Monthly Archives: January 2016

Weekly Wrap-Up

32280_1385133682189_2734979_n.jpg

This has been a very long week. Between shoveling snow all day Sunday and Monday, and trudging through the snow to and from work all week, I am feeling pretty worn out and looking forward to catching up on some much needed rest. What are you up to this weekend? If you are still feeling sore from snow shoveling, or just achey from the day-to-day activities or your life, be sure to check out the back and shoulder stretches I shared this week. After resting up this weekend, you can get ahead of next week’s stress with this to-do list trick, or if you really want to take care of your aches, pain and stress all in one fell swoop, go get a massage! Here is what you can expect.

Next week I will be talking all about help. Giving it to others, asking for it yourself, and the importance of self care. And as we head into February, which is American Heart Month, stay tuned in the weeks to come for posts covering all matters of the heart.

Have a wonderful weekend and enjoy the related stories and useful links below:

A simple yoga pose that eases lower back pain, and offers lots of other benefits. This is my favorite pose to do before getting into bed.

Having trouble with time management and staying on top of your to-do list? Here are 15 apps and other tools that can help you get back on track.

Thinking about scheduling a first-time massage? Do it! There are so many wonderful benefits.

And just for fun: Adele’s “Hello” with a reggae twist.

 

 

What to expect from your first massage

View More: http://urbanrowphoto.pass.us/ctaylorwellnessnewstudio

My appointment schedule at the start of a new year tends to be busy with first-time massage clients. Whether they are coming in with a holiday season gift certificate, working on their resolution to make more time for self care, or looking to treat shoveling soreness, icy slip and fall injuries, or a host of other winter aches and pains, a lot of people on my table from January through March are getting their first ever massage.

If you, dear reader, are new to the world of massage therapy, have been thinking about scheduling a session, but have held off because you are nervous or do not know what to expect, this post is for you. I will try to cover everything I can think of that would be useful for first-time clients, but if you have any questions, feel free to comment below. I am always happy to answer questions about massage!

When should I get there?

Check the policy for your specific massage location. I always schedule a decent buffer between my appointments so that if someone is running a little late, we will not feel rushed for time. Some places will ask you to arrive 10-15 minutes early to complete intake paperwork. If they schedule their sessions back-to-back without a break, then arriving even a little late may cut into your massage time. If you cannot find any mention of a specific policy, a safe bet is to arrive about 5-10 minutes before the start of your session.

What do I have to do?

You will need to complete an intake form at the start of your session. An intake will ask you to provide your contact information, a simple medical history, a list of any current conditions, injuries, pain, discomfort. You may be asked about any medicines you are currently taking, allergies you have, your stress level and exercises or activities that you perform on a regular basis. You will also be asked to sign a waiver stating that you understand the nature of the work being provided and have informed your therapist of any potential health risks or concerns.

What should I wear during my massage?

That is entirely up to you and your comfort. Most people undress down to their underwear. I usually recommend that my female clients remove their bras, because it is not particularly comfortable to lie around in your bra, and it makes it easier to work the whole back that way. (A note to breastfeeding women: your therapist should be able to provide some pads or towels to allow you to comfortably lie on the table without your bra and without worry!) You will be under drapes (sheets, blankets, towels in some spas) throughout your massage. If you do not feel comfortably covered, ask for additional draping. Any place that refuses to take your comfort and modesty into account is not a place where you should get a massage. Additionally, your therapist should leave the room when you are changing and wait for you to get situated under the draping before they return. You should not be expected to undress in front of your therapist. If you are expected to, leave right then and there.

Will the massage hurt?

The thought that a massage will be painful seems to be the number one reason why people avoid getting massages. Massages do not have to hurt. Certainly a relaxing, Swedish massage session should not be painful. There are still lots of benefits to be gained from a lighter pressure massage (improving circulation, reducing stress, decreasing muscle tension and improving flexibility, to name a few). A massage with deeper pressure will more directly target areas of tension and muscle soreness. This can be uncomfortable or hurt a bit, but should only do so as is tolerable to you. Any hurt should feel like a “good hurt.” I tell my clients to think of that like you would with stretching a muscle. Sometimes it can hurt to stretch, but it hurts in a good way that feels productive and manageable. If you feel sharp pains during your massage, or feel that you are tightening your muscles against the pressure because of the pain, then that is too much pressure for you. Ask your therapist to make adjustments. In general, I like to keep my first-time clients at a medium to firm pressure at most. It can take a few sessions to really get used to deeper pressure. You need to do what feels right for you and your body on that day. Any good massage therapist will be able to adjust pressure and techniques as needed for your comfort.

I hate having my feet touched. Do I have to do a full body massage?

Nope. Tell your therapist what areas you prefer to have worked the most, which ones you want avoided and any that are ticklish or sensitive to touch.

I did not shave my legs before my session. I have not had a pedicure in months. What if my feet stink?

So what, who cares? I constantly have people apologizing to me about their bodies. Do not worry about your body. Your body is fine. It is my job to touch people’s bodies. I chose this job. Your hairy legs do not bother me. Your unpainted toe nails definitely do not bother me. Also, pretty much everybody’s feet stink, so you are in good company. Just relax and enjoy your massage. A busy massage therapist is going to touch so many bodies in a week that even if there was something weird or somewhat unpleasant about yours, odds are we will forget about it completely within a few days. All bodies are weird. Do not let that concern stop you from getting a massage.

Should I tip?

This is a tricky one and kind of depends on where you are getting your massage. If you go to a spa, a wellness center, a massage collective, or any place with multiple therapists then yes, you absolutely should tip. Those therapists work on commission or an hourly wage. They need their tips. I work for myself. I charge $85 for an hour-long massage. Sure there are some overhead costs–rent, supplies, general business expenses–but for the most part, I am pocketing most of that amount for each of my sessions. When I worked in a spa, I made $18 an hour. Same work, same amount of time, way less money. I am always appreciative and flattered when I receive a tip, but I do not expect it, nor am I angry when I do not get one. If you are seeing an independent practitioner, feel free to ask him/her about tipping (some independent therapists do not accept tips), but if you get a massage at a spa, tip every time, and tip well. Massage therapy is hard work.

What if I went in armed with all of this useful information, but I still hated my massage or felt uncomfortable?

You could try a different therapist. No two therapists are exactly alike and getting a good massage has a lot to do with finding a therapist whose style matches yours. Ask around for recommendations. It is also highly possible that massages just are not your thing. That is okay. We all find different things relaxing. My husband absolutely loves it if you run your hands through his hair. It instantly calms him. My sister, on the other hand, not a fan. Different strokes for different folks. If you tried massage once and hated it, I say try again. If you tried twice and still really hated it, then massage therapy probably is not for you. Relaxation is important, though. So even if massage does not help you relax, I encourage you to keep searching for something that does.

{Image Credit: Urban Row Photography}

 

 

A Simple Trick To Tackle Your To-Do List

img_1440

We all have so much to do. Or at least, we think we have so much to do. In future posts I will discuss how to recognize and prioritize real obligations and interests, and how to ignore or remove all of the other stuff that increases our mental clutter, but adds very little to our actual lives. But for now let us assume that we have more demands on our time and energy than we know how to handle.

Let me share a little scene from my home life: One evening, about a month or so after my husband got a promotion that brought with it a whole lot more work and managerial obligations, we were making dinner and he was relaying the story of his workday. He was exhausted and frustrated. He had so much work to do. Reports and projects that were literally piling up on his desk. An inbox full of emails that he had not responded to or even read. Countless voicemails that had been left throughout the day that he had not listened to. He was never at his desk long enough to answer the phone, much less check his messages and return any calls. He had been in meetings all day, and would be again for most of the next day and the day after. He does not like meetings (who does?), so that was certainly wearing him down, but it was the long and growing to-do list waiting for him back at his office that had him feeling so exasperated. It was getting so out of hand, all of these small tasks left untouched, that he was not even sure where to start.

I think it is often the case that the smallest, simplest tasks on our to-do lists give us the most grief. They are not priorities, so it is easy to push them to the side and save them for when you have more time, but then more time never really comes and the little things start to pile up and occupy your mental space and energy. That growing pile becomes overwhelming and you finish up a long day feeling like you worked nonstop, but still failed to get anything done.

Here is the suggestion I gave my husband, and I offer it to you now as a way to both effectively tackle your to-do list and feel a greater sense of accomplishment without having to add much additional work or time to your already packed day.

At the end of the day, write down five things that you were not able to get to that day. They should be short, simple tasks. You want five things that you can accomplish in about thirty minutes or less. Write them down on paper, and leave the list on your desk. This works for household tasks too. Write down five simple house tasks before you go to bed and then leave the list on your kitchen counter or dresser, any place where you will see it at the start of your day. When you wake up in the morning, or when you first get into the office, do those five things before you do anything else. Just knock them out right away, crossing them off as you go. Then you start your day feeling ahead of the game, rather than instantly feeling like you have fallen further behind. Remember, the problem with the small stuff on your to-do list is that it weighs on your mind. Well now that weight is five items lighter. Obviously new stuff will be added to your long, overwhelming to-do list each day, so this is not really about working that list down to zero, but rather managing your mental clutter and providing a sense of accomplishment. Even if you do not get to anything else on your to-do list that day, you can at least end the day knowing you finished those five things that needed to get done. They are out of your way and off your mind. That is a good thing.

Give it a try and keep these guidelines in mind:

  1. Choose small, specific tasks. Rather than “respond to emails” select a few specific emails to respond to and write those ones down on your list. Or rather than “complete document filing,” go with “file completed quarterly reports.” You want something that can be done quickly and easily so that you can finish it up and have it out of the way before something more important comes along in your day and steals your time and attention.
  2. Do not add to your list while you are in the middle of the tasks. Did it take you less time than expected to get through the emails you listed? Super! Move on to the next list item. Do not say “well if I’m already doing emails I may as well add a few more.” Nope. Stop. Go to the next item on your list. Get through the whole list first and then decide if you have time to go back and do a few more emails.
  3. Vary the type of task. Unless your job only involves one specific type of task, try to choose a variety of things for your list of five. It will give you a greater sense of accomplishment to have done a little bit from different aspects of your to-do list than you will get from just focusing on one thing.
  4. Always make your list at the end of the day. You do not want to waste time at the start of the day trying to decide what to tackle first. Choose your five things at the end of the day and get them down on paper. That way you leave feeling like you are well set up for the next day. You have a specific game plan, which gives you a feeling of resolution for the day that has just ended, and a direction for the following day. Plus at the end of the day you have a much better sense of what you needed to do but did not get to. Put those things on your list and rest easy knowing you will get to them first thing tomorrow.
  5. Complete your five tasks first thing. These are supposed to be quick and easy things that you can knock off all in a row right at the start of your day. Do them right away before you do anything else. You are trying to start the day with a feeling of getting ahead. If you come in and immediately put off that list and tell yourself you will get to it later, you will not get to it and it will be one more thing that you feel bad about not doing at the end of the day. Do it right away. Get it done with and then move on with your day feeling like an efficient, time management rock star.

 

Stretches For Reducing Back Pain and Stiffness

IMG_0056.JPG

Raise your hand if you spent hours this weekend shoveling snow, but are still nowhere close to being able to safely and easily get out of your neighborhood? My back is killing me. My husband’s back is killing him. I did not ask directly, but I would bet good money that my mom and dad are both suffering from killer back pain too. I am guessing every client who is able to make it to my studio for their massages this week will have the same complaint: sore, tired backs from too much snow shoveling.

I recommend we all do some nice, gentle stretching to open up our hips and backs, and release any tension that may be causing pain and stiffness in our necks and shoulders as well.

Here are a few stretches for your snow day self care. Do them slowly and gently, staying within your own comfort zone.

Be safe out there on slick sidewalks and slushy roads!

Seated Knee Flexor Stretch

Seated flexor stretch

Sit with legs extended and ankles touching, or as close to touching as possible. Keeping your feet relaxed (no need to actively point or flex your feet here), place your hands on the floor next to your thighs to start. Slowly bend at the waist and gently lower your head toward your legs, trying to keep your knees straight if possible. A slight knee bend is fine if needed. As you bend forward, slide your hands toward your feet along the floor, as far as you can comfortably stretch. You will feel this stretch on the underside of your legs, through your hamstrings and into your pelvic region and across the lower back.

Seated Lower-Trunk Extensor Stretch

seated lower trunk extensor

Sit in a chair with legs separated about hip width with your arms at your sides. Rounding the upper back, slowly begin to lean forward, bending at the waist and lowering your head and abdomen between your legs. Try to bring your head below your thighs, while keeping your butt planted on your chair. This one can be a little tough to do if you are short like me. Try sitting forward a bit on the chair (though not so much that the chair will tip forward as you bend). Pull your abs in as you bend at the waist to support your back and focus on directing your hands down toward the floor on the outside of your legs. You might not be able to touch the floor or get your head all the way down below your knees. That is fine. Bend as far as feels comfortable with a bit of a stretch through your lower back. Let your head hang loose. Do not tighten your neck as you bend.

Hip and Back Extensor Stretch

hip and back extensor stretch

Lie comfortably on your back. Bend your right knee and grasping the underside of the knee with both hands, pull the knee back toward your chest. Keep your opposite leg as flat on the ground as possible as you continue to pull your knee down toward your chest as far as comfortably possible. Repeat on opposite leg.

Hip Adductor and Extensor Stretch

Hip abductor stretch

Sit comfortably on the floor with your legs extended and your feet as far apart from each other as possible to create a wide V shape with your legs. Keeping your knees as straight and flat against the floor as you can, bend forward at the waist and slide your hands forward along your legs toward your feet. You want to keep your trunk in a straight line as you bend your body forward between your knees.

Back and Shoulder Stretch

back stretch

Stand with feet firmly planted, pointing straight forward and shoulder-width apart. Wrap your arms around your shoulders as if hugging yourself. Your hold should be snug. You want to get your fingertips as close to the inside edge of your shoulder blade as comfortably possible. Once in that position, grasp your back firmly with your hands and fingertips and pull your shoulders forward. You do not need to pull hard with your hands, but rather think about pulling forward from your elbows, as if a string were attached to your elbows, and use your hands to keep a firm grip on your upper back so that your shoulders and back stretch as you pull. This should not be a very intense stretch and thus is a good first stretch for the upper back and shoulders to warm up and begin to loosen those tight muscles.

Shoulder Adductor and Extensor Stretch

shoulder stretch

Line up with the edge of a doorway so that your right hand will be grasping the left side doorjamb. Squat down and grasp the inside of the doorjamb with your right hand, level with your shoulder. Keeping your arm straight and your feet firmly planted and together, slowly lower your butt toward the floor, increasing the stretch on your right shoulder and back. Repeat on the opposite arm. Do not bend forward at the waist as you lower. You do not want to whack your face against the wall.

Neck Extensor Stretch

Neck stretch

Sit or stand comfortably with back straight. Interlock your fingers behind your head. Your hands should be placed on the skull above the bony ridge, but below the top of your head. you do not want your hands on the back of your neck. Gently pull your head straight down, bringing your chin toward your chest. This is a gentle stretch that you should feel across the top of your back, between your shoulder blades and up into your neck. Do not strain or tighten the front of your neck as you pull.

 

{Images from Stretching Anatomy; Second Edition. Nelson, Arnold G. & Kokkonen, Jouko.}

 

 

 

 

Weekly Wrap-up

19274_1277941002439_1620294_n.jpg

With the snow starting to fall here in Baltimore, we are gearing up for another scene like the one pictured above from 2010. My dog loves the snow and the cold. I love a good excuse to stay inside watching movies. It looks like we will definitely be getting a good bit of both in the days to come. To my fellow Baltimoreans and other east coasters, stay safe and be careful shoveling snow. If the cold, snowy weather has you down, be sure to check out my tips for fighting off the winter blues, and while you are at it, read up on how to begin identifying your primary sources of stress, and a more holistic way of thinking about your health. I will be back next week with some good stretches for lower back pain, a method for managing your to-do list, and what to expect from a first time massage.

For those of who will be out shoveling snow this weekend, be sure to check out these tips for proper shoveling technique and safety precautions.

Have a great weekend!

Identifying Your Stressors

18940552976_54d1e4957a_z.jpg

A couple of years back, I went to the doctor for an annual physical, and learned that I had rather suddenly developed high blood pressure. I was instructed to purchase a digital blood pressure cuff and monitor my blood pressure on a daily basis for six weeks. I was to vary the time of day I took my blood pressure reading, and take note of what I had been doing, or how I was feeling just prior to a higher reading. Although there was some thought that oral contraceptives were contributing to my elevated blood pressure (take note, women readers: if you are on oral BC, it is not a bad idea to monitor your blood pressure from time to time), the more likely culprit was stress, and the goal of daily monitoring was to help me identify the primary sources of my stress. It was an informative experiment. It taught me how to recognize what my body felt like when it was responding to a stressor. In identifying the early signs and sensations of my stress reactions, I was better able to adjust my behavior and my response to stressors to stop the stress reaction in its tracks and return more quickly to a relaxed, healthier state.

Does this mean I no longer feel stressed out? Hardly. Every morning my impossibly mischievous cat repeatedly scratches a different piece of furniture in an effort to get my attention and force me to feed him what we will call second breakfast. I can actually feel my blood pressure sky rocket whenever he does it, and no amount of awareness or intervention on my part can keep my stress at bay. But in general, it has helped me to better understand my specific responses to stress, and to identify what types of situations and experiences are my most common stress triggers. Zeroing in on your most frequent sources of stress is the first step in managing your stress response and improving your overall health.

You can begin to counteract your own stressors by first identifying which category of stress they belong to:

Environmental Stressors

These are stressors that come from the physical world around you. Things like traffic, weather, noise, irritating sounds, offensive smells or images. Begin taking note of things in your environment that make you feel unsettled or frustrated. It may be clutter or disorganization in your home or office spaces. It could be the voices of morning radio hosts that you listen to on your way to work, or the sound of sirens, crickets, the hum of the refrigerator at night. It could be something seemingly benign like bare walls in your office that make your environment feel too sterile and intense. Once you know what things in your environment are setting off your stress response, you can begin to make adjustments to eliminate or at least mitigate those sources of stress.

Physical Stressors

These can range from temporary physical conditions like a cold or an acute injury, to longterm chronic issues of illness, disability, and declining health and physical capability that accompany normal aging processes. Physical changes that accompany life stages like puberty, menopause, childbearing can also be sources of stress. Additionally lifestyle choices that affect physical health would fall in this category. Those are things like smoking, drinking, lack of exercise or poor nutrition. Headaches, muscle tension and sleep disturbances that result from stressors in other categories overlap with this category. While it may be difficult to change or alleviate the original source of stress, you can still address the physical effects that may in turn be causing additional stress and discomfort.

Social Stressors

These include any demands on our time, energy and attention that come from other people in our lives. Work, financial issues, competing role obligations, social functions, interpersonal conflicts, romantic and familial relationships can all be sources of stress. Try to identify which of your roles causes the most stress for you, and then break that down to determine what specific obligations or expectations within that role are your most frequent stressors. If work is your primary source of social stress, is it because the work is difficult and you do not feel confident that you are up to the task, or is it because it takes up too much time that you would rather be spending with friends and family? These are different issues that will require different approaches to reduce your stress.

Mental/Emotional Stressors

This is a type of stress that is centered on our own reactions to other types of stressors, and includes our fears and anxieties. Begin to recognize your own assessment of stressful situations. Do you feel confident in your ability to manage multiple projects and demands at the same time? Do you think you should be capable of controlling all of the experiences and situations in your life and feel frustrated or upset when things do not go as you planned? Can you bounce back quickly from minor disappointments or missteps, and move on to the next task at hand, or do you tend to perseverate and have difficulty moving beyond your mistakes? When it comes to stressors, oftentimes the only thing we can control is our own reaction to them. Start taking note of your mental and emotional reactions to stress. Be very honest with yourself about your responses. You are identifying your reactions and thought processes, not judging them. You cannot make positive changes if you do not first honestly and openly recognize your negative reactions.

Remember, this is just a first step toward better stress management. Stay tuned for future discussions on how to alleviate and reduce stress in each of these categories, simple fixes to eliminate environmental stressors, reverse problem thinking, improve physical health, and managing social stress to achieve better work-life balance.

[Image credit: Phlebotomy Tech]

Tips, Tricks & Helpful Hints for Fighting Seasonal Sadness

16388462899_f1a60a5cb0_z

Winter can be a tough time for many people. Cold, dreary weather, shorter days and diminished sunlight can combine to leave you feeling tired, unsettled, lethargic and even depressed. While most people likely experience some amount of winter blues–a drop in their overall mood and wellbeing–others may notice an uptick in existing depression symptoms during the winter months, or actually struggle with depressive episodes that are not present during other times of the year. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a signficant mental health concern and can be distinguished from winter blues in terms of severity.

Seasonal affective disorder, also known as SAD, is more than just the winter blues. It is a type of depression that lasts for a season, typically the winter months, and goes away during the rest of the year. Symptoms of SAD are the same as those of depression. They can vary in severity and often interfere with personal relationships. Symptoms include fatigue, pervasively sad mood, loss of interest, sleep difficulty or excessive sleeping, craving and eating more starches and sweets, weight gain, feelings of hopelessness or despair and thoughts of suicide.

{APA}

If you think you are suffering from SAD, I encourage you to reach out to a mental health professional. While it is not uncommon to feel a little down and listless during the winter, any significant change in your regular lifestyle or impairment in your ability to accomplish the routine and expected tasks of your day-to-day life should be treated seriously. It is okay if winter leaves you feeling a bit moody, but it should not leave you feeling like you cannot function or properly care for yourself and your wellbeing.

Whether you are just feeling a little low, or actually suffering from seasonal depression, I have some tips for how to make it through the winter months and come out relatively unscathed by springtime. But first, a little background:

I grew up in Michigan. Not only is winter in Michigan cold, but depending on the year and the collective bad luck of all Michiganders (or Michiganians, if you must), winter can last anywhere from mid-October to late May. My birthday is in the back half of April and more often than I would have liked, I found myself celebrating in winter clothes. It has snowed on my birthday. That is not okay. My husband and I, though living in Baltimore by that time, got married in Michigan at the end of May in 2008. While we were lucky to have absolutely beautiful and perfect weather on our wedding day (70s, sunny, wonderful), my mother-in-law tells me that the week prior had been cold and damp, and looking very bleak for our planned outdoor ceremony. Michigan weather is a real toss-up, is what I am saying. And this is southeastern Michigan, so we are not talking anywhere near the worst that the state gets.

The problem is not really the cold. You can get used to the cold. The problem is also not the snow. Some years you get a lot and others not much at all. The problem is the way it drags on and on, one month into the next, gray day after gray day. It wears on you. It slowly, but steadily beats down your spirit and your hope, until each morning you wake up and you think, “if spring does not start today, I will spontaneously combust from the white hot burning rage seething through my entire body.” I know from winter blues. I know from seasonal depression. I know what it feels like to wake up on a cold, gray morning in the beginning of May and think, “this is it. I cannot possibly go on living another day like this.” The only thing that can truly end the winter doldrums is the end of winter. But here are some tricks I have learned over the course of many despairing, capricious winters that may help you maintain at least some measure of sanity.

If the sun is out, you should be out too.

Sunny winter days are often the coldest days. Winter is a jerk, so naturally this would be the case. It does not matter. If the sun is out, force yourself outside as well. Put on as many layers as you need to. Pile on the scarves, hats, and gloves. Just keep enough of your face uncovered to feel the sun on your cheeks and against your eyelids. Stand with the sunshine on your face for as long as you can bear the cold. In the winter we do not get enough sunlight, which means we are not producing enough Vitamin D. Vitamin D not only helps us build and maintain healthy teeth and bones, but it also contributes to the production and release of serotonin. Low serotonin levels can lead to depression, sleep disturbance, and changes in appetite and brain functioning. Sunshine boosts Vitamin D, and Vitamin D boosts serotonin. Get out in the sun. Always. No matter what, every day the sun is out, you should be out too.

Stick to your routine.

It is important to try to stick to a regular sleep schedule. You may find that you feel more tired during the winter months. Do not binge on caffeine to get you through the day if you find it throws off your sleep pattern, and it is not a behavior you practice during the rest of the year. It is one thing to shift into hibernation mode where you spend more time indoors and cuddle up on the couch Netflixing to your heart’s content. But try to avoid major shifts in your regular patterns and routines. Go to bed when you normally go to bed. Wake up when you normally wake up. Keep your body moving in the way it is used to year round. Once you start making major changes to your sleep habits (staying up much later at night, remaining in bed for an extra hour or two in the morning because it is too cold to get up and your bed is your new best friend), it becomes harder to regulate your mood, and your appetite.

If you are a person who exercises, keep exercising. If you are person who does not exercise, consider starting.

Exercise releases endorphins and boosts your mood. In winter, we need all the mood boosting we can get. I am a runner. It is very hard to run in the winter, but I force myself to do it (whenever the sun is out!), because I know that I will feel better afterward. Without regular exercise, I am almost unbearable to be around. That is not me being too hard on myself, that is just a fact. I need regular exercise to keep my mood up. I need that boost in energy and blood circulation. I need those endorphins. Winter weather might make it impossible for you to stick to your regular exercise routine, so consider trying some new and different workouts. Buy a jump rope and get your heart rate up. Or skip the jump rope and just stand in the middle of your living room jumping up and down. It does not really matter what you do for exercise, just keep doing something. Or start doing something, and see what difference it makes in your mood, your energy, and your ability to keep up with and engage in the other routine tasks of your day.

Really cannot get on board with exercising? Try having more sex, which also releases endorphins and boosts your overall mood. Are you thinking no way, I am miserable and gross, and I could not feel less attractive if I tried. I have not showered in five days and the only pants I wear are made of fleece and decorated with snowflakes? Get over it. It is winter, we all feel that way. Find another gross, sad person to do it with and you will both be feeling better in no time.

Fake it until you make it.

When I was in college (still in Michigan) our spring break was usually the last week of February. This was great if you were going somewhere warm and fun, and you could escape the misery of the blustery wind, frigid temperatures and the mounds of snow that had turned brown from cars kicking up slush from the roads, and that were covered in a thin layer of slick ice so that every time you walked anywhere you were in a constant state of feeling about ten seconds away from falling flat on your back. Spring break was wonderful if you were not stuck in Michigan, like I always was. One year I spent the first half of my spring break visiting my sister in Chicago, arriving by bus just in time for the start of white-out blizzard conditions that made it almost impossible to find her out on the street waiting for me. I returned home a few days later and spent the rest of my break trudging through the snow to and from work, and returning each evening to a mostly empty house, because nearly all of my roommates were off somewhere not being miserably cold and alone.

To feel better, one day I bought a bottle of margarita mix and spent the evening listening to what I would call Summertime Barbecue Tunes while drinking margaritas and dancing in my bedroom with a sarong tied over my sweatpants. Sure, I looked like a total idiot, but it did not matter: I was all alone and plus it made me feel better. If you cannot be with the weather you love and it feels impossible to love the weather you are with, a little imagination and learning not to give a damn about how you look can go a long way. In need of some distraction and a little social engagement? Invite your friends over for an indoor beach party (minus the sand, please do not bring sand into your house); watch a bunch of summer themed movies; make a pitcher of pina coladas and spend the day on your couch devouring what you would consider a quintessential “beach read.” Do what my sister would do a lot of times in the winter: use a little self tanner so that every time you look at yourself in the mirror, you feel like you have been out in the sun. Are these activities going to fight off your depression and combat the winter blues permanently? No. But they may help you avoid reaching the point where you need to employ my last and final trick for making it through a long winter:

Go out into the night and scream at the top of your lungs toward the heavens, “WHY IS IT STILL SO COLD?”

You might be surprised how many people come out to join you.

 

Image: Wave Goodbye