I’m stressed out, you guys. I didn’t fully recognize how stressed out I was (and maybe a little depressed — thanks a lot, winter months) until I was in my car and a song by The Smiths came on and I was like “oh hell yeah, Morrissey, I totally connect to what you’re saying, you beautiful, sad, SOB.” Then I pulled myself together and realized I wasn’t an Emo British teenager from the 1980’s suffering from indescribable heartbreak. Why was I suddenly connected to this Smiths’ song? I’m blaming winter.

Ahh, winter. You’re beautiful when you want to be and you let me wear layers (hiding those extra winter pounds, or so I tell myself), which is totally cool, but you make me feel like crap, and I’m sick of it. Winter is holding my motivation hostage and I feel like I am just going through the motions until the first signs of spring when I can finally get some, uh, spring in my step, if you will.

Sad bearIn one way, I can totally do winter, and was probably a bear in another life (no, not the leather wearing kind, the kind that eats a lot, then sleeps all winter, thus avoiding the winter blues). When the winter comes, I start storing high carb, high sugar/fat foods and since my schedule sometimes requires me to work through any chance of a lunch break, I’ve developed an awful habit of coming home and standing at my counter grabbing whatever snacks are easiest to reach in my cupboard.

These are all snacks I bought, of course, because they are what I convinced myself to be the easiest form of comfort to obtain. I realized last week that I was shoveling in food faster than Lindsay Lohan the night before another prison booking and decided that I am going to contradict my usual winter routine and try to salvage my motivation to stay healthy and not un-do all of my hard work.

Yes, I am holding winter responsible for my lack of motivation and for my robotic behavior, but I also recently blamed my lack of motivation on having a cold, and even more recently (look away, men) on having my time of the month (TOTM). When I had a cold it was hard for me to work out because I was so congested, and my TOTM made me feel as bloated and discouraged as Jamie Lee Curtis realizing she just ate the last Activia in the fridge. While these excuses may be valid to an extent, I realize I can’t let them take all the blame, and I’ve got to take some responsibility for my attitude.Sad Couch

Part of figuring out a healthy and fit lifestyle is recognizing triggers that make you falter from that lifestyle, and an even bigger part is figuring out when you are just plain burned out. You know the feeling: you aren’t sleeping well, you’re moody (or more than usual), you feel overwhelmed and helpless, you have one of those Charlie Brown “AAUGH” moments, you don’t find the usual joy in watching the Kardashians and making Khloe jokes, and you have to call your dad to help you make simple decisions like “should I park my car in the garage tonight, I know it’s supposed to snow 12 inches, but, thoughts?”

When you start to recognize these signs, it’s time to stop and think of the things that make you feel good. For me, this usually includes doing something I know is going to make me laugh, exercising to max out on endorphins, listening to music, avoiding people that stress me out even more, and ditching junk food.  When I am feeling good, I am optimistic, easy-going, happy, and feel like I am in control of my life and excited about the next opportunity.

I usually feel this way until triggering situations creep in and ruin everything. For me these include harboring other people’s stress as well as mine, pressure from work, caregiver fatigue, not being able to say no when people ask for my help, and stress-eating leading up to feeling guilt and discouragement. As long as you are able to identify these triggers and some of their warning signs, you can create a plan to keep from getting completely derailed and feeling like you have to completely start over with your healthy lifestyle.

Being physically active has helped me more than anything when I start to recognize the warning signs that a stress trigger is about to squeeze off a round, because endorphins play a huge part in defeating the winter blues. Remember the classic movie from the early 2000’s, Legally Blonde (I believe it raked in the Oscars, but I can’t remember for sure, that was a long time ago)? In the courtroom scene when Elle Woods is defending the workout guru accused of killing her husband even though she was innocent, she says something along the lines of “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands.”  This analogy may be a bit stretched (see, I admit it) but Elle Woods was speaking the truth, and the truth is that endorphins do make you happy, and happy people just don’t let stress ruin their lives.

Sad snowYou can’t let your diet ruin your life either. Save those comfort foods for the occasional weekend when you need a pick me up, but keep all of the good stuff up front and on hand all of the time. Fill up those baggies with fruits and veggies you cut up at the beginning of the week (it really does help), and make sure that what you’re eating is providing sustainable energy and not quick energy that is going to make things even worse. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll remember how much better you feel when you’re eating right, and it will be easier to ditch the junk food.

So, everybody just calm down. Simmer down now. Take a chill pill, Frankie says “Relax,” and most importantly, “turn off that damn Morrissey!” (that last one is a direct quote from my upstairs neighbor).