Mastering how to stay motivated and avoid the winter slump is one of the primary concerns for people during these colder and darker months. A study on the climate’s influence on health reveals that winter weather conditions could result in maladaptive behaviors such as sleeping more, feeling more tired, lacking energy, being messier, having dwindling motivation, exercising less and consuming high amounts of starchy foods. Many people tend towards isolating themselves and exhibiting symptoms of depression in winter because the days are shorter and nights are longer. For this reason, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), or the winter blues, which is a type of seasonal depression, is more common during this season.
Lack of motivation is often tied to decreased energy levels or feelings of depression.
Why Do Energy Levels Become Affected By the Cold?
According to Dr. Emerson Wickwire, assistant director at Johns Hopkins and Sleep Medicine Director at Pulmonary Disease and Critical Care Associates, says it is normal for sleep habits and activity cycles to change a bit as the seasons change, especially with longer nights and freezing temperatures in winter. In these modern times, humans do not hibernate like animals, but they tend to feel more sleepy during winter because the visual cues of light and darkness throw off the body's natural circadian rhythm. This internal clock is set to a 24-hour cycle and influences sleep. In ancient times, archaeological research suggests that the early cavemen supposedly survived ferocious winters by slowing down their metabolism and sleeping longer. They foraged for food and stayed in caves to avoid the harsh elements since heating systems were non-existent.
However, Dr. Wickwire points out, “The biggest mistake that people make when it comes to sleeping in winter is ignoring their body’s natural rhythm. Even if you’re tempted to stay in bed or on the couch all day long, unless you are sick it’s a good idea to get up and move around.” This means following your usual routines even if you’re tempted to stay cozy in your blankets. Getting up and moving will do wonders for you. When there are misaligned circadian rhythms, the lack of sleep could result in depression, lack of motivation, and other mental health issues like SAD or bipolar disorder. But how to stay motivated when you’re feeling down in the dumps?
If you’re feeling very low, sluggish, and slow during these frigid months, you’re not alone. Less sunlight, colder temperatures, and lack of activity tend to dampen many people’s moods. When your motivation feels dwindling as the freezing days creep by, it would help to remember that there are bright spots amid that darkness. Although a winter slump may seem biologically inevitable, it is not impossible to stay motivated in the colder months. It may just require a little more effort.
Below are some tips on how to stay motivated this winter.
Primary Tip on How to Stay Motivated: Get Some Sun Exposure
Although the days are shorter in winter, this doesn’t mean that the sun never appears. Even if you’re feeling sluggish, it’s important to get out of your cocoon of blankets and soak up the morning sun rays. Yes, even if this just means going out your front door and staying at the doorstep or porch. Around 15 to 20 minutes of sun exposure is crucial to good health because it provides 90% of vitamin D. This nutrient is essential for calcium absorption, slowing the aging process, and disease protection. Slather on sunblock and enjoy those minutes because it’s less than the time it takes to burn skin.
Vitamin D production is vital if you’re worried about how to stay motivated in winter because research shows that it has an impact on brain activity, nervous system functioning, and mood. If you want to improve your mood and gain momentum to face a long day, you need vitamin D. Although you can take it as a supplement, it’s still better to get vitamin D from its natural source which is the sun.
Soaking up some solar rays is an instant mood booster, and the early morning air could help clear your brain fog. It’s a great jump start and could set the tone for your whole day. Remember, when you don’t get enough of the sun and its precious vitamin D, you could feel even lower; and this would snowball into all areas of your life affecting work output, family time, physical movement, and other activities.
Light therapy at home (which simulates sunlight) could also help.
Feel Invigorated By Connecting with Other People
If you’re wondering how to stay motivated in the colder months, one of the best things to do is make time for the people you love. Unfortunately, evidence suggests that being isolated increases loneliness, the risk of depression, and the potential for anxiety. It also has an impact on overall physical health. So even if you’re tempted to stay indoors and enjoy alone time when it’s below-freezing outside, it’s important to be around other people to share conversations, enjoy a meal, and laugh together. Laughter is dubbed as one of the best medicines in the world and it could be the solution if you’re having issues on how to stay motivated.
However, it can be difficult to reach out to others once it gets cold because people in general tend to stay home more. Bear in mind that isolating yourself during this already challenging season could lead to an even more decreased mood. Thus, it’s crucial to be around others and stay connected through the darker months. Socializing could uplift your mood and help stimulate positive feelings. More importantly, when you’re around other people with high vibrations, you could channel their energy into your life and use that to lift your spirits. To build these connections, you can do the following:
- Start your day with a good cup of coffee or meal with people in your home
- Make it a point to speak and eat with co-workers
- Create after-work routines with friends and family
- Take advantage of holidays and do seasonal activities
- Have catch-up dates or reunions with friends
- Join a class or hobby club where you learn from others
Even if it’s wintertime and it’s dreary outside, having these routines where you connect with others could make a big difference. When you have these bonding activities penciled into your schedule, you will have something to look forward to. This answers the big question of how to stay motivated when you’re feeling like a sloth in the cold. At least, you’ll have reasons to get out of bed, groom yourself, dress up, and show up. Fulfilling the stuff on your to-do list will certainly make you feel a sense of pride and achievement. In turn, this could motivate you to accomplish other things.
Maintain Daily Physical Activity to Feel More Energized
It is more tempting to curl up in bed in your PJs in winter. However, it’s very important to maintain an exercise routine throughout the year. Although exercise expends energy, most fitness enthusiasts will attest that exercising will improve mood and well-being. After completing a good workout, they feel satisfied and more motivated to face their day. And that’s because the body spurs the muscle cells to produce more mitochondria which are the power=ouses of cells that increase the body’s energy supplies. Many studies attest that exercise increases core body temperature, improves lymphatic circulation, and releases endorphins or feel-good hormones. And these amazing benefits cannot be overstated in winter.
Exercise-induced euphoria is not a myth and those who finish their workout feel happier and more energized. This is in contrast to what happens when your body temperature drops since the body will prefer to go into rest and hibernation mode when you’re feeling cold. Don’t let the long nights keep you from going to the gym, joining dance classes, or even going for an evening walk. Even if you’re feeling lazy to start, you know you’ll smile once it’s done. Need exercise fitspiration? You can try the following:
- Zumba class
- Ice skating
- Hot Yoga
- Martial arts
- Indoor water aerobics
Doing activities where you engage and interact with other people may also help you find more motivation. When you do group activities, you’ll have accountability buddies who will check in on you and follow up on your progress. That’s why even if you’re tempted to be lazy, you’ll have no other choice but to get up because your buddies won’t let you quit. If you don’t know what activity suits you, you can take a CircleDNA test. This DNA analysis comes with genetic fitness insights to see which activities align with your unique genetic code and body composition.
Boost Motivation by Paying Attention to What You Eat
People generally gravitate to warmer and heavier foods when it’s cold. There’s just something comforting about creamy chowders, thick meat stews, rich casseroles, and delicious drinks like hot cocoa or eggnog. However, you have to make sure that you’re not just relying on these calorie-ladened comfort foods for energy.
It’s very important to maintain a balanced diet because eating foods rich in carbs with little protein and healthy fats can leave you feeling more lethargic, tired, and irritable. That’s why some people tend to feel sleepy after gorging on too many unhealthy treats. Instead, get your fair share of the five main food groups to meet your daily nutritional requirements.
Moreover, studies show that the term sugar rush is a myth, and relying on sugar for energy could backfire, resulting in an energy crash earlier in the day. And this is even worse as the days get shorter because the dark sky will make you even more tempted to lie down in bed. If you want to have the energy and motivation to do your work and activities, pay attention to what you eat because it fuels the body. It would help to do the following:
- Cut up fruits and veggies for snacks
- Make pre-made healthy trail mixes
- Choose whole grain over refined
- Read the labels of all premade food
- Stock up on healthy frozen dishes for quick meals
- Take out the junk food and leave minimal treats
How to Stay Motivated? Remember Your Purpose
Harvard Health confirms that feelings of depression and anxiety usually spike up and worsen when winter comes. The lack of motivation is also common. How do you combat these ill feelings that could keep you from doing the things you love and enjoy? When negative emotions creep in, don’t allow them to take root and grow. Instead, center on your ‘why’ and remind yourself of your purpose to nip these ill feelings in the bud. You could use a vision board or a planner to keep you grounded and help you attract positive energy. When you have these visual cues, you won’t forget the reasons that enrich your life.
Furthermore, it would be really helpful to see your plans laid out with people, things, and activities that make you happy and feel fulfilled. Having goals that you want to accomplish, whether it’s tea with a friend tomorrow, visiting a museum next week, or increasing monthly sales in your side hustle, will make you feel inspired to connect with others and work even harder. You’ll likely feel happier and more vibrant when you wake up each day with a sense of purpose. This helps you make intentional choices and focus on things that matter, may it be your loved ones, career, passion projects, faith, hobbies, and endeavors.
Waking up with this kind of mindset is the biggest motivation of all.
The winter blues will have much less room to thrive if you’re clear on your ‘why’s because you can let go of the things that drag you down and don’t serve your purpose. And always remember, if you’ve got the winter blues, it’s up to you to take action to try to combat it.
- Climate influence on the health of an Appalachian City (Ryan Wade Becka) https://mds.marshall.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=&httpsredir=1&article=1308&context=etd
- Winter sleep and your circadian rhythms (Sleep Education) https://sleepeducation.org/winter-sleep-and-your-circadian-rhythms/
- Effect of light on human circadian psychology (Jeanne Duffy & Charles Czeisler) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2717723/
- Early humans may have survived the winter by hibernating (The Guardian) https://www.theguardian.com/science/2020/dec/20/early-humans-may-have-survived-the-harsh-winters-by-hibernating
- Vitamin D and Depression: Where is all the sunshine? (Sue Penckofer et.al.) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2908269/
- Health risks associated with social isolation in general and in young, middle and old age (Oliver Hammig) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6638933/
- Does exercise really boost energy levels (Toni Golen) https://www.health.harvard.edu/exercise-and-fitness/does-exercise-really-boost-energy-levels
- Endorphins and exercise (Harber & Sutton) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/6091217/
- Sugar rush or sugar crash? A meta-analysis of carbohydrate effects on mood (Konstantinos Mantanzis et.al.) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30951762/
- Let the sunshine: Mind your mental health this winter (Dominic Wu) https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/let-the-sun-shine-mind-your-mental-health-this-winter-2017012311058