It’s that time of year. You’re tired of the short, cold days and those forecasts that might as well say, “you’re not going climbing today.” You can’t remember the last time you spent the day cragging in a tank top. You dream of hiking back to the car with a headlamp to enjoy beers with friends while you happily salve your raw fingertips. Back in reality, you wake up to find yourself deep in the throngs of winter, with glorious sunny days still months away. On top of that, we’re staring down another year of Covid, so these luxuries feel far from reality, regardless of the season.
I’m no doctor, but it seems you’ve got a case of the February blues.
The winter climbing slump is inevitable. Eventually, we all find ourselves in a wave of low motivation, feeling guilty for wanting to stay in bed but unwilling to face the cold garage for another lonely set of bicep curls. As always, winter will end. Given the radical changes in our world and community over the past year, things will look different, I hope. We’ll appreciate getting lost on the trail, because at least we’re outside. We’ll see more diversity at our crags, and those who previously felt like they didn’t belong in this skinny white dude sport will be setting the standards for the upcoming generation. But right now, we’re still preparing. Our job is to make sure our bodies, minds, and communities are ready for the sun to pop back out. So, how do we shake those February blues?
Here are five suggestions.
No. 1: Take a break. While you can’t step away from the demands of life, you’re absolutely allowed to take a break from climbing and training. While this might be the last resort on most “get your psych back” lists, it’s always my first step and part of the natural training cycle.
Last October, my training sessions started to feel lackluster. My grip felt weak, and that ‘snap’ I’d enjoyed through the summer faded, despite my devoted training schedule. I dreaded my workouts, procrastinated, and gave 80% effort, instead of my usual 110%. I knew it was time for a break.
So, I focused on work. I looked for ways I could put my skills to use in my community. I cooked complicated dinners and ate as much as I wanted. I did an ab workout when the desire struck. I made an effort to let go of the pressure that told me I had to push through this low period. Instead, I let my body rest.
There’s no time limit for a proper rest. While some might get their mojo back in a few days, there’s no shame in needing weeks or even months to rebuild. For me, it took three long months before that giddy feeling of stoke came back STRONG.
A break won’t hurt your climbing. In fact, it’s almost guaranteed to see you to the other side stronger and more motivated.
No. 2: Find a new way to play. The typical suggestions in this category include “take a yoga class” or my least favorite, “start running.” If you’re anything like me – no thank you. My most recent approach was a bit more drastic – I got a puppy. I wouldn’t recommend the puppy tactic unless you’ve been planning on adding a rambunctious, high maintenance member to your family. But my puppy has taught me a few new ways to play.
Try bundling up to go toss a frisbee around the park with a friend. Take on a yard project, like planting a few trees or preparing your garden for the spring (digging holes, anyone?). Take note of what gives you a simple burst of happiness during your day-to-day, and try to replicate it until that joy becomes habitual.
No. 3: If you play more, eat more. The moment we cut back on training, we think we need to restrict our diet. Yet this never feels natural. No one enjoys a lazy winter evening on the couch while munching on an undressed kale salad. While there’s undoubtedly a relation between exercise and food consumption, consider the activities that occupy your day. If you’re channeling vast amounts of mind power into your job, your brain needs the fuel. If you’ve taken step 2 to heart, you’ve replaced routine training with freezing cold frisbee and digging holes, which require fuel. If life just feels hard right now, tasty treats can act as benchmarks to break up the day. A balance is good, but total restriction isn’t fun or sustainable.
No. 4: Celebrate Black History Month. Growing up, February was the month we compartmentalized the applauded heroes of the civil rights movement. During this month, and no other, we learned about Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad, recited quotes by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and honored Rosa Parks’s courage to spark a movement. In addition to celebrating these traditional heroes, dig deeper to learn about LGBTQ activist Marsha P. Johnson or Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, who developed the term intersectionality, which has enhanced our understanding of discrimination. Current movements, like the Movement for Black Lives, have labeled themselves as both leaderless and leader-full, meaning no one person claims recognition for progress. Instead, countless people work together to create change.
If 2020 didn’t jumpstart a lifelong commitment to learn about people and cultures different from you, let Black History Month 2021 be the start. The books Black Faces, White Spaces, by Carolyn Finney, and The Adventure Gap, by James Edward Mills, are illuminating reads specific to the outdoor industry. Like me, you might find that learning about a subject outside of your bubble sparks a new lifelong interest and path to growth and change, both personal and within our communities.
No. 5: Stretch. I know, it sounds almost as boring as the yoga and running suggestions. Hear me out. During the last two months of my winter blues slump, I committed to 30 minutes of guided stretching each evening before dinner. This offered the benefit of calming my mind at the end of the day. Plus, it felt like a productive addition to my schedule, something that would help me climb better when the time came. I’ve tried “stretch more” as a resolution from time to time with no success. What made the difference this winter was the guided component. I’d find a stretching video on Youtube and follow along from beginning to end. I started to look forward to this part of my day. Unfortunately, the introduction of a puppy into my meditative stretching world interrupted this routine, but I plan to revive it soon.
Nothing revolutionary, right? It’s often the simple acts that revitalize our mundane habits, throwing just enough pizazz into the mix to keep us healthy, happy, and guide us back to the track of stoke. The best method I’ve found is to accept where I’m at and how I feel, and gently nudge myself back to pounding out bicep curls in the basement. It’s not luck, but a little TLC that will see you through those February blues and back to the sun-soaked crags of yesteryear. That rock isn’t going anywhere and it will be eagerly awaiting your return when you’re ready.
Feature image by Arjan de Kock