Have you found yourself glued to the sofa asking yourself ‘why am I so unmotivated this winter?’.
Do you find it hard to find any motivation, let alone energy to get up and actually do something?
Do you wonder each day ‘why do I feel so tired and sluggish?’.
Why am I so unmotivated?
If your answer to one of those questions is ‘yes’, I can reassure you: you are not alone.
As much as we sometimes feel the desire to break out of mundane routines, January and February are not those times.
These are the phases where we become more one with nature around us and go into a bit of hibernation; mostly induced by the weather, rather than a deep natural desire.
Us humans need a bit of a routine
Whether we are aware of it or not, we do really need a bit of a routine for our mental health. We like to know that our day ends at a certain time – whether it’s wine o’clock, dinner or TV time. And we like to know that weekends start Friday evening, pay day comes regularly and that Spring comes after Winter.
It is that knowledge that allows us to slide smoothly through the weeks and allows us to survive, even during those more difficult of times and weathers, with a treat or goal at the end.
And if you live in a country with seasons, that routine is even more predominant.
Why do we like routine?
The survival part of our brain – the primitive brain – is the one that is the worrier.
Let’s call it ‘Hulk’. Like the well-known super hero, our primitive brain is strong and can act quickly and powerfully in order to guarantee our survival.
But it is not clever.
Our Hulk likes things to be certain. If they are uncertain that starts him ‘imagining’. And by nature he will be imagining the worst for reasons of self-preservation.
If he starts worrying, he’ll will prepare for action – fight or flight. When Hulk blows up, he intimidates us and makes us anxious, depressed or angry, or a mixture of those three.
He’s that inner voice that tells you to stay at home ‘because the world is so dangerous’. Hulk does that as a precaution, in order to keep us safe and help us survive by stopping us being active.
Staying home and being inactive is much safer after all.
So if we live a more structured, hence predictable life, our primitive brain can relax easier, knowing what is ahead.
Read more about anxiety and why we feel it.
But why am I so unmotivated in January and February?
As we make our way through the latter part of the year, having enjoyed the warmth and positivity of the summer, we are still thriving on serotonin. We got lots of this ‘happy chemical’ via vitamin D, socialising and the active lifestyle we have during warmer months.
While this reserve gets us through the first few rainier and darker months, we also have one big goal to present to our primitive brain: Christmas.
Whatever your beliefs, for those living in colder countries, it is perfectly positioned like a water station half way through a marathon.
Getting through Autumn and Winter, we are somehow able to deal with the cold and rain, knowing that at the end of the year awaits a celebration. The festival of light during one of the darkest months of the year.
As stressful as the preparations can be for many of us, somehow that simple knowledge that days of indulgence, love and generosity are ahead of us. This allows us to keep going like an athlete visualising that trophy.
New year, new me
After all that festive indulgence, most of us are happy to have some kind of recovery period. But often the ‘empty space’ post-Christmas and pre-New Year already gives us a taste of what’s ahead.
As we enter the New Year, somehow the word ‘new’ seems to trick our brain into thinking there is a new beginning. A change of some sort guiding us into yet another world of more excitement and surprises.
It might take us a few weeks to realise the disappointment, mixed with the unthankful and daunting weather, to realise that we have been fooled.
And the by now excessive drinking and much less outdoors activity means our serotonin tank has been emptied. Add overeating to that and you have the perfect mix of sluggishness and loss of any kind of motivation.
That is why the Winter blues are so common and why you are not the only one asking yourself ‘why am I so unmotivated at this time of year.’
Getting rid of Winter blues is hard at the best of times
2021 has brought an additional challenge for us all. There’s considerably less of the ‘best of times’ and more of the never ending C-word.
‘Not COVID again’ I hear you say. You are right! The ongoing pandemic is draining and depressing to say the least.
But I am hoping that by now you might see why the start of any new year is less of a new beginning and more of an empty space…particularly this year!
Why is 2021 so much harder?
If we feel lethargic, depressed or unmotivated, our usual way to survive this darker part of the year is to plan our festival season, book exciting holidays, start shopping for trendy spring decor or clothes.
We focus our minds on imagining what fun activities we’ll be doing in a variety of beautiful sun drenched spaces.
Our amazing primitive brain, the big strong Hulk, powerful yet not intellectual, believes us and thinks good times are already happening.
The key lies in the anticipation
Anticipation is perceived as the real deal by our minds. And this is what somehow pushes us through the last few weeks before Spring magically reappears.
Now this year, with the continuous stress, restrictions and fear element of COVID added to the mix you can see why Hulk has gone into overdrive. We can’t give him the anticipation he wants so he is causing most of us to feel a mixture of anxiety, low mood and a sense of hopelessness.
Our routine has been broken and our usual survival attempts of planning ahead and reactivating hope and motivation are over-ridden by yet more fear of the unknown, yet more anxiety or feelings of ‘what’s the point of it all?’.
To add fuel to the fire, socialising is one of the ways to calm down our inner Hulk, and this year, even that has been taken away.
Being part of a tribe is one of our deepest needs, delivering reassurance and producing well needed serotonin, oxytocin and other important chemicals.
So what can be done if you are feeling unmotivated?
If you have been wondering why you feel so unmotivated this winter and how to get out of this rut, here’s some things to try:
Give Hulk back his routine
We might not know exactly when and how things will be in the near future, but we do know for certain that Spring is coming.
Getting excited and planning what we know is allowed once the sun is back out, will bring back that sense of anticipation and hope. Remember, anticipation is as good as the real deal for Hulk.
Be as active as you can
Anxiety causes us to have more stress chemicals, like adrenaline and cortisol, in our system. The best and natural way to get rid of those is by being physically active, as we used to do when hunting or being hunted.
Most of us have cut down on activities. Who really fancies a walk in a storm? But even shorter spouts of physical activity will help enormously.
Getting vitamin D and fresh air, as well as the calming effect of nature, will help the production of happiness hormones and fight sluggishness.
Ha! I hear your ironic laugh. But many of us did exactly the right things in lockdown 1.0:
- We looked at photos from past holidays – Hulk loves this as he believes past events are happening now when we recall them in our minds.
- We called (long lost) friends and family and jumped to online meetings and parties. Feeling the love even at distance is like sunshine for the soul.
Revisit these lockdown 1.0 behaviours.
Select your thoughts like friends
Those who bring you joy can stay. Those who make you sad and worried can find a new home.
It might take a bit of practice, but how we think does directly influence how we feel.
If we feel positive and optimistic, we can hear Hulk purr like a happy cat.
Remember, just because we think it does not mean it is true!
Remember all those things you worried about last year? How many of those actually happened?
Most of us have lived through difficult times before and we somehow got through. Trust yourself you can do it again.
You already have many tools to deal with difficulties.
Last but not least, go for fun stuff
Speaking to the friend who is always optimistic. Watching the film that makes you feel all gooey. Playing the family games that make you feel like a great parent.
Finding your motivation this Winter
Just remember: ‘Many of the best days of your life are yet to come’. After all, you’ll be able to say with great pride in the near future, that you survived a global pandemic!
If you or anyone close to you is affected by anxiety and you’d like to get in touch, I offer a free 15 minutes phone call on hypnotherapy for anxiety and other conditions. I can offer hypnosis online and, when restrictions allow, from my hypnotherapy practice in Kingsbridge in the South Hams and in nature.
If you’d like help to improve your energy levels, sleep better and think more positive, you also can purchase my recorded relaxation MP3 or CD for only £15.
Main image credit: Kinga Cichewicz – Unsplash