It’s cold out. I mean really, really, really cold here in New England. My home town in upstate New York was -26 degrees Fahrenheit last week. Everyone is complaining about it. The kids can’t go outside for recess. The dogs can’t go outside to play and exercise. My standard poodle, Lola, is so bored from indoor time that she recently shredded four blankets (two were gifts from my mother-in-law)! … And I get it. I think we are all feeling a bit cooped up.
So how do we stay happy when the mercury drops? Below are some suggestions.
1) Do not think about what you cannot do. Think about what you can do. When we think about what we cannot do it leads to feeling sad, angry, or anxious. You can meet with a friend for coffee, read a book, call your mother, organize your house, start a new project, learn how to play an instrument (I’m learning the ukulele!), play a board game, make a Lego village, make a photo album, plan a vacation, create a budget, braid a family members hair, give yourself a makeover, donate clothes, exchange massages with your spouse, play a video game with your kids, try a new recipe, start a recipe book, and so on. Stay busy!
2) You must accept the reality that it is winter. Thoughts such as ‘I hate winter,’ or ‘I can’t wait until spring,’ or ‘I just want to wear shorts and flip-flops,’ will only lead to more misery. The spring is not here yet. It is in the future. What is here is this day in the winter, and we have to be happy now as opposed to later.
3) Is it possible to get outside at all? -26 is pretty extreme, but if it is more safe and more manageable (say 20 degrees) bundle up (hat, mittens, wool socks, scarf, lots of layers), and try to get outside. Take a walk with a friend, shovel your driveway, build a snowman, snowshoe, ski, skate, and play!
4) Head to the gym or workout at home. It’s almost impossible to feel bad after a good workout. Be good to your body, and be proud of yourself for taking care of it.
5) Eat good foods. If you hibernate, and eat nothing but bread and cookies you are going to feel bad. Get your carbohydrate craving satisfied with sweet potatoes, brown rice pasta, and minimally processed grains. You can still have a treat, but try to stick to whole grain, organic, and only ingredients that are real foods. Make sure you are still eating vegetables. Food balances the body. Add spices and ginger into your meals to warm you up internally. You may also need to tweak how you eat in the winter time. If you eat a lot of salads (although this is great and healthy), but are constantly shivering then something is wrong. Root vegetables, healthy fats, and whole grains may be just what you need in the winter months.
6) Drink hot herbal tea. It is amazing how warming and comforting hot tea can be for you. When you keep your body warm from the inside, the cold on the outside may not feel quite so bad.
7) If you are spending all your time alone, then it is time to make some plans. Have friends over for dinner, schedule a coffee date, and exercise with a buddy. We are social creatures, and although you may not feel like getting dressed and leaving the house, some social time may be exactly what you need!
8) Spend time with an animal. If you don’t have a pet, borrow a friend’s dog or cat. Petting an animal releases feel good chemicals in your body. This bonding time will make you both feel better. Animals have a special way of understanding our needs and feelings.
9) Consider taking a vitamin D supplement. Most of us in the northern latitudes probably have vitamin D deficiencies in the middle of winter. Do some research, and always consult with your doctor before starting a new supplement or exercise program.
10) Consider light therapy. Light therapy involves sitting in front of a special full spectrum light early in the day. It is intended to treat individuals with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), winter blues, and mood disorders. In my experience, most people who live in the northern latitudes could benefit from light therapy. Talk to your doctor or therapist for more information before starting a light therapy program. In order for it to work, it needs to be done correctly. It is possible to throw off your natural rhythms if you use the light incorrectly, which will lead to you feeling worse. The goal here is to feel better!
Remember this; winter is part of the natural cycle of the earth. Try to find the enjoyment in winter instead of wishing it away. Winter is ¼ of your year, and your life! Accept that it is winter. Winter is your reality right now. Resisting reality leads to emotional suffering.
*If you or a loved one experiences prolonged sadness, feels no relief, and/or experiences hopelessness it is time to seek professional help. Call a therapist and schedule an appointment immediately.