Tips to Banish the Winter Doldrums

Don’t Let the Cold Get You Down – Lift Yourself Up With Healthy Winter Fare and Fun

Have you ever felt that when the temperature goes down, so does your mood? I have heard this called the winter doldrums or, more scientifically, seasonal affective disorder or SAD. Yes, there really is a legitimate reason for the urge to curl up under a blanket and watch movies that make you cry, read books that tell a tragic story, or do nothing at all. It’s not simply that you’re adapting a leisurely pace in winter, it’s that you can feel a bit depressed when cold weather comes, especially when it sticks around for a long time.

After the bustle of the holidays it can feel like a welcome change when that more melancholy mood and leisurely pace set in. But after a while, sitting in your pajamas until mid-afternoon on the weekends and ordering take-out every night begins to feel a bit sad. So how do you put the spring back in your step and elevate your mood when it’s grey and cold? There are several things you can do such as enjoying new activities, new flavors, and increasing time spent socializing.

Food can have a big impact on your mood. When the blues hit and you down a quart of ice cream you may feel a temporary lift, but ultimately you will come crashing down. Healthy foods can help combat the winter blues. “Oh no”, you say, “how is eating bland, healthy food going to lift me out of the winter doldrums”? Because things like Omega 3’s are beneficial to emotional health, lean proteins are a great source of energy, and berries can inhibit the release of cortisol which impacts your emotional responses. You’ll want to cut sugars because they are more addicting than most drugs and if you’re already feeling blue, the crash from a sugar high is going to make you feel even worse. Try eating healthy dishes like salmon (lean protein and those Omega 3’s) but add new flavors in a sauce like maple-dijon or blueberry-cabernet. In winter your body typically isn’t getting as much vitamin D from sunlight so add vitamin-D rich foods like eggs and oily fish.

If you aren’t actually depressed, but simply bored and feeling cooped up because of the weather – force yourself to go outside or socialize. Spending just a short amount of time walking outdoors will provide that much needed vitamin D from the natural light and will get your blood pumping. Enjoying new experiences with friends could also be just the boost you need. Never seen a play? Now could be the right time. Meet for lunch where healthy food is served, or serve others by volunteering or simply committing acts of random kindness.

I get it, it’s hard sometimes to shake that feeling of woe when the sky turns dark well before dinnertime, or when the snow is piled up at your door. But try enjoying new flavors, new experiences and a new attitude. It’s ok to maintain a leisurely pace, just do something!  And if that doesn’t help, crank up the heat, invest in a sunlight lamp and fool your body into thinking it’s spring!






Contribute to the community

How to Work For Free and Feel Rich

As a limited resource, time has great value to us – we don’t want to squander it. We use our time to accomplish the things we need to do as well as those we dream about  But our time has value to others as well. Volunteering your time is a way to contribute to the community and to our own soul. It’s a way to work for free yet walk away feeling richer than ever – it’s undergoing personal growth. Researchers at the London School of Economics discovered that Americans who volunteered regularly rated themselves as happier, and that “happiness” index rose as the frequency of volunteering sessions increased.*

The simple act of contributing to the community doesn’t cost much but pays dividends you may not have considered. Helping others clearly aides in the health, well-being, and sense of worth for those you help. It also infuses the volunteer with a lasting sense of value, pride, and positivity.  And while you spend time without expecting anything return, you may eventually reap the benefits of a stronger community.

If you haven’t volunteered, it can seem daunting, but knowing yourself, your interests, and what you have to offer is a great place to start. What causes do you support? Do you have a talent or skill that would be useful to a particular organization? Where do you feel you could have the most impact? Once you’ve answered those questions, do the research in your community to find where you’d like to help. Most organizations have their own websites, but often a community will have a site where you can find several, varied opportunities.

If possible, recruit a few friends or bring your whole family. The shared experience of helping others increases the benefits of volunteering. Giving back to your community is like working out – while it’s not always easy to find the time to fit it into your busy schedule it’s a rewarding experience that will encourage you to continue making it a part of your lifestyle. The first time you volunteer may seem overwhelming. It’s somewhat like a first day on the job. Go in with an open mind and a willingness to do whatever it takes, but in this case you can also operate with the realization that you are appreciated simply for showing up!

Volunteering with others is a wonderful, shared experience – you can make new friends, improve your social skills and make important connections. Undergoing personal growth is also a benefit – volunteering gives you a sense of purpose. And for teenagers or even job seekers, the act of contributing to the community looks great on a college application or resume.

You may not gain monetarily from volunteering, but by doing so you can certainly enrich your life as well as the lives of others.





Exotic and local food

A Traveler’s Note – Embrace the Unknown

We are used to the sights, sounds, and pace of our own environment. But what happens when you’re thrust into the hustle and bustle of a completely different locale? As someone who’s fortunate enough to have traveled to some exotic places, I discovered it’s surprising how quickly you can adapt to local food, customs, and people if you are open to the full experience. What it requires, however, is an open mind and a willingness to release the expectations that your new location will be like home. As a traveler you may not know how to get around or exactly what’s on that plate the waiter just brought you.

Several years ago I embarked on a 24-hour journey from Atlanta to L.A. and then on to Hong Kong to visit a family member who was temporarily living there. Hong Kong is a crowded, bustling city with modern high-rise buildings packed in tightly amongst old apartment and office structures, rundown shops, and open markets. My first impression was that the place was an assault on the senses. Hundreds of signs were suspended above the street, lights were everywhere, and the shops were packed in side by side with bins of goods jutting out onto the sidewalk. The people were packed in as densely as the buildings. There was no strolling, no personal space, and at times it felt as if there was little room to breathe, especially on the Metro.

Mental preparation was needed each time we left the flat to take on the crowds. It was like New York City on steroids – louder, brighter, and with sights and smells that either tempted your taste buds or made your stomach turn.

As a traveler, all judgment should be suspended and a willingness to sample local foods must take over. After a visit to Mongkok Market and seeing the remnants of an animal head that had been scraped clean of meat, and watching a woman snap a chicken’s neck before stuffing it in a bag for a customer, I was quite hesitant to dine on local fare. But I trusted my family member to guide me through the meals and was more than pleasantly surprised by the fresh, local food. From Chinese to Thai, Japanese to Indian, sampling the truly authentic dishes of the region turned out to be the highlight of the trip.

It wasn’t long before I was navigating the crowded streets with comfort and looking forward to my next meal. Soon the cacophony of voices, cars,  and local music, the explosion of colorful signs, and the busy pace of the city began to feel more familiar…I was no longer the wide-eyed traveler. I found beauty in the raw, almost harsh street scene and I found pleasure in the fresh food being served, even if I wasn’t entirely certain of the ingredients.

I am no Anthony Bourdain or Andrew Zimmern of “Bizarre Foods” TV fame, but I was willing to order some unfamiliar and, yes, even weird dishes. The slippery noodles served with equally slippery ingredients (that I could only guess had been very recently fished out of local waters) and the dishes of more familiar meats and vegetables were an out-of-this-world experience. On occasion some gesturing and pantomiming had to occur just to order a dish or select groceries for home-cooked meals, but the fresh ingredients were worth the effort.

There is a transformation that comes from immersing yourself in local food and culture. You can resist the unfamiliar ways and long for the comforts of home, but then why travel? Or you can surrender to the reality that you are in another place and should soak up what’s being offered.

If you don’t have the opportunity to travel abroad, you can still embrace the mind-set of a traveler. Become more adventurous with what you eat, take note of the street scene, and view your own world with a new perspective.



New Year's Resolution

Stumbling Isn’t the Same as Falling – Staying on Track For the New Year

We just celebrated new year and many people may be already asking “how are you doing on your New Year’s resolution?” You may be asking yourself, “why do we make these silly resolutions anyway?” It’s probably a combination of having high hopes of accomplishing a dream mixed with the need to follow along in a ritual that dates back to ancient times.

Roughly 4,000 years ago the Babylonians would celebrate their new year in March and made promises to the gods to earn good favor. In 46 BC, Julius Caesar moved the first day of the year to January 1 in honor of the Roman god of beginnings, Janus. Eventually those promises to the gods became promises we would make to ourselves to improve our lives.

The notion that we can accomplish a dream each year simply by telling ourselves we will change may seem far-fetched, yet more than 88% of Americans will make a resolution to begin the new year. Often the resolution is centered on overall health. Whether you vow to start eating healthy in the new year, to begin exercising regularly, make or save more money or get a better job, somehow our goals are often never achieved. Why is that?

It may be that people set too high an expectation on accomplishing a dream like the ones listed above. Or perhaps it’s because we find it too easy to give up. The latest diet trends are too strict, there’s not enough time to squeeze in that workout, or finding a new job is just impossible in this economy. There’s a lot of advice about how to keep a resolution, but perhaps the best way to ensure some measure of success is to cut yourself a little slack.

First, don’t set a goal that you are very unlikely to achieve. You may want to quit smoking, but that is extremely hard to do. Perhaps make the resolution to cut your smoking in half. You want to lose 40 pounds? How about recognizing you’ll have an easier time if you resolve instead to start eating healthy this year. Eventually you may stop smoking or lose that 40 pounds, but you will be satisfied if you smoke a whole lot less for now, or you lose 15 pounds and feel great because you stuck to your actual resolution.

Second, vocalize your resolution. Telling people your plan can help you stick with it, especially if you tell people who will support you. And on that note, surround yourself with people who aren’t likely to sabotage your efforts.

Finally, allow yourself to stumble. If you find that you “cheated” while trying to follow one of the popular diet trends or you went on a shopping spree you shouldn’t have, don’t let that send you into a downward spiral. In other words, don’t give up. Pick yourself back up and recognize that accomplishing a dream can be hard and it may not go perfectly according to plan. Just don’t let that stumble derail you.

One simple thought. Instead of making your resolution about you, consider making it about others. You could resolve to spread a little happiness each day with a smile and a kind word for a stranger. You could resolve to help someone accomplish their goals, or you could resolve to do something good for your community, like pick up trash, shop locally, volunteer each month, or help families in need. Perhaps stepping outside of yourself might make it easier to succeed.

Navigating the ups and downs of trying to make real changes in your life isn’t easy. Be kind to yourself and you’ll have a happy new year ahead.


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