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6 Ways to Stay on Track—Emotionally and Physically—This Winter

Shorter sunshine hours and hectic days don’t mean you have to forgo your healthy routines.

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By Olivia DeLong

As winter rolls in, so do colder temperatures, overcast skies and earlier evenings. But you don't need to go into hibernation and count down the days until spring arrives.

It may be tempting to jump off the healthy-eating bandwagon or to let your regular workouts slide. But with a little help with planning and goal-setting, you can make your regular schedule work right on through winter.

Thankfully, Janelle Von Bargen, PhD, Associate Director of the Family Medicine Residency Program at Saint Francis Healthcare in Wilmington, Delaware, is here to offer tips on how to stay motivated, focused and emotionally spry—even when the winter doldrums try to get in the way.

Set realistic goals

2 / 7 Set realistic goals

When it comes to healthy behaviors (no matter what time of the year), Von Bargen suggests that you start out by setting your own goals. Get out your calendar and write down objectives for each day, week or month so you can see your progress and monitor how you’re doing. “Then reward yourself,” she says, “whether it’s with a new pair of workout shoes, a fresh manicure or a night in by the fire—anything that makes you happy.”

Not sure how to go about setting healthy goals? First, think about targets that are within your reach. “You’ll want to come up with small, realistic goals that you can work toward,” say Von Bargen.

So, instead of forcing yourself to work out for an hour each day when you know you don’t have time, start with 30 minutes. “A good 20 to 30-minute workout is better than no workout at all,” she notes. If you’re toying with the idea of meal prepping for an entire week each Sunday, start out with prepping for one day. Then work your way up to larger changes. (Hint: Just make a little extra dinner, so you can save the leftovers for your lunch the next day).

It can also help to surround yourself with others who may be working toward similar goals. Friends and family members can help keep you accountable. Plus, working on change together is always more fun.

Plan ahead for exercise and healthy eating

3 / 7 Plan ahead for exercise and healthy eating

Need to a reason to stick with your workout schedule? The weight gained from taking an exercise hiatus can be harder to work off, according to research. One 2008 study found that the best way to manage your weight is to stay active year-round. That means winter is no time to slack, because staying active is the key to maintaining a healthy weight. Easier said than done, but getting organized can help.

If you’re finding it hard to get up for your morning yoga class, try laying your clothes out the night before. “Set them next to your bed so you don’t have to go searching for them—just jump out of bed, change and go,” says Von Bargen. The same goes for afternoon workouts. Have your gym bag packed so when your phone buzzes, you’re ready to roll. Even better: change clothes before you leave work, so you’re less likely to bail out.

Eating-wise, it’s also helpful to prep your breakfasts and lunches ahead of time so you make healthy choices when you’re busy. Overnight oats, chia pudding, breakfast casseroles and egg cups are easy and nutritious make-ahead options. And having a few handy meal-prep tricks at your fingertips can give you the nudge to set up smart lunches—like grain bowls, wraps or salads—when you have some extra time on the weekend or in the evening.

Recognize that anxiety comes—then passes

4 / 7 Recognize that anxiety comes—then passes

An uncomfortable holiday party, an intense meeting at work or a to-do task (or seven) left undone may leave you feeling anxious—particularly when they all hit on the same afternoon. But Von Bargen wants to remind you that these awkward or stressful moments won’t last forever.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed in the moment, tell yourself, “I’m here right now, but I will get through this.” Imagine the day you’re going to have tomorrow, or what you’re going to do after that party or meeting. “This allows you to visualize getting through whatever you’re anxious about and look ahead to less stressful times,” she says. If you’re constantly worrying and it’s interfering with your work or relationships, or you’re turning to drugs or alcohol to cope with your anxiety, talk to your doctor about your symptoms.

Make an “it” list

5 / 7 Make an “it” list

When the hustle and bustle sets in, the to-dos can be overwhelming. Von Bargen suggests making an “it” list to feel more organized. Make a list in your phone, computer or with pen and paper. On your list, include anything that will make you feel organized and in control for the days and weeks to come. “You can also make a list for your kids or significant other and include any chores and responsibilities that will make your life easier,” she adds.

Think about things that make you feel good and settled, like straightening up around the house before you go to bed, planning out your family dinners for the week or cleaning out your car on Sundays. These tasks don’t have to be big—they’re just meant to help you feel grounded and productive.

Delegate

6 / 7 Delegate

You probably get overwhelmed during the holidays because you feel like you’re carrying the burden of everything on your own, whether it’s party planning, packing for a trip, cleaning, shopping—you know the routine. A simple but woefully underutilized way to combat some of the stress is to delegate tasks to friends and family members. Although it may seem easier to control everything yourself, in the end, delegating can help you manage your stress levels.

For tasks around the house, include your spouse and family. The kids can set the table and help clean up common areas of the house and you can let your spouse in on some of the more detailed tasks—picking up the food from the caterer for the big dinner party or grabbing gifts for family members. When it comes to packing, you may find it helpful to give assignments to each of your family members.

Guests and friends are almost always willing to help with party prep and execution, so ask them to pitch in. Have them bring a dish, help with décor or man the drinks table. You can also have them help with the invites or manage RSVPs. You can’t possibly do everything, so assign out the things you don’t have time for or the tasks you know others like to do.

Log your mood

7 / 7 Log your mood

Throughout the dark and dreary winter months, it can be helpful to take a few moments to log how you’re feeling mentally. Tracking or journaling your stress may actually reduce your stress levels and help you cope with triggers. Whether your draw a sad or smiley face on a piece a paper each day or you log your stress with an app like Sharecare (available for iOS and Android), when you’re tuned in to your mood, you’re better able to recognize patterns and anticipate triggers.

“It allows you to see if you’re stressed at certain times of day, like when you’re around your coworkers, family members or when you’re in new situations,” says Von Bargen. When you know the sources of your stress, you can anticipate your reactions before you’re in the situation and work to reduce those emotions beforehand.

This habit can be helpful for the entire family, too, says Von Bargen. “Get a pulse on how everyone is doing. If they’re stressed out, then maybe you need to take a break from that night’s party or event.”

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