Evy Smith, MA LCMHC, CTTS-M, is an EFAP Counselor & Tobacco Treatment Specialist at the University of Vermont Medical Center.

Self-care is important during the autumn and winter months in Vermont. Why? Well, when the seasons change, so do our energy levels. We’re affected by the cooler temperatures and the decrease in daylight hours. We may notice less spring in our step (pardon the seasonal pun). Additionally, we may move less and eat more. We choose to stay inside to be safe and warm; we eat more of the carbs and comfort foods of the season (Halloween candy, Thanksgiving treats). Before we realize it, we have gained a few pounds.

What to do to stay energized? Here’s how to practice self-care at this time of year.

Self-Care in the Winter Months

Self-care at this time of year requires the management of energy on three levels: physical, mental, and social. We need to regularly fuel our minds and bodies to balance all three.

Physical Self-Care

  • Include healthy, balanced, and nutritional food choices in your diet. Try fresh vegetables and fruit and other foods sources of vitamin D, such as salmon, tuna, sardines, rainbow trout, fish oils (like cod liver oil). Fortified milk and egg yolks are some of the richest sources of vitamin D.
  • Eat more complex carbohydrates and fewer (or no) simple carbs and sugars. Add foods with omega-3s, such as fatty fish (mackerel, herring, salmon, and sardines) and oils from flaxseed, canola and walnuts.
  • Hydration is key in order to avoid dehydration. In winter months the air is extra dry. Dehydration can cause us to feel fatigued, dizzy, and unable to concentrate. This is especially important for elders.
  • Build muscle tone by engaging in cardiovascular and strength training exercises. As a complement, add yoga, tai chi, or walking. Certainly getting out into the snow and doing winter sports is a great stress reliever. Take five minutes to stretch at work every 90-120 minutes. Arm circles, various stretches of muscle groups, and even a walk to the water fountain can change up the posture and recharge you.
  • Recuperation in the form of rest, sleep, and fun are key. Getting extra sleep is definitely an OK thing to do, by way of establishing the “early to bed early to rise” pattern.

Mental Self-Care

  • Get intellectual stimulation by attending the theater, playing board games, reading, attending lectures, or joining a book club or other local activities keep the mind sharp.
  • Gain emotional balance by following the physical outlets of your choice — walking, dancing, swimming — and really all other suggestions listed here. Treat yourself well every day!

Social Self-Care

  • Follow your inclinations: if you want to be more social, great. If you want to be less social, it will be important to follow routines listed above. Otherwise, the dormant tendency of winter may lead to low energy.
  • Get outdoors into the fresh air and natural light whenever possible. Host a barbecue and invite some friends over for an outdoor fire pit and roast a few marshmallows, play outside in the snow with the kids or pet and you will discover that human energy is also renewable! In so doing, you will be resilient in any season.

Evy Smith, MA LCMHC, CTTS-M, is an EFAP Counselor & Tobacco Treatment Specialist at the University of Vermont Medical Center.

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