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The Bright Days of Winter: 4 Tips for Avoiding Seasonal Sluggishness

When winter comes, many animals feel the instinct to hibernate. And sometimes, it's all we humans can do not to follow suit. With darker days come feelings of sleepiness, sluggishness, and a general desire to just curl up on the couch and do nothing. There's nothing wrong in succumbing to the siren song of the sofa from time to time—we love a Friday evening in with a movie just as much as anyone else—but when inertia becomes a habit, our minds and spirits can really suffer.

So what can we do about it? First, we need to understand the importance of keeping our minds and spirits healthy. Engaging in mentally stimulating tasks—instead of taking cat naps and watching TV—can improve our memory and decrease our chances of developing dementia or Alzheimer's. Keeping our social connections strong—despite our desire to stay in our warm nests—can lead to a longer lifespan, better health, and enhanced overall well-being.

Still having trouble working up the energy to do something about your sluggishness? Find inspiration in these 4 tips on how to stay engaged and in high spirits throughout the winter.

1. Take up a mentally stimulating hobby. "Use it or lose it" is the rule of thumb when it comes to healthy mental function. You've got to challenge your mind to keep it in good working shape. One of the best ways to do this is by learning a second language, whether through a computer program like Rosetta Stone or a class at a community college or online. People who are bilingual are shown to have stronger working memory and a better ability to multitask; it also opens up opportunities to travel independently in foreign countries, another great way to exercise the brain. But if language learning feels too much like homework, then bring a little excitement into the mix by playing games that require strategy, foresight, and memory—think chess, bridge, or cribbage.

2. Start a large creative project. Creativity has been linked to optimal brain function, and it's no wonder why. Working through creative tasks helps the brain to process problems more effectively, and to enhance the connections within it. Convinced you're no Tolstoy or Van Gogh? It doesn't matter—simply engaging in the creative process will benefit your brain, regardless of the results. If you love the written word, try writing a story, an essay, a novella, or even a memoir. If you're into music, learn to play the violin, piano, or guitar. If you're drawn to the visual arts, try your hand at drawing, painting, or pottery. With so many resources online, as well as continuing education classes at community colleges, there are more ways to get started than ever.

3. Schedule your social time. Throughout the winter, make sure to schedule time to connect with friends and relatives to sustain these relationships and enhance your mental well-being. Establishing a weekly dinner date or movie night, or a regular weekend brunch, will ensure that you'll have a specific time and date to get out and be social—without giving vague promises of meeting next week, or the week after. And if someone's depending on you, you'll be less likely to cancel and stay in instead.

4. Volunteer. The winter can be bleak. Brighten your spirits and those of others by lending a hand at a school, museum, or nonprofit organization. Don't know where to start? Find volunteer positions on websites like Idealist.org or VolunteerMatch.org, or simply research organizations in your area to find a cause that's important to you. If you find a fulfilling opportunity that uses your skill set and makes you feel great, then you'll be sure to greet spring with a smile!

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