When the weather outside is frightful, tuning into a Zoom meeting is … less than delightful. And that’s putting it mildly some days. Even if you don’t live in a climate with snow and freezing temperatures during the winter, this season can still be difficult due to fewer sunshine hours. Remote working makes it easy to allow an entire day to go by without stepping foot outside and suddenly looking up to discover it’s 4 p.m. — and already dark. Ugh.
This can create an uphill battle with productivity and creativity, thanks to our circadian rhythms. As licensed marriage and family therapist, Hanna Stensby, M.A., explains, our bodies are attuned to light and darkness patterns. Because of this, we send signals to our brain for when to release melatonin to help us fall asleep or to wake up in the A.M. “However, our current eight-hour workday and daylights savings schedules do not take into account circadian rhythms. It is quite normal to feel sluggish as it grows later in the year and the daylight hours get shorter and shorter,” she says.
So how can you fix this all-too-common issue? By restructuring your day to maximize the benefits of sunshine Here, we offer effective strategies:
Go outside and watch the sunrise.
But what if it’s snowing? Raining? Cold? No matter the weather, it’s crucial to spend time breathing fresh air outside and soaking up the sun, even you can’t see it, says Kathryn Fantauzzi, the CEO co-founder of Apollo Neuroscience. Even if you aren’t exactly an early bird, the sun does rise later in the morning, so you can probably muster up the energy to bundle up and open your front door. “When you go outside, you get all the benefits of sunlight so you can produce feel-good serotonin, signal your body to wake up, and produce vitamin D, which your body can’t do through even the sunniest window,” she explains. “Even if it’s cloudy out, exposing your eyes to natural light can help you feel more energized throughout the day, and it will also help you sleep at night.”
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Track yourself to see when you tend to be most efficient and effective.
Everyone has different periods during the day when they feel the most ‘on.’ This is when you’re plowing through emails with ease, coming up with innovative solutions, and wowing management with your organization and enthusiasm. The trouble with a traditional 9-5 gig is that you can’t always capitalize on these productivity windows. However, it’s still smart to know what they are so you can try to block your calendar, according to learning specialist Dr. Rebecca Mannis. By allowing yourself to take advantage of your hyper-efficient periods, you subconsciously teach your mind to stay the course, no matter what season it might be. “Consider it an investment in your health and personal growth that will pay off in spades — and in neuroplasticity or new brain pathways that you will have consciously molded,” Dr. Mannis adds.
Exercise in the morning.
During the winter, having a routine that focuses on your health and mental stamina is more important than any other time of the year. In addition to getting up on the earlier side, it’s also beneficial to squeeze in your workout before you tap into your to-do list of the day. By going through your favorite yoga flow, sweating it out in a virtual boot camp class or going for a run, you reduce stress levels and amp up your energy, according to Holly Nelson, women’s advocate and the chief product officer of TruthMap, Inc. It also can give you a stronger sense of well-being and confidence, and it ensures you’re exercising in natural sunshine, giving you the much-needed dose of vitamin D.
Prioritize your most challenging work first.
When you look at your deliverables of the day, there are some items you know you can knock out quickly, some that will take time but will be enjoyable, and then there’s the ones you dread. No matter how happy you are within your career, we all have areas of our work that we don’t like (or tend to procrastinate) because they are mentally taxing. It might take a pep talk or two, but try to get those tasks out of the way right after you finish your workout or morning walk, recommends Sacha Cohen, the founder of Grassfed Media. This is when you will likely have your peak motivation, so you can push through it easier than if you waited until the end of the day.
Schedule a mid-day break.
While the sun is still up and thriving, it’s important to seek as much of its glow as you can. If you have control over your calendar, Stensby says it can be meaningful to reassess your schedule to identify your flexibility for specific tasks and responsibilities. “By shifting your schedule to accommodate a break in the middle of the day when sunshine is at its peak, you can get a more energizing impact from the sun,” she explains. “By getting outside during the middle of the day for an hour or two, you can capitalize on the energy the sun emits, and get your daily vitamin D dose, rather than taking a 30-minute lunch and ending when it’s already dark outside.”
Work outside or by a large window.
If you live in Vermont, Washington, Utah, or another super-snowy state, taking your laptop outside in the middle of a blizzard isn’t realistic. However, sitting by the sunniest window in your home might be. Stensby suggests doing as much work as possible with exposure to sunlight, even if it’s indirect from outdoors. And if you happen to live in a warmer climate — say, Florida — put on a few layers and at least take a Zoom call or two outside. You’ll be so glad you did.
MORE WAYS TO COMBAT THE WINTER BLAHS:
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