Yes, February Is the Worst Month. Here Are 8 Ways to Finish it Strong.
Poor February. Such an awkward, unpopular month. By the time it arrives, life’s grubby fingers have smudged up the New Year’s fresh sheen. It’s frigid outside, and daylight dwindles as fast as the box of chocolates you bought on sale after Valentine’s Day. In a 2005 Gallup survey, 1,000 Americans ranked February as the worst month of the year. Its name is even spelled funny, with that random “r” plunked in there.
But come to find out, the linguistic origins of “February” may offer some guidance on how to make the most of the winter doldrums. Our modern month is descended from “Februarius,” the month in the Roman Calendar named for the practice of februum, which means “purification.” The Romans were into cleanses long before juicing was a twinkle in the L.A. eye. The Romans’ “purifying” rituals ranged from sprinkling their homes with roasted grains and salt, to having nude priests whip bystanders to promote fertility. Suffice to say, the Roman concept of cleansing was wide-ranging.
So as we enter this final stretch of February, my recommendation is to take this very general “purifying” approach toward all areas of life. Rid your mind, body and space of excess, and take in what’s good for it. You can think about the below suggestions as ways to be more productive or to ward off Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is said to affect at least 100 million Americans. But sometimes a subtle mental shift—say, from “treating” winter blues to “purifying” your routine—helps to make us feel like we’re being proactively healthy, generous or adventurous, as opposed to just pushing through.
1. Get a jumpstart on spring cleaning in the office and at home
In the winter, we often settle into “nesting” mode. It’s great to get cozy, but why not spend your indoor hours organizing your nest before it gets nice outside? When it warms up, you’ll be ready to fly the coop. Research suggests that organizing your office has a significant impact on productivity, and these days, our work spaces are as digital as they are physical. One survey found that IT workers lose as much as two hours a week searching for lost digital documents. While most of us may not be dealing with quite that much digital disorganization, we’ve all got those random *saved* emails floundering in the sea of our inbox. So it could give you some peace of mind to get your physical desktop, and your desktop files, in order.
When it comes to our homes, studies suggest that clutter makes us more likely to procrastinate and “cope” with the subtle sense of chaos by indulging in avoidant behaviors like snacking or binging TV. Cleaning out your closet is a particularly good idea. If you come across some clothes that you haven’t worn all winter, there’s no better time to give things away than during the season people really need them. Research has shown many times over that giving to others is highly effective at improving self-esteem and diminishing depression, stress levels and blood pressure.
2. Volunteer for a worthy cause
Even more than giving away possessions or money, donating your actual time to people in need has remarkable health benefits. According to a 2010 United Healthcare study of 4,500 adults, those who regularly volunteer experience “less trouble sleeping, less anxiety, less helplessness and hopelessness, better friendships and social networks, and a sense of control over chronic conditions.”
3. Wake up early using a sunrise alarm clock
To make the most of the scant daylight hours during winter months, try waking up earlier. Then, if your job allows, you can call it a day when the sun sets at 5pm. Of course, getting on that early morning schedule is easier said than done. Research suggests we have more trouble waking up—and feel more tired—during the winter days because our circadian rhythms are out of step with the sun’s cycle. One solution is to use a wake-up light, or sunrise alarm. These sorts of devices mimic the sun’s rays and can improve quality of sleep when used regularly.
4. Exercise in the morning
With bathing suit season light-years away, it’s easy to fall off the treadmill. But if there was ever a time of year to exercise for mental health benefits, it’s winter. Exercising in the morning, in particular, has been shown to boost moods throughout the day, and according to a study last year in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, improve all-day cognitive functioning. If a full-blown workout first thing in the morning is too much for you, try just exercising for thirty minutes, or do a less strenuous workout like yoga, which can do double duty as a form of meditation.
5. Drink lots and lots of water
Water is the ultimate cleanser. You should drink plenty of it all year round, but in the winter we’re especially prone to dehydration. Not only is indoor heating very drying, but the outside air is also dry, so our bodies use more liquid humidifying the air we breathe in. Studies have found that our moods, concentration, anxiety and fatigue levels are all affected by how hydrated we are.
6. Find some sun wherever you can
It’s hard to get jazzed to go outside when it’s freezing, but if you can spend just ten minutes a day soaking up rays, research suggests it will do you a world of good. Sunlight is the ultimate natural cleanser of dark, dismal thoughts and feelings. If you know there’s a certain time of day when the sun hits the street near your office, make it a point to take a stroll that time of day. Not only will you get the benefits of sun, you’ll also reap the science-backed benefits of walking.
If there’s an area of your office that gets sun at certain hours of the day, try to make it a point to sit there for a while. You’ll get the benefits of the warm light, and of taking breaks to switch up your scenery.
If your access to the actual sun is still lacking, it’s a great idea to invest in a light therapy box. A landmark 1998 study showed that 70 percent of people who sat in front of “happy lights” for 30 minutes a day showed improved levels of happiness in just a few weeks. Effects kicked in faster if the light was used in the morning, so it’s perfect to use while eating breakfast.
Finally, take some vitamin D supplements. Vitamin D, which we get from exposure to the sun, is a necessary component in bone health, blood pressure, immunity and reduction of inflammation after exercise. A shocking number of people are vitamin D deficient—and not just in cold winter climates. A 2016 study found that a third of the student athlete population at the University of Southern California had low levels of vitamin D.
7. Eat less sugar
Again, you might say, if there was ever a time of year to indulge in an extra piece of cake, surely it’s when we’re swaddled in umpteen layers of clothing?! But for mood and energy purposes, you pay dearly for every sugar high. There’s always an impending sugar crash. Added sugars—any that aren’t naturally occurring in fruits and veggies, and can be found in everything from candy to bagels to tomato sauce — are especially effective at wreaking havoc on our bodies and emotions. The average person consumes 44 teaspoons of added sugar every day, when the American Heart Association says men shouldn’t consume more than nine teaspoons a day, and women shouldn’t consume more than six teaspoons.* The average can of soda contains eight teaspoons of added sugar, so just be aware. You may not realize how much sugar is cratering your mood and energy levels.
8. Set the thermostat to 71°F
The perfect temperature is always a divisive topic, so 71°F will seem high to some and low to others, but studies suggest it’s the optimal temperature for productivity. If you go much warmer,you’ll feel drowsy, and one study found that anything 68°F or below can actually increase employee mistakes by as much as 44 percent.