How to get your groove back: 11 tips to help you thrive during the winter months, Issue 1

The holidays are long gone. The weather is cold and dreary, leaving you feeling a bit run down and just plain blah. You’re ready for sunshine and warmer weather, and are counting the days until spring returns and you can leave winter behind you for another year.

The holidays are long gone. The weather is cold and dreary, leaving you feeling a bit run down and just plain blah. You’re ready for sunshine and warmer weather, and are counting the days until spring returns and you can leave winter behind you for another year.

Just about anyone who lives in a cold weather climate can relate. The short, cold days the winter months are known for can drain your energy and your motivation. It’s easy to get in a rut and lose focus on what’s important. Don’t let that happen to you and your team.  

Want to turn those winter blues into winter wins? We recently talked with two mental health professionals and dental consultant Penny Reed Limoli about what you can do to keep the focus on practice success rather than the weather. Here’s what they had to say.

1.  Know the symptoms. Just about everyone experiences the winter blahs, especially people who live in areas that don’t see a lot of sunshine during the winter months, said Elaine Rodino, PhD and psychologist in private practice in State College, Pa. The winter doldrums can leave you feeling fatigued, less energetic, more impatient and maybe even a little quicker to anger.

2. Make time for exercise. During the summer months, it’s easy to go outside and take a walk, or maybe plan a family bike ride or a game of tennis. In the winter, it’s even easier to come home and veg out in front of the TV after a long day at the practice.

Even when it’s cold and dark, you have to make time for exercise, Rodino said. Plan to go to the gym before or after work, or if you just don’t have the time for that, plan a short walk during your lunch break-sometime between 12 and 2 when the sun will be at its brightest. Anything that gets you up and moving can help lift your spirits.

3. Make it a team effort. If you’re feeling the winter blahs, chances are your team members are, too. Reed Limoli, owner of the Reed Limoli Group, recommends doing some type of physical activity at the beginning of your next team meeting to get yourself and your team members moving.

If you have room, put an elliptical or stationary bike somewhere in your practice for you and your team to use when there’s down time throughout the day. If that won’t work, think about putting in a Wii active gaming system that team members can use during breaks. Find ways to make activity fun and easy-just 10 minutes a day can help-and you’ll notice a difference in your attitude and your team’s.

3. Do some team building. It’s easy to hibernate during the winter months, Rodino said, but you need to find ways to get out. Why not use this as an excuse to plan something fun for you and your team?

Schedule a team-building event for February. Whether it’s bowling, ice skating or a team dinner, put something together that everyone can look forward to, Reed Limoli said. Get involved with sponsoring a community event or volunteer as a team. Ask team members for their ideas, and maybe even let them take ownership and plan it.

“This can help bond them more as a team,” Reed Limoli said. “And teams that have common goals tend to have less turnover. “

 4. Plan something fun with your family and friends. Planning fun events with your team is a great way to beat the blahs, but your winter activities can’t all be work related. During the summer months, your social calendar is likely full of events from backyard barbecues to family gatherings to baseball games. Even though it’s cold outside, it’s important to keep that social calendar just as full in the winter, Rodino said.

“In the summer we get out and talk with neighbors and have more casual socializing,” Rodino said. “In the winter we need to make more of a schedule out of it, get together with neighbors for small gatherings so there is an on going connection with neighbors. Sometimes you don’t see people for months. …Try to keep the things people enjoy and love about the summer time, try to think of ways to do some of those things in the winter. “

5. Plan a vacation.  Nothing can lift your spirits quite like some time off taking in the sun so, if you can, plan a vacation to your favorite warm-weather destination, Rodino said. Like skiing? Planning a winter-themed vacation can help, too, even if you’re just getting away for the weekend.

If you can’t fit in a winter get away for whatever reason, start planning a trip for later in the year, Rodino said. The planning and having something to look forward to can make a huge difference in your mood.

6. Schedule a lunch date.  Set up a time to have lunch with a friend or colleague, said Dr. Sudeepta Varma, a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center. Don’t talk about work; enjoy the time away from the office.

7. Brighten up the office. One of the reasons we tend to feel down in the winter is the lack of sunlight, so try adding light into your life whenever you can.  Not sure how? Try using light bulbs with higher wattages during the winter, Rodino said.

“Light does make a difference, so keep the workplace lighter and brighter,” Rodino said.” That’s part of the feelings that get us down.  We’re going off chemically a bit because there’s less sunlight, so keeping a brighter office can help.”

You might also want to try putting up summery photos throughout the office, Rodino said, such as sunny beach scenes and gorgeous flowers. You can even buy light panels with beautiful scenes to put above patient chairs so they can enjoy the view while getting work done. Interested? Check out Practicon’s Durastrong Sky-Scapes.  

8. Don’t over do it. While you want to set goals and plan trips to help bring you out of the winter blahs, don’t go overboard, Reed Limoli said. Make sure your goals are realistic and attainable; setting yourself up for failure certainly won’t do much to improve your mood.

9. Exercise your brain. While physical exercise can help you overcome the winter blahs, so can challenging your brain. This might be a great time to encourage your team members to read a motivational book, Reed Limoli said. Pick an easy read with a positive message. Maybe even discuss a few key points at your next team meeting.  

10. Remember your attitude is contagious. Not only can your attitude affect your team members, it also can affect your patients, Reed Limoli said. If you’re down and just going through the motions to get through the day, your patients may notice and might even go looking for a new dental home that’s a little more cheery.

“You want your patients to leave the office in a better state of mind than they were when they got there,” Reed Limoli said. “Patients don’t make buying decisions when in a down or depressed state.”

11. Recognize when it’s more than just the blahs. Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a more serious condition that is diagnosed when people’s depressive symptoms predominately occur in the winter months, year after year, and are unrelated to seasonal stressors, said Varma, who has a private practice in Manhattan. People with SAD tend to eat more sweets and carbs, sleep more, isolate more and gain weight in the winter months. They may also have trouble concentrating, experience memory problems and have feelings of guilt and hopelessness.

“In very severe cases, people don’t feel like getting out of bed,” Varma said. “All the hard work you did to establish your practice goes to waste. You also bring down the mood in the family, affect your family income and may be at increased risk of suicide with untreated depression.”

If your symptoms go beyond the winter blahs and sound a bit more like SAD, Varma said Cognitive Behavioral therapy, bright light treatment and antidepressants can help the more severe cases. Exercising 3-5 times a week, getting regular exposure to sunlight, limiting alcohol intake and scheduling time to have fun with family and friends also can help.

Spread the cheer

Most everyone experiences some type of winter blahs during these cold, grey months, and anything you do to brighten your spirits will help the people around you as well. If you’re more positive staff members and patients will be, too, and that can only mean good things for your practice, from a more productive staff to patients who are more likely to say ‘yes’ to the treatment they need.

“Give a little bit of positive energy,” Reed Limoli said. “People are more likely to buy when in a positive state. That’s why salespeople are upbeat. People don’t buy much from Debbie Downer. This time of year can be exciting and positive. You can focus on what you want to do this year or you can beat yourself up about what didn’t get done last year. That doesn’t usually help anyone.”