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Clearing Your Winter Brain Fog

How to banish post-holiday burnout and get back into the swing of things to start the new year off right

Jan 08, 2020

The holidays are over and with it all the twinkly lights and promises of hot cocoa, weeks of no school, and lots of presents. And now, it’s January and all the post-celebration food fade (if we don’t have to look at another table overflowing with food that’s going to turn into a week of leftovers again until Thanksgiving, we’ll be forever grateful) is behind us. We’re left with the media telling us how to make resolutions for things they think we need to do better in the coming year and teachers telling us to FOCUS and get back to work while most of us are still reeling from the trauma of the transition from summer break to heading back to school in fall.

What’s a kid to do?

Well, for one thing, take it in stride. Chances are most people are feeling the same thing: disinclined to hit the books in favor of long naps wrapped in the $5 fuzzy blanket you got from your Secret Santa. Well, when you’re feeling like your get-up-and-go has gotten-up-and-gone, there are a few things you can do to get back into the swing of things, reclaim your energy, and feel good about tackling your to-do list and turning it to ta-done!

cozy as a dog in a fluffy blanketSometimes it just feels easier to stay snuggled up in a warm blanket and wait until springCourtesy of Robert Thiemann via Unsplash

Get outdoors

Fresh air and sunshine can clear your head faster than menthol nasal spray. Combine that with the bracing chill of a winter afternoon, and you’ve got a surefire recipe for a pick-me-up that’ll wake you up from any hibernation plans. There’s a common saying: “Saltwater cures everything.” This might not have any actual medicinal validity, but there’s definitely merit to be found in hitting the beach -- or any other local outdoor attraction -- even in winter! Sometimes a good hike, nature walk, or even nature sit can be enough of a change of pace and scenery to give you a fresh look on the impending concentration that lies indoors.

You can even get creative in nature, from taking Insta-worthy pictures at golden hour to painting a watercolor beside a nearby creek to writing poetry in a field à la ‘60s beatnik college student. These sort of escapist forms of self-care can actually be grounding. As any yogi will tell you, one of the most grounding practices is to be outside, feeling the earth beneath your feet or back.

meditating outdoorsTake quiet moments outdoors in the sun whenever you canCourtesy of Ben White via Unsplash

Get moving

Whether you’re indoors or outdoors, you can get the blood flowing to your brain by moving around! If the weather doesn’t want to cooperate, take some laps around your house, do some vinyasa flows, or go up and down a flight of stairs. 

Having trouble concentrating on a long reading passage? Grab a pair of headphones and start listening. You may find an audio version online that you can read along to as you listen and exercise on a stationary bike. You can also listen ahead while you walk or jog on a treadmill, lift weights, or perform any exercises in place of listening to music. When you’re done exercising, you can go back and skim what you’ve just read to make sure you caught it all. Experiencing a book through two different senses may even increase your ability to retain the information better.

skiingGrab some fresh air and fresh powder while you canCourtesy of Harrison Moore via Unsplash

Give yourself a break

Take a break from pressing classwork with some relaxing activities that help set you up for success in the new year. 

Plan ahead 

“It is in winter that we dream of spring…” The poem by Robert Burns Wilson about the anticipation of better times during dark, winter days is an inspiring reminder to us all to think of better times ahead. Think about plans for your next school break or summer vacation, a weekend sleepover with friends, or more fanciful wishes for your future -- imagining a trip around the world the summer you turn 18, or what you would do if you had access to a TARDIS -- to boost your endorphins and take you from the dullness of present day into a new world of possibilities. 

Kids and adults alike take comfort in vision boards -- images that inspire you to dream big and plan for your future. The idea of a vision board or dream board is that when you surround yourself with images of who you want to become, where you want to be in the future, or what you want to achieve, your life can change to make these dreams become a reality. To create a vision board, all you need is a big blank space like an unused cork board, white board, poster paper, butcher paper, or foam core board, some glue and scissors, and inspiring images. You can find images everywhere, from free stickers you get at stores like Brandy Melville, mail order catalogs, magazines, or images you print out from websites. You can build the vision board over time as you find things that inspire you, or create one all at once. Some people fill out a dream board worksheet first, like this one offered by a career guidance group.

dream board vision boardWhat would your dream board or vision board look like?Courtesy of Kyle Pearce via Flickr

Find a study buddy

If you’re stuck inside, there’s no rule telling you that you have to study in isolation. Everything’s better with a friend by your side… that is as long as you actually spend most of your study sessions studying! The biggest opposition parents have to letting kids do homework together is that they don’t actually DO the HOMEWORK. If that’s the boat you’re in -- and many kids are in the same boat! -- ask for one last shot and try your best to make it work. Set a timer for 25 minutes where all you do is work silently, then take a 5-10 minute break. Be responsible with your time and show off your awesome skills of self-control. If you prove you can do it, you may find you’ll get a lot more freedom to have study sessions in the future.

friends studying togetherStudying is better when you do it togetherCourtesy of Alexis Brown via Unsplash

Get cookin’

Even if you’re overwhelmed with work, you can still fit in a study break if you plan it right. Offer to cook dinner for the family or have a friend over for an after-school-snack -- you can cook together and get in some studying while your food cooks or cools or digests, depending on what you make and when you eat it!

baking muffinsThe smell of freshly baked muffins can clear your head and cure anyone's post-holiday bluesCourtesy of Taylor Grote via Unsplash

Brain Games

Got a test coming up but can’t bear the thought of studying? Make a quiz. Making flashcards or quizlets are fun and they actually fool your brain into studying while you make up questions for other people. You can gamify your studying in other ways, too. Like racing against the clock -- set a timer to see how many pages you can read in 10 minutes or how quickly you can finish 5 math problems correctly. You can make a chart of your speed trials in each subject and see which ones you’re more efficient at and which ones need a little more brain training. You can also set rewards for yourself for hitting the books for a pre-determined stretch of time (25 minutes is often a fair yet challenging length of time), or reconfigure a board game or card game to match the unit you’re on. Gamifying studying doesn’t just make it more fun, it also activates different areas of your brain so you can retain information differently and more efficiently.

gamify studying with friendsWhen you transform studying into a game, everyone winsCourtesy of Toa Heftiba via Unsplash
Have Your Say

What about you? Are you having a tough time getting back into the swing of things after the holidays? Is post-holiday letdown getting you down? Comment below and tell us how you cope or which of the above tricks you’ve tried.