As a long-term transplant to New England, I was faced with a choice: spend the winters hibernating and grumbling or strategize on how to make it all work better. The “it” here is the New England weather — or these seemingly endless weeks between the holidays and springtime.
Happily, I’ve managed to brainstorm and practice a number of winter wellness tricks. You can, too.
1. Morning pages. Long before Natalie Goldberg coined the term “morning pages,” I kept a teenage personal journal. Now, in middle age, I see it as both a wellness and a creativity tool. Therapeutic, medical and wellness experts have long touted the personal, creative and professional benefits of writing down our lives and feelings.
New to journaling? Buy yourself a notebook and a pen and set your alarm clock for a half-hour earlier. If you’re more comfortable using a keyboard, try an online journaling site.
2. Morning mise-en-place. Before they start prepping or cooking, professional chefs gather and arrange every item they will need (mise-en-place) to create a meal. Borrow this chef trick to de-stress your morning routine. Fix your brown bag lunch the night before. Assign a special and convenient spot for car keys, backpacks, laptop, mittens and lunch bags.
3. Light therapy. Researchers estimate that over 25 percent of Americans suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and SAD is more common among those of us who live in the northern states. Sunlight stimulates serotonin, which affects our moods. So if the winter leaves you listless, it’s worth asking your physician about light therapy. Most light boxes retail for under $200, and I do a Pavlovian-styled multitask by switching on my portable light box the minute I open up that morning writing journal.
4. Workplace reminders of your personal values.I keep Thoreau’s quote, “Live The Life You’ve Imagined” at eye level above my office desk. It reminds me who I am and what matters to me. Some workplaces favor groupthink over individuality, and it’s all too easy to sublimate the personal for the corporate. Find a trinket or reminder to inspire and remind you of you.
5. Eat good food. When the mercury dips, it’s tempting to indulge in those stick-to-our-ribs comfort foods. But those carbohydrate-laden meals often set our bodies on a day-long rollercoaster that ultimately ends with an afternoon sugar crash.
In her book, “The Mood Cure,” nutritional psychologist Julia Ross recommends increasing our pro-serotonin foods such as protein and healthy fats, reducing caffeine intake and including at least four ounces of protein in every meal.
6. Take a lunchtime walk. Grab that woolen hat and those mittens and get outside on your lunch hour. Even a 10-minute stroll around the block or parking lot will expose you to natural sunlight and endorphin-inducing exercise. An added bonus: According to Simmons College’s Center for Hygiene and Health in Home and Community, daily fresh air and exercise can help you avoid those workplace viruses and flus.
7. Workplace meditation. The cognitive and psychological benefits of daily or frequent meditation have been well documented. Even if you work in a cubicle or open-space office, use your headphones to avail yourself of the many websites that offer short guided meditations — some as brief as two minutes. My two favorite guided, no-cost meditation sites are Fragrant Heart and the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center.
8. Keep extra clothing in your car and desk. There’s this old adage that if you don’t like the weather in New England, just hang around until it changes. Added to the fickle weather are our closed-heating-system workplaces and centrally controlled thermostats.
Why sit there freezing? Dress in layers. Keep your feet extra warm. Always have an extra sweater in case you need it.
9. Write tomorrow’s to-do list. The reduced daylight hours can interrupt our sleep patterns, which can leave you lying there fretting about tomorrow. Set yourself a daily reminder to stop working 10 minutes before the formal end of your workday. Use this time to write down tomorrow’s to-do list. This gives you a sense of control and lets you leave the work day where it belongs — at work.
10. Practice a transition ritual between work and home. Even on the weekends, our 24/7 digitally connected workplaces make it challenging to disconnect — really disconnect — from work. I advise my creative writing students to develop and set a ritual that helps them to switch from work brain to creative brain. Stop by the gym on your way home. Do some yoga or take a walk before dinner. Read a chapter of your latest book. Create a Spotify song list that prompts you to relax and unwind.