I’m sure you’ve seen the news articles, the billboards, the commercials. You know that the flu is bad this year. And I’ll bet you’ve gotten your flu shot, purchased a gallon-size container of hand sanitizer AND the anti-microbial tissues.
You already know you should be eating healthy and getting plenty of rest and staying away from people who your 6th sense is telling you may or may not be getting sick in the near enough future that you, in turn, may or may not become sick.
May I suggest that this is all well and good – helpful to yourself and society at large – but that there is more to good health than not being sick. There is more to wellness than just being… well… WELL.
That’s right, folks. I’m talking about mental health here. Am I a mental health professional? No. Have I had winters that I thought would never end and I went for days without leaving my house and I had no friends and everything was gray and who knows when this blasted season is going to end it’s so cold and it just keeps getting colder and I just don’t think I can take another day of Dora marathons and crying babies who I can’t take outside because the air quality is so bad and I guess at least I have a house to clean and a book to read?
Yes. I have.
But then I moved to the Grand Valley. Here, there is sun even when it’s cold, and that seems to make things a little better. I just don’t seem to get those winter dull-drums anymore. So while out riding my mountain bike today – yes, it was very cold, the trail was frozen and/or ice and/or snow, but I’m crazy like that – I thought about what I might suggest in this, the most cheerful-resistant time of year.
Here are my six tips for a happy winter:
1. Get a little nature every day. I’m serious. Every day. And preferably do something that connects you to nature. Walking out to your car and back to your house and back to the car and back to your house just doesn’t count. Go for a walk around the block. Or make a snow angel in your front yard. Or throw snowballs at the neighbor’s cat that keeps peeing on your snow so you can’t make snow angels.
2. Make a list of fun, free or cheap activities that you can do OUTSIDE with kids or your significant other. The longer the better. The more fun, the better. So when you find yourself feeling a little down, pick one, and go do it.
3. Make another list of fun things to do INSIDE. You should still get into nature, too, but if you’re like me it’s depressing to see your kids just getting hours of screen time. How about making a fort out of blankets? Baking cookies to take to a neighbor (you did throw snowballs at their cat after all)? Coloring Valentine’s cards (store-bought is so over-rated)? Have a beach day inside? Play hide-and-go-seek or sardines? Write a book? Read a book? Make a list and then do them.
4. Invest in hot drinks. You’re going to be a little cold after all that nature-ing. So just go for the good hot cocoa, the better-quality teas or learn how to brew your own wassail. Then partake of some every day. You may also want to invest in personal heaters, heating pads, wool socks and down comforters. But I like to keep things on the cheap.
5. Exercise. Seriously. Your body, like mine, and everyone else’s, seems to want to be sluggish and slow and gradually fill-out in the winter. It wants to be lazy. It wants to sleep more. But for 30 minutes a day you should make it do something active. Yes, your nature thing can count. And it doesn’t have to be at a gym! Google “yoga workout” on YouTube and take your pick of any number of videos. Or put on some Usher and dance like it’s the last night of your life. But get your heart rate up, and keep it up for 20 minutes. You will feel the after-burn affect (which I find particularly euphoric) for hours afterward.
6. Do something you love. Every day. And don’t feel bad about it for one single moment.
Hopefully, that’s enough to get you started thinking in the right direction. But don’t overthink it. You’ve already done all this fantastic work to keep your body healthy – now it’s time to take just a little bit and focus on your mind and your heart.
Because if you haven’t got your health, you haven’t got anything.
Elisa Jones is currently the chairman of the board of the Grand Valley Trails Alliance. She has degrees in science, music and business, but most of all she considers herself a teacher. A mother of three, she is an avid trail runner and mountain biker who gets her kicks practicing yoga, advocating for strong schools and indulging in dark chocolate.