Get Outdoors — How to Cope with “Winter Blues”

Is the approaching winter weather getting you down?  I find that as the days begin to shorten, and especially after the fall time change, my mood worsens.  Here in Utah, we can expect 3 or 4 months of hard winter weather, and some really rotten days in November and May.  It can be depressing to look forward to that much indoor time.  Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues) seems to be very common among us.  How can you cope with the winter?

Here are some things I do to help myself especially and my kids as well maintain a good attitude about winter:

 

  •  Get outdoors.  The number one recommended treatment for SAD is light therapy.  You can “do it yourself” by exposing yourself to outdoor light.  Yes, it is cold outside.  Put on your coat.  I find that if I bundle up more than is really necessary for the temperature, I am happier about being outside.  This time of year my body is extra sensitive to the cold, so I bundle up even more than I will need to by the time I have acclimated in January.  I bought a very warm down coat, I wear a scarf, hat and gloves even if it is only 30 degrees outside.   Often, I warm up enough while I am outside to shed one layer.  If I don’t warm up that much, that’s fine, too.  I just don’t want to feel the cold that much.
  • Only expect yourself to spend a few minutes outside, but have a definite plan for what you will do while you are out there.  For me, it is easier to drive to a walking path and expect myself to walk a certain amount – say, once around the pond.  If I’ve gone to that much effort, I usually go ahead with it.  Often, I find I am enjoying myself enough while I am outside to continue the activity.
  • Notice the beauty that comes with the changing season.  This time of year it is easy to look ahead to the long cold days and feel overwhelmed.  Instead, take time to smell the wet fallen leaves, notice the coating of new snow on the trees and the mountains, and enjoy the frost patterns on the puddles.  Take your camera with you on your walk, and try to find one beautiful thing for a photo op.  Take that picture back with you and remember it whenever you are feeling depressed by dreary weather.
  • The color of your winter clothing makes a difference in your happiness level.  I know that sounds silly, but just try it.  Instead of your usual winter grey, black and red, put on a bright yellow hat or turquoise gloves.  That extra spot of color really puts a spring in your step.  Don’t believe me?  Take a picture of yourself or a kid on a grey winter day in that bright color.  You smile, don’t you?  Our eyes see that bright color as a symbol of the light we are missing during our winter days.
  • Enjoy the sun indoors when possible.  Sit in a sunny window.  Find a place in the house where the sun comes through a window, and even if it’s in an inconvenient location, put your chair there.  Sit and read to the kids in the sunshine, enjoy the warmth and the light.
  • Remind yourself of the time to do indoor things that you won’t have when summer comes again.  Find things to do that you can do only in winter time.   For me, one of the things that I do in the wintertime is quilt.  I don’t do nearly as much quilting in the summertime when I can hike and picnic all my playtime away.  During the winter, I get real joy from finishing some projects and thinking of new ones.  I also enjoy helping my kids work on their sewing and art projects.  Reminding myself of my limited time for these projects helps me keep a better perspective on winter.
  • Eat winter foods, but don’t completely neglect summer foods.  Yes, I try to eat locally whenever possible, and winter is an ideal time for soups, stews and baked goods.  But just because it is winter doesn’t mean you should never have a salad or a sandwich.  Those lighter meals help to combat one of the symptoms of SAD – increased appetite—and perhaps with the increased drowsiness as well.
  • Exercise.  Exercise, especially outdoor exercise, is a proven therapy for winter blues.  I find that as long as the wind is not howling, I can usually bundle up enough to enjoy myself outside for my run.  One thing that has helped is to keep track of temperature and what I wore in my running log.  Then next time that temperature rolls around, I think, “Well, I was warm enough in just my running tights and long sleeves,” or, “I got hot in my sweatshirt.”  That helps me get back out with confidence.  When the ice makes it too dangerous to run outside, getting in a good workout at the gym will get my day started in the right direction.
  • Get out of town.  There’s nothing wrong with planning a break from winter.  Any time you can head south, you will gain day light and usually warmth.  We love to head to San Diego during the first of February for a couple days of softer weather and running on beaches.  If there is a way to escape even for
    a few days, you may come back refreshed and ready to face the rest of winter.
  • Pray for summer.

 

I’m praying, too.  Hope you enjoy your day.

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