In my part of the world we are heading into winter. The days are getting shorter. And colder. I can feel my energy levels ebbing – as though some form of inspiration hibernation is about to occur.
If you’re anything like me, this time of year is also accompanied by a false but strangely compelling sense that there are literally fewer hours in the day – yet the length of your to-do list hasn’t changed.
So what can you do about it?
In this post I outline three key steps to help you manage the winter blues and keep your leadership practice in peak state.
Step One: Accept It
Unless you can afford to ‘up-sticks’ and spend the cold season in a warmer climate, the first thing you need to do is accept that scarcity of sunshine hours does actually have an effect on your mood and energy.
The same neurotransmitters that make you sleepy at night (melatonin) and alert in the morning (serotonin) are likely to be involved in the onset of the winter blues. In other words, the shorter days (and reduced light levels) mean that your brain produces less serotonin, and therefore doesn’t sufficiently inhibit the melatonin. Serotonin production is also implicated in feelings of happiness, which is why the term ‘blue’ often befits our winter selves!
All this is my way of saying – it isn’t all in your head! Well technically it is, but you aren’t imagining it.
Spending precious energy trying to fight it off, or deny it, or pushing yourself too hard when the energy just isn’t there, is not going to help.
Accept that winter is a time when there can be a little more down-time. A little more reflection and thinking time. And maybe even a little more family time!
Step Two: Prepare for It
Once you’ve accepted that there will be a bit of a slow down through those long winter months, there are a few things you can do to prepare for it.
Schedule a Holiday
This can be a great pick-me-up when you’re staring down the barrel of four months of short days and long cold nights. Lock in the destination, and then progress the plans on some of those darker evenings – you’ll be amazed at how much better you feel after flights are sorted, the hotel is arranged, and the masseuse is booked!
Don’t Schedule Ultra-High Energy Projects at Work
Everybody has an aspect of their work that requires a greater investment of personal energy. For me, it is facilitation of large group events: I absolutely love doing it, and pour myself heart and soul into making sure that everybody gets enormous value from it. And by the end of a full day, I’m spent.
You’ll have something like this. It might be public speaking, or presentations, or major pitches to clients, or writing proposals: whatever it is, figure it out, and then do as few as possible of these during the winter months.
In a previous post I talked about the extent to which your brain will operate on autopilot if you let it – this is exacerbated by lower energy levels. Establishing a mindfulness practice before the winter months kick in will help you be more aware of the ebb and flow in your energy levels, and hopefully avoid making poor ‘non-decisions’ on autopilot. An app like Headspace is a great place to start if you are new to meditation, but there are plenty of other options available too.
Consider your Family
Chances are good that if you’re feeling it, so are your nearest and dearest, so consider discussing it as a family, be working together on strategies for managing fluctuating energy levels without getting on each others nerves! And involve them in the holiday planning!
Step Three: Manage It
Once those colder months kick in, there are a few things you can do that might help on a daily basis.
Try getting up earlier
As counterintuitive as this might sound, getting in a few productive hours of something – work, hobby, chores – can really boost your mood before most people’s days have even begun! Check out The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod if you want to make this a serious thing!
Chase the Sunlight
Whenever you can, spend time in actual sunlight. Even a small boost to your serotonin levels will help. If sunlight is evading you, consider getting a lamp that imitates sunlight. These are effective for many people who experience Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is a form of depression impacted by the seasons.
Most people know about endorphins being released during exercise, but exercise also reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. Regardless of your level of fitness, moderate exercise on a regular basis will assist with boosting your mood.
Consider doing this in the morning so you gain maximum benefit throughout the day.
Manage Your Diary
Deliberately scheduling tasks that require higher mental acuity and elevated energy at the time of day when you have these resources available will make these months much more manageable.
In other words, if you must deliver a sales pitch, don’t do it at 4.00pm if you know that your energy levels will be lower at that time of day. Most people experience higher energy levels in the morning, but not everyone, so get in touch with your own energy levels, and diarise accordingly.
Bonus Tip: Shorter Meetings. This is the solution to lots of problems.
If you are one of the people for whom a power nap works (and is acceptable practice in your workplace!) then work-it!
I am not one of those people. Short naps leave me feeling incredibly groggy and even grumpy, so it’s not an option for me, but I’m slightly envious of those who can!
Ultimately, winter can provide wonderful opportunities to do indoor activities that you’d otherwise not get round to – like curling up with a hot cup of coffee and a great book.
If you believe that your own experience of the ‘winter blues’ is more serious, this could be an indicator that you experience a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder. For more information and support speak to your health practitioner, or click here.