Many struggle with the "Winter Blues" or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) . It affects millions of people each year, and many are unaware that they’re suffering from it. Even if we’re not struggling with SAD, many of us lose steam in winter months, sometimes in unhealthy ways. Those in cold climates tend not to go outside as much in the winter, socialize less in the winter, get less exercise, and with darker days, our levels of Vitamin D drop. We feel listless and low energy.
Dr. Jessica Zinder has a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology and is a Psychology Consultant and Wellness Life Coach specializing in health and spirituality. She has some tips for us to optimize our health during the winter months. She identifies a number of challenges we face in the winter and offers advice for dealing with them.
It is important, she says, that we not think of ourselves as “healthy” or “unhealthy.” Instead, we should think of health on a spectrum. We need not strive for some kind of “perfection,” as that can be counter-productive. Instead, she recommends small, incremental changes towards better health. These little changes are more likely to stick, and they add up.
She suggests thinking of our health holistically: Body, mind, and spirit.
In the doldrums of winter, it’s harder to take care of our bodies than it is in warmer months. We look outside at the cold and gray and don’t want to do much but cuddle up with a warm blanket. Most of us are not going outside as often, and we’re not getting as much exercise as we do in warmer months. We’re not visiting farmer’s markets or produce stands for fresh fruits and veggies. The extra darkness throws our sleep patterns off.
Because of this, Dr. Zinder recommends pushing ourselves to counteract this winter lethargy with regular exercise, more fruits and vegetables, and good sleep habits. She also notes that the heat in our houses can be dehydrating, so we need to increase our water intake as well – especially if you’re a big coffee drinker. It may give us the energy boost we crave, but it too can be dehydrating. She recommends drinking at least 8 glasses of water a day, but says that any incremental change towards this goal is valuable. For example, she says if you are drinking only two glasses of water a day, moving your intake to 4 glasses of water a day is a change in the positive direction.
In the winter, it can be tempting to isolate ourselves and binge watch Netflix. While that is certainly comfortable, it doesn’t nurture our mental health in the same way as connecting with others. Building and maintaining meaningful relationships helps our mood, confidence, and sense of well-being.
Dr. Zinder recommends we ask ourselves “Am I isolated?” “Am I spending enough time with our friends and family?” If we realize we’re not spending enough time with other people, Dr. Zinder recommends some self-reflection.
When it comes to relationships, she says we should aim for quality over quantity. We need to evaluate which people truly bring us joy and make the extra effort to connect with them. In the winter, and understanding we must take COVID precautions, Dr. Zinder suggests we find creative ways to be together with our loved ones. We can meet outdoors for short walks in the park or find places where we can just sit and talk for a little while. Her advice is, “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear.” If you’re comfortable with it, you can meet indoors with proper precautions. Yet even a phone call or Zoom session can be uplifting. Laughing with a friend can instantly brighten your mood and boost your mental health.
The quieter winter months can be a good time for reflecting on our spiritual well-being, whatever that looks like for you. Dr. Zinder recommends spending time reflecting on our personal spirituality. “Am I happy with my spiritual life?” For some, this may mean considering our religious faiths. For others, it may mean learning about Mindfulness. Anything at that fosters your connection to the wider world and brings you inner peace will increase your spiritual well-being.
For example, Dr. Zinder is a Master Gardener through the University of Maryland. She finds bringing more green into her life brings her satisfaction. She recommends spending more time in nature, of course, but also bringing more plants into our homes. Winter is a good time to tend to indoor plants: repotting, splitting, pruning, and nurturing cuttings can give us the satisfaction of caring for living things and watching them grow. She says state Master Gardener websites offer tips and great information about caring for plants, both indoor and outdoor.
In the end, Dr. Zinder’s formula for holistic winter health is simple: nature + friends + exercise= maximizing our feelings of well-being and optimism. Her tips will help us keep our bodies healthy, our mood positive, and our hearts happy.
Dr. Jessica Zinder will be a featured speaker at the Provider Wellness Symposium this November, at the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort & Spa in Austin, TX. This Symposium is designed to provide a restful weekend of self-care and wellness education to medical professionals. More information about the Symposium is available at www.providersymposium.com.
Dr. Jessica Zinder has her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology with a specialization in Health Psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University. Her research focused on spirituality, spiritual identity, and health. She has worked as psychotherapist at various college counseling centers and community mental health centers. For the past 15 years, she has been a founder, leader, and consultant for community gardens in schools, neighborhoods, and churches. She is a Master Gardener through University of Maryland since 2012. She founded and leads the Arnold Youth Garden Program, which integrations gardening and mindfulness meditation at an elementary and middle school in Maryland. Dr. Zinder founded and leads The Green Women of Maryland group, an environmental and wellness group that includes over 80 members.