Surviving the first quarter

Gray Hughes

Well, the holiday season is now over.

If you’re like me, you’re wondering where it went. It feels like it was just yesterday I was dropping paper turkeys off for kids to decorate at the school. Now, New Year’s Day is behind us, and we’re entering, perhaps, the worst part of the year: the first quarter.

The first quarter of the year consists of the months of January, February and March. As you all know, the days are short in time of sunshine but long in the fact that a day feels like it takes forever to go by. Short of the Super Bowl, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day and sometimes Easter, what’s there to look forward to?

The second quarter (April, May, June) has hope. It has the beginning of the summer, the end of the school year and the return of warmer weather. The third quarter (July, August, September) is mostly summer and is, perhaps, most people’s favorite quarter. The final quarter (October, November, December) is by far my favorite quarter for reasons I’ve written about previously.

But then, after the joys and merriment of the final quarter of the year, we’re faced with the bleak, cold, boring first quarter of the year.

So what are we to do? Well, we could hunker down inside, binge TV and not emerge from the house until April. I’ve tried this approach, though, and let me tell you: that was not good for my mental health. Anxiety spiked, weight was gained and motivation was lost. In fact, when I was in school my mom said she could always count on my grades to slip during this quarter because of just how miserable I was.

Fast forward to today. I’ve matured a lot since my days in school when I would hunker down and do nothing during this time of the year, and I’ve learned how to thrive now.

If you will indulge me, friends, I’d like to share with you all three tips I’ve developed to stay sharp during this time of year.

First and perhaps most important: exercise. Yes, exercise is my first key for getting through this dull time of the year. Exercise has been proven to help not just physical health but mental health, as well.

And for me, exercise is more important to my mental health than my physical health. It helps alleviate anxiety, it helps me focus at work and, generally, I feel better mentally. It’s easy to fall into some winter blues right now — trust me, I get that. But the best way to get out of them is to do something physical.

I prefer doing things outside. I like running and hiking, and ideally that’s what I would be doing right now. But, right now, it’s hard to run. The sidewalks are icy, it’s too dark to get in a good run before work and, quite frankly, I absolutely hate running in the cold. But you can still get in a good hike right now. In fact, this time of year might be my favorite time to hike because the trails pretty much have no one on them. If you don’t mind dealing with a little snow and a little ice, you’re in for a good time.

If you can’t get outside to exercise, there are easy exercises to do at home. Maybe you’re like me and you have something you can exercise at home (I have an exercise bike). That makes life easy. Get on that bike (or treadmill or elliptical or whatever) and use it for 30 minutes before work. I guarantee your day will benefit. If you don’t have something like that at home, there are simple workouts on YouTube. I’ve used them before when I didn’t have access to exercise equipment, and they work.

The second way I’ve found useful to combat the winter blues is disconnect. For me, I’m probably on my phone the most during the Christmas season — checking in with relatives, seeing cute family photos on social media, things like that. This holiday season, too, was right after a very contentious election. I found myself checking my phone quite often just to see what the heck was happening.

So, this year, unplug for a bit. Put down the phone, don’t watch TV (especially cable news, which, in my opinion, is absolute garbage, anyway) and do something productive. Read a book, do a puzzle, knit, build something in the garage or shed, something! Something is better than nothing!

When I unplug from the nonsense I see on the internet or the TV and do something actually productive with my time, I’ve found that my mental health benefits greatly. I guarantee yours will, too.

Finally, the last way I’ve found to make this time more tolerable is to give yourself something to look forward to. This is true for both the short-term and long-term. Short term, a nice dinner during the weekend, movie night or something like that is good enough for me to look forward to. When I have something small like that to look forward to, I find myself a little happier because I have something to get me through the doldrums of the winter.

Long term plans, right now, are tricky. Look, I get it. It’s hard to do that right now because, quite frankly, none of us know what the next couple months will look like. But here’s the thing: vaccines are going out, and before we know it life will be back to normal (or whatever normal is going to look like). If all goes to plan, we should have some normalcy nationally back by summer. Then we can travel again.

I’m going to let you all in on a little secret: I haven’t left the state of South Dakota — shoot, I haven’t left the Black Hills — since 2019. No one is looking forward to traveling again this year more than me. I have no clue where I’m going to be going this summer, but all I know is that I have a little something in the future that’ll get me through the first quarter.

So, there you go: my top three ways to stay sane this time of year. I hope they’re helpful.

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