Every year in the month of February, the winter blues really start to set in for me. I don't feel it much in November or December with the hustle and bustle of the holidays, or even in January since we have a lot of family birthdays to keep up with. But come February, the dark and gloomy days really start to affect my energy levels and sometimes even my sleep quality. One of the culprits I'm sure is the fact that I live in the Pacific Northwest. In fact, a list recently published by smart asset.com ranked Portland, Oregon as #3 on the list of cities with the most depressing winters. #1 was Anchorage, and #2 was Seattle. (see article here https://smartasset.com/mortgage/cities-least-depressing-winters). Not too surprising, since this is typically what our weekly weather forecast looks like:
It was even worse when we lived in Alaska. In the thick of winter, the sun would rise around 10:30 am and set at 3:30 pm. During the week I would rarely even see daylight hours since I was stuck inside a building with very few windows at work. That left me with 10 precious hours to soak up the daylight during the weekend...10 hours TOTAL per WEEK of daylight! It was during this time that I really started to experience symptoms of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). It was also during this time that I came up with some strategies to help me beat the winter blues.
1. A Happy Light. This was one of my happiest discoveries when we lived in Alaska. A Happy Light is a bright lamp that gives off spectrally balanced light (which is supposed to simulate daylight), designed to help improve mood, energy, and concentration. I generally turn mine on in the morning and set it on my dining room table while I eat breakfast and check emails/work on my laptop. I really do feel like it makes a difference in my energy levels for the day, especially the first part of the day. The general recommendation is to sit by the light for 30 minutes per day, preferably right after waking up. A word of caution: I tried to use the light in the evening when I was feeling down and it actually negatively affected my sleep that night.
2. An engaging book. After Avery goes to sleep, one of my favorite things to do is curl up in bed and get lost in a good book. Part of my struggle with the winter blues is having a really hard time falling asleep. I can't ever seem to turn my brain off, and will often lie in bed for hours trying to get to sleep. I get frustrated because I can't sleep, which makes me less likely to fall asleep, and so on. Reading before bed has been a lifesaver in this case. My book makes me look forward to getting into bed rather than dreading it. It also helps me shut off all the noise in my brain and focus only on what I'm reading. This is the book I've been loving this past week (review coming later):
3. Getting outside (even in the rain). This one is SO important for my sanity! One of my favorite rituals has become taking out the trash and checking the mail on work nights, because it gets me outside on days that I would normally be stuck indoors all day. On my days off, Avery and I make sure to get a little fresh air every day, rain or shine, and it helps enhance my mood and energy A LOT.
4. Regular exercise. Surprise, surprise, right? Some good workout music, my garage, and a hard sweat session always works in boosting my energy levels for the day.
5. A cozy home. During the winter months we spend a lot of time indoors, which is why I have started to make an extra effort during the winter to keep our home a cozy and relaxing place to be. An important part of this is keeping the house clean. I alway feel a sense of unrest when the house is upside-down, so Brandon and I have agreed to make a daily habit out of picking up toys, doing the dishes every night, etc. to help keep our house as clutter-free as possible during the winter. I also like to bring out soft throw blankets and candles in the evenings to add to the coziness of home.
6. Vacation planning. January and February are my favorite times to plan our vacations for the year. It helps me transport myself to a sunny, warm place even if the day is dreary and dark. This year we have a few camping trips, a summer Alaska trip, and a surprise trip on the books so far. The anticipation alone is enough to lift my spirits on a cold February day.
Any other suggestions for how to beat the winter blues? Please let me know in the comments!
Today, I want to share a little bit about what I do as a pediatric physical therapist. Besides treating kiddos with various diagnoses in a traditional clinic setting, I'm lucky to work at a place where I also have access to the amazing treatment tool that is hippotherapy. Rehab for hippos?? (what I typically hear when I first introduce kids to hippotherapy). Not quite. Hippotherapy = the use of horseback riding as therapeutic treatment delivered by a licensed physical, occupational, or speech therapist. When I first learned about hippotherapy, I have to admit I was skeptical. How could riding a horse be useful in teaching a child with cerebral palsy to walk? Or in strengthening a child with Down syndrome? I've been working with horses for over a year now and have learned SO much since then. I've seen first hand just how many therapeutic benefits riding a horse actually has, a few of which are I've listed below.
When a horse walks, the way their pelvis moves in a 3-dimensional motion very closely mimics the way a human pelvis moves during gait. A person riding a horse therefore gets very similar movement in their spine, hips, and pelvis as they would if they were walking. This makes horseback riding an incredible tool in teaching someone how to walk. The motion of the horse and the warmth of the horse's body can also help to ease joint/muscle stiffness for kids with high muscle tone or spasticity. On the other hand, kids with excess mobility at their joints (such as in Down syndrome) and poor muscle control can benefit from riding a horse too. As the horse moves, the rider must engage their core muscles and recruit balance and postural control strategies in order to remain upright and stable. If you've ever ridden a horse, you know that it takes some leg and core muscle action to stay on, especially when the horse moves over an uneven surface or changes its speed. As a therapist, I can take advantage of the various ways a horse moves (faster vs. slower, in straight line vs. tight circles, etc.) to achieve whatever goal I'm working toward with a kiddo. A big bonus is that the kids LOVE their horse time. You just can't bond with a therapy ball the way you can connect with a horse.
Ok, so now to step off my PT soapbox for a bit and get back to what inspired this post in the first place - taking Avery for her first solo horseback ride. Among the perks of working at a clinic with a barn and horses is getting to teach my own kiddo how to ride. The very first time I put Avery on a horse, she was 20 months old. This is how that went down:
She eventually warmed up to the idea, but would only ride if I was sitting with her. Fast forward several months to her second attempt this past weekend...
She did AMAZING! I was so proud of my little munchkin. She was sat up tall, kept her little body in alignment through sharp turns, and even rode with her hands high in the air using only her leg and core muscles for support. She wasn't afraid of the horse at all, either. In fact, connecting with the horse seemed so natural to her. All of our horses (we have 5) are so gentle and loving with the kids. They are amazing animals, and if you have any children, whether they need therapy or not, I strongly encourage you to give them an opportunity to connect with at some point in their youth.
I'm a firm believer in that everyone needs to have a happy place. I'm not talking about the cliche state of mind where you imagine yourself going when life gets tough. I'm talking about an actual physical location where you can go to escape stress, relax, rejuvenate, and feel completely present and at ease. Brandon and I had a conversation the other day about our "happy place" in each of the states we've lived in. In New Mexico, Brandon's was a haystack. He liked to sit on top of that haystack to watch sunsets as he was growing up on his parents' ranch. In Alaska, mine was the boat docks on the Homer spit. It had a fantastic view of Kachemak Bay and the mountains/glaciers jutting out of it. This past weekend, we got to take a trip to my Oregon happy place: Seaside.
Seaside is hands-down my favorite spot on the Oregon coast. It's small enough to be walkable yet has everything you could ever want from a beach town - a beachfront promenade, arcade, salt water taffy shop (where you always get free samples), aquarium, beach shops, brewery, hiking, kayaking, etc. etc. etc. Seaside also holds a special place in my heart because I have so many wonderful memories of coming here with my family as a kid. It was awesome to see Avery enjoying the things that I used to love (and still do) in Seaside, and we truly had the best family day that we've had in a long time.
What's your happy place? I'd love to hear in the comments!
Ah, Monday. I tend to feel the most motivated on Mondays when it comes to exercise, which is why I typically tackle my least favorite workouts on Mondays - upper body. Allow me to explain. My favorite type of workout: lower body. There are so many cardio options you can add in when you work out your legs, so I always feel like I get the best bang for my buck with lower body workouts. Next on my list: abs. Because, who doesn't love a six pack? Last on my list: upper body. I struggle to find good bodyweight exercises to work my arms/upper body. There are only so many push-ups and tricep dips a girl can do before she gets bored. And I get bored quickly. One solution I've found - circuit workouts. They are the answer to all my of low motivation, exercise burn-out, and upper body strength training woes. The fast pace and variety of a circuit workout always keeps me energized and engaged. I get a good sweat going and I'm usually done in 30 minutes or less. I put together an upper body circuit over the weekend that was actually (sort of) fun, and of course included push-ups and tricep dips. Here it is:
The other solution I've found to beat my upper body blues is a few pieces of exercise equipment. I'm all about minimalism when it comes to working out, but I have to admit that having some dumbbells and a medicine ball adds variety to my exercise regimen and helps keep me motivated. Okay, okay, I have a jump rope too. And a step stool. But THATS IT.
Guys. I have a new breakfast obsession.
I discovered Kefir recently right before a big winter storm was supposed to hit us. I went to the grocery store to stock up on essentials in case we wouldn't be able to get out of the house for a few days, and apparently everyone else had the same idea. The store shelves were literally empty. I'm talking a big, chain grocery store, yet they were completely out of milk AND yogurt (a winter storm for Portlanders is akin to an apocalyptic event). I need dairy in the morning to survive, so I just grabbed a bottle of Kefir since it was close to where the milk used to be. Best. Decision. Ever.
Kefir isn't called "the champagne of dairy" for nothing. It has a fizzy nature and is just the right amount of tart and smooth. It's basically like drinkable yogurt, but better. Its a much more powerful probiotic than yogurt, its high in protein, calcium and vitamin D, it has anti-cancer properties, anti-microbial properties, AND it's 99% lactose-free. I've been making smoothies every morning for Avery and I using Kefir and she loves it too. We have a system where she gets to pick our smoothie color for the day, and I get to load us up on vitamins/nutrients etc. For example...
Green smoothie = Kefir + spinach + banana + almond butter.
Pink smoothie = Kefir + strawberries + banana + chia seeds.
Purple smoothie = Kefir + frozen blueberries + banana.
White smoothie = Kefir + banana + flax.
I promise this post isn't a promotion or plug for Kefir in any way. Its just that awesome that I felt I had to share. I always buy the plain variety because it's lower in sugar and I can dress it up however I want, but the blueberry flavor has been calling my name and I'm sure it will end up in my fridge in the near future.
I’m Betty and I live in the beautiful pacific northwest. I'm a mommy. Vegetarian. Wife to a meatatarian. Pediatric physical therapist. Outdoor enthusiast. Enjoyer of fitness/healthy living. Even bigger enjoyer wine and chocolate lava cake. And hoping to find some balance between it all.