Once again, Punxsutawney Phil has decreed what we New Englanders already knew: Winter is here to stay. But just in case you let out a mournful sigh when you got his text the other day, here are a few tips to help you through the coming weeks.
Scientists have known for a while that people with strong social bonds live longer, happier lives. If winter finds you spending more time alone, why not throw a party? Whether it's a cocktail party with friends, game night with the neighbors, or a pajama party with your kids, make social time a priority. In New England, a pancake brunch with plenty of maple syrup is especially apt this time of year. Better yet, visit a local farm or Audubon sanctuary for a maple sugaring demonstration and boil down the sap yourself!
Everyone knows that exercise improves your mood, but Winter isn't always the easiest time to start a new workout program. However, it is a great time to tackle big household projects like organizing media, cleaning out closets, or finally removing that hideous wallpaper. Just think how many calories you'll burn carrying donations to the drop-off center or rearranging your living room furniture. Not to mention how less stressful tax-time will be when all your affairs are in order.
Similar to exercise, sunlight exposure releases neurotransmitters in the brain that affect your mood. The obvious solution: Spend more time outdoors. But if walking in a winter wonderland just isn't your thing, try sitting near windows at home, in restaurants, at work, or on the bus. And be sure to keep your shades up during the day. While indoors, experts recommend using either "full-spectrum" lights or standard compact flourescent bulbs with a color temperature of 4100 Kelvin. These mimic natural light and actually change the melatonin levels in your brain to inhibit depression.
There's a reason realtors bake cookies before an open house. In one study, researchers found that the smell of lemons lifted the spirits of people with winter depression. Another showed peppermint oil helped alleviate sadness. Some people prefer almond or lavender to diminish stress. Try changing your cleaning products, laundry detergent, or hand soap to a fragrance that gives you positive associations.
Spice Things Up
Cooking can generate much needed warmth during the winter months. Research shows that capsacin in chili peppers can boost energy and enhance circulation, while ginger is known to boost metabolism and help control weight gain. Having a simmering pot of soup or stew on the stove will also fill your home with comforting aromas. But health experts warn that diets high in simple carbs will only give you a temporary high. Opt instead for foods that fill you up without weighing you down like lean meats and whole grains.
Energize Your Space
To generate uplifting energy in your space, Feng Shui expert Stephanie Dempsey recommends adding vertical design elements to your decor like tall plants, chairs with straight backs, narrow bookcases, and patterns with vertical stripes. She also suggests integrating objects with moving parts such as a pendulum clock, a ceiling fan, a mobile, or a crackling fire to stir up stagnant energy. To simulate a summer breeze, try aiming an oscillating fan at a plant so that its leaves rustle occasionally, or suspend a piece of lightweight fabric over a heating duct so it flutters gently.
Jeffrey Rossman, director of life management at Canyon Ranch in Lenox, MA, says winter is the season for self-nurturing. What better time to start a yoga or meditation practice? If you're not exactly the new age type, honor yourself by creating a cozy corner where you can read, reflect, or just relax. Nurture your body with an exfoliating scrub or a soothing balm. Embrace the darkness by enjoying a candlelight dinner with someone you love. Finally, surround yourself with beauty, whether it be flowering plants, your children's art, or the sounds of your favorite album.