From the November 2000 issue of Startups

What is it about winter that makes our bodies and moods go berserk?

"[During the winter,] I feel more stressed than I should and more determined to get everything done in just a single day, " says Jennifer Peasley, owner of Décolleté Enhancement, an online clothing and lingerie store. "If the day is cloudy and I haven't been able to get out, I get those feelings of not getting enough accomplished with my business. At the end of the day, I tend to be irritable [and] feel stressed and depressed," says Peasley.

For many homebased business owners, wintertime brings a general "off" feeling-like you know you aren't working at cranked capacity. Getting out of your warm, cozy bed may seem like a huge challenge. You may be porking out on everything in sight or not interested in food at all. And-what's really bad for the homebased entrepreneur-you may feel foggy and have trouble concentrating. "During the winter months, our whole lifestyle changes to adapt," says Edie Raether, a psychotherapist and change strategist. There's less social interaction. We eat heavier foods. Psychologically, there are repercussions."

Sound familiar? Call 'em the "wintertime blahs."

So, short of moving to Mexico during the winter, how can you beat those seasonal blahs? "It's so easy," says Raether. "Decide what's good and healthy and create a work environment that nourishes you." No, "good and healthy" doesn't mean crawling back into bed and hibernating, but it does mean finding ways to stay happy and motivated.

If you're too brain-fogged from those blahs to figure out what "good and healthy" means, here are five tips to get you started:

1. See the light. "The most effective technique I use is to get away from the computer screen and into cheery light, particularly sunlight," says Peasley. "In the winter, I'm more apt to open the curtains, just to let the sunlight in." If you're completely sun-challenged, light boxes can give you the much-needed bright light you crave.

2. Make your office a happy place to work. Even if your "office" is a tiny corner on your kitchen table, do something to make your environment yours. Play music you enjoy. Paste inspiring quotes around your monitor. Paint your walls a calming color like blue. Or, if stimulation is what you need, Raether says the colors yellow, orange or red will do the trick. Implementing a few positive changes can brighten up your entire environment-and your mood.

3. Connect with other people. Not only does this force you to get out of the house, but it may also be the perfect spark to ignite a new and exciting idea. "Getting together with other entrepreneurs will not only help you out of the wintertime blahs, but it will also sharpen your thoughts and imagination so you can strive for new heights in your business," Peasley advises.

4. Take a stress break. No, it's not slacking off-really! Taking a break away from your computer gives your brain a much-needed time-out. "When we leave one place for another, we leave fatigue behind," explains Raether. Even a calming 10-minute stroll will rejuvenate you and get you ready for more. Plus, "Exercise helps you energize," says Raether. Now, get out of bed! You've got work to do!

5. Watch what you eat. When cold, dark winter hits, do you chow down on foods like hamburgers, holiday sweets and pasta? Beware-each bite of those fat-laden foods could be sapping your stamina. "People tend to eat healthier during the summer. When cold weather hits, people tend to eat foods that are heavier and pack on more fat," warns Raether. A change in diet can trigger a loss of energy-and leave you feeling tired and lethargic.

But what if, after following these tips, your doldrums haven't lifted?


Heather Lloyd-Martin is president of SuccessWorks, a new media content strategy and copywriting company. A lifelong resident of the Pacific Northwest, she actually enjoys dreary winter days (as long as she has plenty of coffee).

Seasonal Affective Disorder

If your winter melancholy deepens into depression but lifts when spring blossoms, you may be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Symptoms of the disorder include continued fatigue despite increased sleep, increased appetite and a craving for carbohydrates. But the key to SAD is that symptoms occur only during fall and winter months, and you have a full remission during spring and summer.

"The cause of SAD is not getting enough sunlight exposure when you wake up in the morning," says Dr. Al Lewy, M.D., Ph.D., who is the vice chair of the department of psychiatry at the Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland, Oregon. "Logically then, people who work at home should try to sleep as late as they can in the winter so that when they wake up, it will be after dawn. They [should] then go outside and get 15 to 30 minutes of bright light exposure."

The main therapy for SAD patients is bright light therapy: Patients sit in front of a light box that emits intense light. Though only 5 percent of Americans have the most severe form of SAD, another 15 percent are mildly affected, and Lewy says that bright light treatment is helpful regardless the severity of the disorder.


Additional Resources

Winter Blues: Seasonal Affective Disorder: What It Is And How To Overcome It by Norman E. Rosenthal

Depression and Related Affective Disorders Association. Click here for information on depressive illness and mood disorders.

Internet Mental Health. A free online encyclopedia of mental health information

The SunBox Co. and Alaska Northern Lights. The SunBox Co. offers four sizes of light boxes, ranging in prices from $197 to $525. Alaska Northern Lights' NorthStar 10,000, a 13-by-24-by-4-inch light box, costs $389, and the company offers a price-matching guarantee on comparable light boxes.