary weather. It can be difficult to find motivation when the temptation to crawl under the covers and veg out with your favorite Netflix show at 5 pm is stronger than ever. Therefore, I've compiled a list of 10 self-care activities to combat the end-of-daylight blues.

To very loosely paraphrase Isaac Newton, "An object in motion stays in motion." and who are we to challenge the laws of physics?

I use phrases like "self-care" and "coping skills" more often than not (possibly too much, if we're being honest), but for good reason. The best thing we can do for ourselves is to make sure we are taking care of our emotional and physical needs. It is, after all, one of the few things actually within our locus of control. So why not take advantage of this to the fullest extent? So, without further adieu......


10 Ways to Stay Motivated During Winter:


1. Get Quality Sleep

Easier said than done, I know, but sticking to a sleep schedule is important for more than just your physical health. This means avoiding the temptation to crawl into bed as soon as it gets dark outside. If you feel the temptation creeping up on you, try engaging in another activity (such as something from this list) instead. You can also incorporate a special pre-bedtime routine, specifically for going to bed, to help your mind and body wind down. This can include things such as changing into comfortable pajamas, drinking some (caffeine-free) tea, and/or listening to a guided meditation or other relaxing sounds. This helps re-program our mind and body to know that this routine means it's time for bed, not just the sun being down.


2. Physical Activity

To very loosely paraphrase Isaac Newton, "An object in motion stays in motion." and who are we to challenge the laws of physics? Jokes aside, this absolutely rings true. It's much more difficult to get up and move than to stay moving in the first place. This doesn't necessarily mean you should go out and buy a gym membership, but there are plenty of options out there in terms of online workout videos, tips, and tutorials to meet a variety of skill levels and time constraints. Even dedicating 5-10 minutes of engaging in physical activity is better than none at all. Exercise helps to release endorphins which help us feel happier and combat the "blah" feelings of a gray day. You might even feel a sense of accomplishment and stay motivated to keep it up!

Be wary of content that promises extreme "results" like losing 20 lbs in a month. Exercise should not cause extreme amounts of discomfort. If you have any questions or concerns it is always best to consult with your doctor.


3. Incorporate Produce Into Meals

No, I am not suggesting going on a diet, but there probably isn't anything I could tell you about the importance of eating fruits and vegetables that you haven't heard 100 times before. However, what I would like to mention is that in the colder months, we tend to gravitate toward high-carb, sugary, and fatty foods as if we really were planning to hibernate for the winter. The plethora of back-to-back family gatherings and delicious seasonal holiday foods probably don't help much in that regard either. Now, I am the last person to tell anyone to skip the pumpkin pie and eat a salad instead, but it really is important to at least try and incorporate fresher produce along with your meals. Foods that are high in carbs and fats can leave us feeling sluggish and lethargic, making the desire to crawl into bed and forget about the rest of the day that much worse. Try finding a balance when it comes to your eating habits and possibly even look up new and delicious ways fuel your body.

Again, if you have questions or concerns regarding your personal dietary needs, it is always best to consult with your doctor. They may even suggest supplements such as magnesium or Vitamin D.


4. Invest in a Sun Lamp

Also known as a SAD lamp or light therapy box, these lamps are supposed to mimic natural sunlight, which is what normally provides us with the serotonin and melatonin we begin to lack in the winter. I've seen prices on these range online starting at around $20 and up. If this seems like it could be a good option for you, I would encourage you to do some further research. If a sun lamp doesn't seem like a feasible option, you can also try leaving your regular lights on. Trying to keep your working or living space well lit can assist with mimicking the effects of daylight, even if it is dark or dreary outside.


5. Keep a Gratitude Journal

As previously mentioned, sunlight is one of our main sources of serotonin and melatonin, so when the days become darker faster, it can often lead to more symptoms of depression. Keeping a gratitude journal can be an effective way to help us break out of the negative thinking patterns that are so easy to slip into and force us to also be accountable for the good things in our lives. In terms of journaling, you can format it however you like, be it in an actual journal or loose paper, bullet points or detailed paragraphs. The content can be as simple or as complicated as you can think of, ranging from having a roof over your head to feeling grateful that Frank from accounting let you borrow his pen last Thursday and wasn't even mad when you forgot to return it.


6. Set (Realistic) Goals For Yourself

Setting small and achievable goals is a great way to keep yourself motivated and leave you feeling productive and accomplished. Always wanted to reorganize the Tupperware that never seems to have matching lids? Want to finally match all of those mismatched socks that have been sitting in the "sad and alone" pile since God knows when? Now could be a great chance to do that! The key here is to make your goals small, realistic, and achievable. The last thing you want to do at this point is to set yourself up for feelings of failure when crawling into bed is already so tempting. Have an honest conversation with yourself and decide how much time to set aside for your project, hobby, chore, or goal as well as a reasonable finishing date.


7. Utilize Your Other Senses

We already discussed how important incorporating light is during the cold months, but have you ever stopped to consider the impact of your other senses on your mood? For example, if I ask what it smelled like during the holidays during your childhood, or what song was topping the charts during a significant time during your life, does it bring up any emotion? If so, I say we use this for good. Some ways you can incorporate your senses to feel more energetic include:

  • Using a candle, wax melt, or oil diffuser. People often report the smell of coffee, citrus, or mint can be energizing.

  • Similarly, people report that mint flavors help them feel more awake.

  • Put on a playlist of your favorite upbeat music, or music that reminds you of happy times.

  • Try taking a cool shower in the morning to get your day going.

8. Volunteer

Going back to a sense of accomplishment, volunteering can be an excellent way to do this. With the holidays coming up, there is potentially even more of a need for volunteers. This can also serve as a good opportunity for those looking to branch out of their comfort zone. Volunteering is not only another good way to feel productive, but it can benefit your community and those around you. If you are putting good out there into the world, you're more likely to feel good about yourself too.


9. Soak up available sunshine

This one is short and sweet. If you can during the day, open your blinds, go outside for your lunch break, or basically do what you can to get that sweet sweet serotonin and melatonin back into your life. Let it be an opportunity for mindfulness and gratitude, and you'll find that you're even more appreciative and notice it more than in the spring and summer months.


10. Spend Time Outside

Yes, you read that correctly. Even if it's freezing out, it can do you some good to bundle up and spend a few minutes outside. Being in nature and getting some fresh air has the potential for great psychological benefits. It's a great way to ground us and bring our minds back into what we are doing in the present rather than letting our thoughts become stuck in the past or future. It can be too easy, sometimes, to think ourselves into a funk when we feel stuck inside because of the cold. Unfortunately, things like the weather and when the sun sets are beyond our control, and letting our minds wonder to past regrets or future anxieties can increase the sense of instability that naturally comes with change. Instead, try feeling empowered by going outside (because you want to, not because you have to) and knowing that you did something good for yourself.


After engaging in the self-care methods right for you, if you are still having difficulty managing symptoms (such as apathy, loss of interest, irritability, isolation, sleeping/eating disturbances, feelings of sadness, and/or difficulty concentrating) it may be a sign it's time to talk with a therapist, your primary care physician, or another mental health provider.


At the end of the day, it is important to remember that the short days are temporary, spring will be here before we know it, and we will be able to appreciate it that much more.



Best of luck!

Amanda Essinger

MFT, LPC

Family Connection 2, LLC


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