Secrets to Thriving During the Cold Months

Have your best winter ever with these expert tips

If you’re a skier, snowshoe aficionado or hockey player, odds are you embrace the coming season enthusiastically. For the rest of us, the stress of cold, snowy weather may have us wishing for spring long before the last autumn leaves have fallen.

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But the truth is, anyone can learn to find the best of the winter season. Clinical psychologist Scott Bea, PsyD, of Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Behavioral Health, shows us how.

1. Fight SAD with your social connections

The First Step: Choose a fitness activity to try this winter.

A lot of people get the winter blues. Some people are prone to full-blown seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which strikes women four times more often than men. To help ward off symptoms, Dr. Bea recommends limiting carbohydrates, staying involved socially with other people and exercising. If those steps don’t help, talk to a friend or family member. If your sadness persists for two weeks or more, consider seeing a mental health professional.

2. Take care of your skin

The First Step: The next time you’re at the store, pick up sunscreen for the whole family.

Your skin can be prone to dryness in the winter, when humidity is low both indoors and out. To keep your skin moist, take short showers rather than long baths, use moisturizer throughout the day and run a humidifier in your home. And when you’re outdoors, don’t skip the sunscreen. Sun exposure in winter can cause as much damage as the summer’s rays.

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3. Nail your New Year’s resolutions

The First Step: Construct a plan with measurable, realistic goals.

“You can’t just say you’re going to be a better person, lose weight or start exercising,” points out Dr. Bea. “Your goal needs to be measurable and something you can track every day.” Reward yourself with an event, vacation or object when you meet your goal for a set number of days. With small, measurable goals and rewards, your habits will become self-sustaining. And if you stumble, get back on track the next day.

4. Keep winter illnesses at bay

The First Step: Call your doctor to schedule a flu shot.

Washing your hands frequently is key to fighting germs that can cause winter colds and flu. If you haven’t had a flu shot, don’t wait any longer. And talk to your doctor about whether a shingles or pneumonia vaccine is right for you. Choose foods high in antioxidants and omega-3s to help reduce the inflammation that is linked to many illnesses.

5. Control your allergies

The First Step: Identify what you’re allergic to, with a physician’s help if necessary.

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Seasonal allergies may subside this time of year, but allergies to dust, dust mites and pet dander last all year long, and may worsen in winter, when you spend more time indoors. The best ways to control allergies are to avoid and eliminate the allergens. If you’re allergic to dust or dust mites, remove old curtains and carpets and use mattress and pillow covers. If pets are causing your problems, keep them out of your bedroom. If you take over-the-counter medication to control your allergies, take it at the same time every day.

6. If you have heart problems, skip the shoveling

The First Step: Enlist another family member to do the shoveling, or hire a neighborhood teenager to help.

Shoveling can send your heart rate and blood pressure skyward. If you have coronary artery disease, those increases can trigger a heart attack. Every year, snow shoveling sends more than 11,000 people to the hospital—mostly due to orthopaedic issues; however, 7 percent of these visits are due to heart attacks, according to Cleveland Clinic heart experts. Even if you don’t have heart problems, shovel carefully to avoid injuring your back or joints.

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