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In the northern hemisphere, we are entering the darkest time of year. For many of us, we wake up in darkness and finish work in darkness. And that absence of sunshine can be difficult, even if you’re surrounded by the twinkle of holiday lights or the love of family members or friends. For some, this is an immensely difficult time of year—a time characterized by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and/or isolation. While some people enjoy “hibernating” in their home during the winter months, others find it difficult and yearn for human connections.

In truth, people can find themselves in “dark patches” at any point during the year. We might find ourselves depressed or frustrated with our personal life, finances, or career, or we might simply be grappling with burnout. But actual darkness can amplify those feelings and frustrations, and make us long for any sliver of sunshine (metaphorical or not!) that we can get.

How can we find light and levity amid all the darkness?

Aside from taking steps to aid your body (exercising regularly, taking Vitamin D), there are several ways to boost your spirit and your mood. Let’s talk about some of those mood-boosting methods:

1. Focus on Gratitude

This might sound a little…squishy, but gratitude does work. According to Harvard Health, “Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”

If you’re thankful for what you have, you develop a more positive mindset, and that can go a long way (it even can affect your physical health!). Foster gratitude by setting aside time each day to reflect on the positive aspects of your life. What is going well right now? What are you thankful for? You might also choose to jot down some of your thoughts in a gratitude journal.

2. Fight Pessimism

Many of us have negative narratives that constantly run through our brains. I call this your “saboteur.” This is the voice that tells you you’re not good enough or capable enough; it tells you to sit down and stay quiet because you don’t have anything valuable to contribute. It’s time to start talking back to this inner voice!

Start by paying attention to your thoughts. When you catch yourself thinking pessimistically, hit the pause button. Reframe your thinking so you focus on the positive and start seeing solutions, instead of barriers. And don’t forget to be kind to yourself. You’re smarter, braver, and more capable than you think you are.

3. Tune in To Positive Media

What we surround ourselves with makes a difference—the daily TV shows, movies, music, podcasts, and radio shows. Attitudes of fear, anger, mistrust, or sensationalism can easily leak into your subconscious. Even if you believe you are immune to negative news stories or terrible TV shows, you probably are not. We tend to become what we consume.

Make a conscious choice to read, listen to, and watch media that is affirming, productive, or uplifting. That doesn’t mean you have to tune out the news, but it does mean you should be mindful of your time and what you’re allowing into your life. Balance trashy TV shows with more thought-provoking content. Sprinkle in informative podcasts in between celebrity gossip. Think of the media you consume as nutrients that nourish your brain and emotional wellbeing.

4. Tap into Your Network

You don’t have to slog through your slumps on your own. Dare to reach out to trusted friends or family members and seek their support. Let them know what you need from them—someone to listen, someone to grab a cup of coffee with, someone to lend a little support—and be honest about what you’re going through. If friends and family members are not enough, consider seeking support from a licensed therapist.

5. Busy Yourself with a Hobby

Adopting a productive hobby can be a healthy way for dealing with dark periods. Do something that interests you and lifts your spirits. This could be baking, woodcarving, learning an instrument, practicing photography, painting, writing—anything that captivates and energizes you. If you’re not sure where to begin, try browsing through online course offerings through Udemy, Coursera, or Teachable.

(My online leadership course is hosted by Teachable. Feel free to check it out!)

6. Breathe

When you feel the weight of the world pressing down on you, take a time out. Pause whatever you’re doing and focus on yourself for a few minutes (or longer, if that’s what you need). Concentrate on your breathing. Take a deep breath in through your nose, hold it for several seconds, and puff it out through your mouth. Do this several times, counting to yourself as you go through the motions.

You might also try other relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation (apps such as Calm or Headspace can help you get started), listening to relaxing music, stretching, or going for a quiet walk. Recognize when you’ve hit a wall and need to practice a little self-care.

Though we’re entering a dark time of year, your mood doesn’t have to match the night sky. Try a few of these techniques and let me know what worked for you. And remember to seek additional help if you need it. You’ve got this!

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
CHECK OUT MARGARET’S ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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In many parts of the northern hemisphere, winter is right around the corner. While some people enjoy the cold weather and relish the thought of hot cocoa and sweaters, others dread the winter months and see this period as a time of isolation and darkness. Whether you love or loathe winter (or fall somewhere in the middle), it’s probable you occasionally struggle with maintaining a high energy level during a time when days are shorter and we’re more prone to staying indoors for long stretches of time.

How to deal with the inevitable lack of energy? Here are 4 ideas:

1. Find a winter buddy

Maintaining human connections can be enormously helpful when you’re trudging through the winter months. Find a friend (or multiple!) who also has trouble staying energized during winter and plan small outings together. Visit a conservatory (a warm reprieve during chilly weather!), grab a cup of coffee, see a movie, or walk laps at a local mall. These small moments of personal contact can make a big difference.

You might also consider joining a local club or social group (painting, knitting, storytelling, books, volunteering, etc.). Find these groups through Meetup.com or by simply asking about them on social media (Facebook or Nextdoor are great places to start).

2. Reward yourself

If you find yourself with little energy and a full workload, try breaking up your work into small pieces and bribing yourself with a series of mini rewards. For instance, if you have five items you need to accomplish on a given day, reward yourself after each item. Rewards might include reading for 10-15 minutes, working on a crossword puzzle, eating a piece of chocolate or other treat, or playing an online game or browsing social media for 15 minutes. To keep yourself on track, set timers for both your work (to motivate you) and your breaks (to make sure your break isn’t too long). 

3. Exercise regularly

Though it may sound counterintuitive, exercise is one of the best ways to combat low energy. Moving your body not only gets the blood flowing, but also releases mood-boosting endorphins. If the idea of going for a winter walk or hitting the gym feels daunting, start by simply putting on your workout clothing and shoes. This act, alone, can get you in the right mindset and carry you into your workout. Additionally, it’s a good idea to find something you enjoy doing, whether that’s swimming, lifting weights, walking, or doing group yoga or pilates sessions.

4. Take Vitamin D and use SAD lamps

A lack of sunshine can have a very real psychological effect. According to Healthline, “Decreased sun exposure has been associated with a drop in your serotonin levels, which can lead to major depression with seasonal pattern.” To help overcome the lack of sunlight, try regularly taking Vitamin D (which is associated with exposure to sunlight) or purchase a SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) lamp. A SAD lamp produces the kind of light that mimics sunshine and can help elevate your mood.

There are many different ways to ease winter woes and improve your energy. Make a plan, try different approaches, and see what works for you. If all else fails, seek help from a certified professional to help you through the cold, dark months.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
CHECK OUT MARGARET’S ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE. 

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