While December may technically be the darkest month of the season, for many it’s the months of January and February that usher in a sense of wintery doom and gloom. I’ve actually always sort of liked January, after the holidays it feels fresh and bright, the new year full of possibility and a sparkling winter sun. That second month though… February is another story. It feels somehow greyer, darker, and impossibly long for only being 28 days in length. Yes, it’s during these months that many of us begin to feel a little… down. If your moods tend to deep-dive once the cold weather hits, you’re certainly not alone.
The beginning of winter may have been just over a month ago, but it’s usually this time of year that we find ourselves slipping to the dark side. The sparkle and anticipation of the holidays is long gone, the temperature is cold and made even colder with the accompanying wind chill, and the lack of sunlight disrupts our internal clock and circadian rhythm — all of these factors can play a huge role in how we feel both mentally and physically this time of year, add a blizzard on top of all that and you’ve got a recipe for the blues. It’s usually around this time that I feel my mood start to shift — warm weather just feels so far away — but this year I’m determined to tackle things head on and actually enjoy the winter. Read on for my tips:
Take care of yourself
When we feel poorly, we tend to treat ourselves poorly. Conversely, when we treat ourselves well, we have a tendency to feel good. It’s certainly not rocket science, and it should go without saying that good health and well being are a priority in all of our lives, but sometimes that concept is much easier said than done, especially in the winter. We slip into a funk and crave chocolate. We have a bad day at work or school and skip the gym in favor of the couch and a Gilmore Girls marathon (it’s so dark and cold outside…). These are such common habits, but ones that can swiftly take a toll on our health and mental well being. The key to breaking the cycle is understanding your habits and taking action.
I know from year’s past that this time of year can be challenging for me; as soon as the temperature drops, I tend to crave comfort foods and have a talent of swiftly and efficiently talking myself out of going to the gym after work. Rather than continuing on in this vicious cycle, I decided to take control: instead of waiting until after work to work out, when I know I’m likely to talk myself out it, I use my lunch break to hit the treadmill (bonus: exercise is a mood booster!); instead of comforting a bad mood or stress with foods that would damage my health, I read or write in a journal, and try to confront what I’m feeling (and why) head on; and if I really need a treat, I turn to the sweetness of fresh fruit or dates with almond butter (delicious). Good habits and motivation are contagious, and when you’re healthy and feeling good, it’s easier to see the brighter side of winter.
See the sun
When the sun is shining in the dead of winter, it’s something worth celebrating. Get outside and turn your face to the sun, allow its rays to wash over your face, its warmth to spread over you. Beyond providing some much needed heat on these cold days, the sun’s ultra violet rays create vitamin D in our bodies, which is essential for bone health and immunity (among many other benefits). Sunlight also plays a role in keeping us happy by triggering our brain to produce higher levels of mood-boosting serotonin.
For those of us in northern climates with limited exposure to the sun we should aim to get outside for at least a few minutes mid-day (though longer is better), when the sun is at its peak, for some natural light and fresh air. As a bonus, the exposure to UV light and fresh air can also aid in a better night’s sleep by keeping your circadian rhythm flowing smoothly, and a better night’s sleep means a much happier morning.
Create a ritual
This year I started buying flowers for myself every Friday. They brighten up my home, remind me of spring and summer’s existence, and add color to a season that is known to be pretty, well, drab. It’s a ritual that I look forward to every week… going to the grocery store on Friday night with my husband, picking out my flowers for the week, bringing them home and arranging them in vintage apothecary bottles… and because I buy them on Friday, I get to enjoy them throughout the weekend, when I tend to be home more often. For a long time, I wrote flowers off as an extravagance that I didn’t need, but it’s incredible what a little color and foliage will do for your mood. (And I learned that flowers don’t have to be extravagant at all — one $5 bouquet of cottage roses easily creates two petite bouquets.) If you don’t like flowers, buy a plant! It will clean the air and add life to your space when everything outside is in hibernation mode.
A few of my favorite cat-friendly blooms:
- Gerber Daisies
+ Check out the ASPCA’s list of toxic and non-toxic plants
There’s beauty in having a ritual — whatever it may be — in having that something to look forward to and enjoy. Rituals bring joy, they bring routine in the best possible way. Buy flowers, get a fancy latte every Friday morning, take a yoga class on Saturday afternoons, do an at-home face mask every Sunday night… the point is, give yourself something small but wonderful to anticipate during these dark, cold months.
I don’t know about you, but as soon as the days get shorter and the weather colder, my social calendar all but disappears. It’s so tempting to stay indoors and hibernate, but that human connection — outside of work and everyday obligations — is so incredibly vital. Think about it, how much better do you feel after spending time with friends and family? After really, truly laughing with someone?
Make plans on the weekends and try to get out a couple of times throughout the week. it doesn’t have to e anything crazy, host a game night, bundle up and go out for a First Friday art walk, check out your local concert calendar and see a show, meet a friend for coffee early before work. Too much unintentional isolation can make you feel like an island, especially if you’re feeling those winter blues, reach out and connect and know you’re not alone in the season.
If you’re really feeling the need for some solitude, grab your camera and take a walk. Find the beauty in the world around you, natural or man-made. Make a point to really look and notice the things you might pass by on a normal day. The way the winter sun casts harsh shadows, the late afternoon reflections in city windows, ice-encrusted branches hanging over a dirt road. This time of year has a stark beauty to it, we might just need to look a little longer to see it.
+ What helps you stay positive and happy during these grey days? Please share your tips in the comments!