This time of year, I see a lot of patients who just. . . don’t feel good. Do i have mono? they ask, is it my thyroid? is there something wrong with my stomach? and yes, a few folks do have something going on, but most of us (yes, us) don’t need a medical diagnosis or a prescription drug. Most of us need to do the stuff we know is good for us. The world we live in makes it hard, especially in December, to attend to our basic needs– but that’s the remedy. Sorry, not sorry. *
Understanding the factors that make us feel like crap can help us focus on strategies to bolster energy, mood, and well-being:
- We are rushed. Students have exams. Teachers have to get grades in. We have work parties, fun parties. The Christmas pageant. Tickets to the nutcracker. The annual ice skating expedition. The cookie swap. We’re traveling. Yes, it’s a lot of stuff, and yes, it can squeeze us. What to do? A few things: Practice saying no. You don’t have to go to everything you get invited to. Or put in an appearance, if you want/need to. You can often beg off early citing another engagement, even if that engagement is with your bed. And protect some “me-time” on your schedule, even if it’s just long enough for a 10-minute hot shower or a chapter of a novel without interruption. The little stuff like that matters. And, real talk: other people care less about what you do than you expect.
- The weather stinks. It’s dark here until 7:30 AM, and it’s dark again at 4:30. It rains. It’s chilly. The double-whammy of less outdoor exercise and less exposure to light is rough. But, it’s predictable, so good strategies can mitigate the damage. Keep active. If you are up for it, keep outdoor workouts going. With the right gear, you can run/bike when it’s not totally light, when it’s wet, when it’s cold. Think of the gear as an investment in your health. If this is a no-go for you, it’s great time to try a new class (boxing? spinning?) or make friends with the gym. For light, I have a light box, and if you live somewhere dark, you should too. The clinical dose is 10,000 lux of brightness, for 20-30 minutes every morning. It helps. Try to keep a regular schedule, and try to spend some time outside every day even if it isn’t for long– walk the dog, go around the block at lunch. And, the evidence is mixed, but it doesn’t hurt: maybe a vitamin D supplement?
- We have feelings. Holidays, families, guilt, disappointment, expectations. . . yeah. Then, cruelly, we feel like we’re supposed to be “jolly”. And that just pours gasoline on the sad-fire. Even well-adjusted people from stable households get this stuff. Be kind to yourself. It’s NORMAL to feel less-than-merry, and you have my permission. Do you have a friend on speed-dial who totally gets it? Or maybe you have a journal to write in. Or a sibling in your corner. Let it be what it is. (Also, that outdoor run I mentioned? A great way to get out of the house and re-set a cranky mood).
- We let our regular eating habits go out the window. It’s awesome to enjoy food, including special treats. Next thing you know, you’re hungover every morning and you haven’t eaten a vegetable since thanksgiving dinner. When there’s a special treat every day for six weeks, it catches up with you. Can you figure out how to balance nourishment with joy? Maybe get fresh, healthy food into your routine meals (breakfast, I’m looking at you). Have a glass of champagne, and then switch to seltzer & cran. Bring a kale salad to the potluck (yes, I do this and yes, I am fun at parties). Eat cookies– but only the ones you truly like. Lay in some healthy provisions at home (hummus, almonds, clementines, tea).
So, my dear ones, you are not alone if you are dragging. And you have the tools to feel better! So let’s do it, and I’ll see you out on the trails.
*Note: I don’t mean that you shouldn’t go see a health professional if something isn’t right! Absolutely do. We can help you, and we can identify medical and psychological issues that need treatment. But whether or not you have a medically defined and treatable illness, self care is always good. And it’s usually part of a successful treatment plan for medical stuff, too.