Thursday, November 17, 2011

Winter Wellness

I think I've mentioned (possibly in every post for the last month...) that Portland winters are particularly dark, dreary and dismal. And dank and somewhat depressing. And other alliterative things too. It rains a lot, the days are short and dark, it doesn't snow, and there isn't much sun.

In the face of the Long Dark, as I've been calling it this year, it's sometimes difficult to keep happy, energetic and optimistic. I think most people in Portland, and a lot of other places in the Pacific Northwest, experience some form of season affective symptoms between October and April. For me, it's not particularly severe, it just takes more work to keep myself in a good mood and keep my body feeling healthy when there's not as much to do outside and so few hours of daylight available. I've lived in Portland nearly ten years now, but I don't think I'll ever get used to the winters. Where I grew up, winters are cold and very snowy, and that makes things bright and fun and cozy, which is a very different mental experience. This year, as glad as I am to experience the change of seasons once more, I'm feeling the bite of the gross weather more keenly, it having been a full two years since I've experienced a Northwest winter.

 Scarlet runner beans drying next to the kitchen stove.

I think it has taken me until last week to really get used to operating in the cold wet weather again and to get truly settled into my routine of school and internship. Figures that it takes me almost till the end of term to get really use to it- only two more weeks of classes and then finals! Since I started my internship, I was commuting by bus on the four days each week that I come downtown, because it's extra-far to bike all the way to my internship. But last week I totally crashed, energy-wise, and realized that somehow I needed to integrate biking back into my routine in a manageable way. I was doing lots of walking, to and from the bus stop, from internship to school, around campus, etc, but was still feeling achy and stir-crazy from lack of a good workout. So now I've decided that on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I will bike to campus, lock up my bike and ditch any extra gear in my locker, then catch the streetcar across downtown to my internship. This way I don't feel the pressure to bike every day (it's a long ride...) but I still have it as a regular part of my week--and I can already feel the difference. I am also working on integrating yoga classes into my week, at the rec center on campus.

I also realized I was feeling sluggish because for the last few weeks, on weeknights I wasn't keeping up with the things around the house that generally fulfill me- usually I would get home, Matt and I would throw together some dinner, and then get in bed to read or go straight to sleep. We were leaving the bed unmade, clothes piled on the floor where we dropped them, and dirty dishes on the counter for several days at a time. At the same time I started biking again, we started trying to make more of an effort to keep things tidy during the week, and it makes such a difference. Just taking five minutes to make the bed in the morning, put away clothes, wash dishes (or put them in the dishwasher) and wipe down the counters makes the house feel so much better and helps me feel much more put together.

I also remembered recently that in previous winters I have taken Vitamin D supplements to help cope with the lack of sunshine, and it has been really helpful. So I've gotten myself back onto a daily regimen of Vitamin D3. Also, I've been eating a lot more fruit than usual, because of a behavior intervention project for my Health Behavior class. We each had to choose a health behavior in ourselves that we would try to change using self-regulation techniques, and I chose to increase my fruit intake, to at least two servings per day (I was absolutely terrible at eating fruit before, sad to say). It worked, and I think my body and mind are both a lot happier for getting a more well-rounded diet and more fruit sugars and vitamins.

I've often found myself reading silly websites or watching stand-up comedy on Youtube when I need to put a smile on my face, but it's never totally fulfilling. Then I discovered The Perennial Plate, and I think this is my new go-to site for cheering myself up. Real people, real food, and real goodness. I can't recommend it enough. It makes me feel whole again, no matter what else has been going on.
What do you do to keep yourself well when the weather outside is frightful?

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