This is the time of year when winter just gets OLD! The holidays are a distant memory, the thrill of the New Year has worn off, and even the Super Bowl is now over (and your favorite team may or may not have just suffered a crushingly heartbreaking defeat.)
While I live in Florida now, (where the extent of our winter means occasionally having to wear a sweatshirt), I grew up in the Seattle area, (where winter means a solid four months of gray skies and cold rain), and then I went to college in Michigan, (where winter meant a solid four months of snow and bitter cold temperatures.) I know just how tedious these months can be, and how hard it can be to stay upbeat when the world just feels a little bleaker.
10 Ways to Combat the Winter Blues
I know all too well how devastating a serious depression can become, which is why I work really hard to keep my spirits up, especially when I feel those dark thoughts creeping in. Over the years I have found lots of ways to combat the winter blues, and if you are feeling like winter is getting the best of you right now, they might just help you too.
Give Yourself Grace
It is really easy to get down on ourselves when we start to feel blah. Our self-talk messages become tainted by the dark cloud hanging over us, and suddenly it feels like everything we do is wrong. We convince ourselves we are worthless or lazy or hopeless, or that people don’t like us or that we are fat or ugly or a bad mom or a bad wife or a bad friend. The tapes start to play and we can’t help but listen–and start to believe them.
This, of course, creates a self-fulfilling prophesy. When we tell ourselves we are worthless, we stop trying, which in turn makes us less effective, which in turn convinces us that we were right.
The only way to stop this vicious cycle is to be kind to ourselves. Why is it that we say things to ourselves that we would never say to our best friend, or to our spouse or children, even if they were having the exact same problems? Instead, we need to purposefully change the tapes that are playing, and begin to give ourselves conscious affirmations-even if we don’t believe them right away. Write them down, things like “I am worthwhile,” “I am a good friend,” and “I am a great mom,” and post them in a place where you can see them and read them to yourself daily, or multiple times a day. Accept the fact that your perception is not necessarily reality, and give yourself the same grace you would show to the people you love.
Get Some Exercise
Walking for just 15-30 minutes a day can have a powerful effect on your mood. We’ve all heard of the “runner’s high,” which is a real thing—dopamine is released in the brain during physical exertion, resulting in feelings of well-being, calmness and happiness.
Of course not all of us are runners, but simply walking every day and working up a sweat a few times per week can really help to beat the winter blahs. Oftentimes, it’s the indoor mindset that can get us down, especially when it’s cold. Bundling up and going for a walk around your neighborhood can get the blood pumping and help you connect with the world around you.
If it’s truly too cold where you live, there are many neighborhood recreation centers, YMCA centers or even malls that offer indoor tracks or walking programs, or you could even try a good workout DVD such as Jillian Michael’s 30 Day Shred. Another option is to join a sports league or sign up for that indoor class you’ve been thinking about. Try yoga, water aerobics, Zumba or anything that gets your heart pumping!
My biggest problem is often finding the time to exercise when my day is already jam-packed. I helped solve this problem by trading in my office desk for a treadmill desk. It was definitely an investment, but being able to walk while I work has been a huge lifesaver for me!
Watch What You Eat
There’s a tendency to turn to comfort food this time of year. We all do it—fettuccine Alfredo, macaroni and cheese, hearty pot pies and heavy sauces—while these are all delicious foods, they can leave us feeling weighed down and sluggish. In the summer and spring we eat light, healthy plant-based meals and it helps us feel light and healthy.
If you can’t resist the comfort foods (I’m right there with you!), try creating a healthier version instead. We love this Roasted Garlic Mashed Cauliflower dish or try this delicious Skinny Shepherd’s Pie. If you really want to go light, try a salad or some broth-based soups, or even use squash or cauliflower to add creaminess to a dish and skip the heavy butter, cream and cheese. Using whole grains like quinoa and barley can lighten up dishes as well and still be quite comforting and delicious.
When we are feeling down it is also easy to lose the motivation to cook. Stocking up on simple freezer meals, like those found in our 10 Meals in an Hour plans, can help provide simple solutions for busy evenings, and the satisfaction of prepping 10 meals at once is a huge mood booster all on it’s own!
Try to keep a supply of fruits, veggies, and nuts on hand as snacks. Eating a varied diet with lots of fruits, vegetables and protein can really help combat the winter blues.
Count Your Blessings
Taking the time each day to pause and be grateful can can really help turn your attitude around. I’ve often found that if my children are facing a challenging day, attitude-wise, asking them to list the things they’re grateful for can overhaul a bad mood. This little trick works on grownups too! Simply take time each day to write down one or two things you’re grateful for.
This year, during my morning devotions, I have been using this pretty blessings journal. It is amazing how my perspective has changed just by starting the day with intentional gratitude!
Pay it Forward
One of the best ways to transform your mood and boost yourself out of the winter blahs by helping someone else. It is hard to focus on our own worries and shortcomings, or even our own feelings of doubt and depression, when we are focused on someone else’s needs. We get so much more back in terms of joy and contentment when we give.
It doesn’t have to be a huge act. Try simply sending a note to a friend or donating a few dollars to charity—or, hey, next time you’re in line at Starbucks, pay for the order behind you. These random acts can leave you glowing and feeling positive for the rest of your day. Not only that, but they often create a chain reaction: help one person and they’ll pay it forward to the next person that comes along.
Take a Time Out
What activity really relaxes you and helps you to zone out? Is it scrolling through Pinterest? Is it reading a magazine, doing a craft project or cooking? Maybe it’s just taking a long hot bath or shower. Whatever it is, allow yourself to get in a little time just for yourself. Maybe you love Sudoku puzzles or simply losing yourself in a good book.
Often we become so focused on everyday tasks that we feel guilty giving ourselves a time out. But it’s okay to take a break sometimes! If you are feeling low, give yourself time to nap, web-surf, watch a silly television sitcom, or throw yourself a homemade spa day once in a while–without feeling guilty! (Remember that grace thing we talked about?) Letting yourself indulge now and again is not a bad thing, and in fact, it recharges your batteries a little and helps you feel refreshed and refocused.
While it’s not a good idea to beat ourselves up for past mistakes, there is something healing about remembering good times that you’ve had. It is a great way to remind yourself that the way you are feeling right now is not the way you’ve always felt (or they way you’ll feel forever.) It can also help you feel happy and upbeat, appreciate your loved ones and feel a renewed sense of excitement for the future memories that you’ll make.
Break out the scrapbooks or look through old photo albums. Take a leisurely Saturday to organize your photos or get those shoeboxes of pictures into books. Get the whole family involved by popping some popcorn and breaking out some home movies or just looking through scrapbooks. Children often really enjoy looking through old yearbooks as well and laughing at what Mom looked like with big hair and blue eye shadow. It may be a little embarrassing, but it can also be a blast!
Plan for the Future
Just like looking back, planning for future activities can also help break you out of your rut. Try looking up some gardening ideas and think about your layout for your spring planting. List what you would like to grow this year or what flowers you’d like to plant. Try this fun and free, online Plan-a-Garden tool from Better Homes and Gardens. Fun!
You can also get yourself pumped up for summer by looking at vacations or planning a trip as a family. Having an event or something exciting on the horizon helps remind us that the frost will clear and spring and summer will be here before we know it.
If you can’t wait for a summer vacation, why not get away this winter? After all, it’s downtime for many amusement parks, so a winter Disney trip can be a real steal.
If you aren’t a gardener or you’re not ready to plan your vacation, try going through your closet and accessories and picking out a few early spring wear items. Even putting on a bright color—like pinks, yellows or floral prints—can get you in a summer frame of mind. Wearing bright colors can lift your mood and help you beat the blahs.
Listen to Music
Music can be a powerful mood motivator. If you enjoy devotional or uplifting music or hymns—put some on. Maybe you like show tunes or country or pop. Whatever puts you in a good mood and helps you combat the blues can help.
Studies have shown music can be a powerful treatment tool in many types of therapy for both physical and mental disorders. Music can help everything from Alzheimer’s to heart problems to assisting combat veterans with PTSD.
Our sense of smell is very closely attached to our emotional well-being, which means that aromatherapy can be a powerful mood booster. You’d be surprised at what a difference adding a few key scents around your house can do!
You can diffuse essential oil scents right into the air or apply them to your pulse points, and there are lots of different essential oils that can give you a mood boost and help you feel more energetic. I love Young Living’s Joy oil blend, as well as lemon, orange, tangerine, and Valor. Check out my Essential Oils 101 post for more information.
Aromatherapy is also a great way to relax and get more rest, and more sleep can definitely help lift your mood. I love using lavender and a Peace & Calming blend at night. I rub them on my feet and pulse points, and do the same for the rest of my family. Not only do the scents help us sleep better, but the ritual itself is very calming and a nice way to end the day.
* * *
Whatever you do, take comfort in fact that the dreary days of winter are only temporary. Soon we’ll be seeing sunshine and longer, warmer days, and hopefully with it will come a boost in mood.
That said, if you suspect your winter “blahs” go deeper than just feeling a little down or a little blue, then please seek treatment right away. Your doctor can refer you to a therapist or psychiatrist, and there are also many alternative, holistic treatments available as well. Depression can be dangerous—but it is also very treatable and you don’t have to face it alone.
Other helpful resources:
- Why Aren’t You Happy? How to Take the Pressure Off This Holiday Season
- How to Survive the Post-Holiday Blues
- Your Biggest Holiday Problems Solved
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I really enjoyed your post, great ideas! I really miss going out for walks. I’m sole caregiver for my 90 year old mom, so I only have 9 hours a week off when a personal support worker is here. ( 3 hours 3 afternoons a week) That gives me time to go for my own appointments, do the banking and buy groceries,and if I’m lucky a short visit to the library once in a while. My life is very confining.
I was just saying to my husband that I’m suffering from “January-itus” despite being on ant-depressants! It’s refreshing to know it’s not just me that has to work hard at not letting this time of year get me down. Thank you for the pointers. There are some tips here that I am doing already, but there are some tips here that I’m not, so worth giving a try.
Thank you from one sufferer to another.
It’s summer here and I’ve got to admit, I’m looking forward to the slower pace of winter. Even though our winters are mild, there’s still that change in rhythm that I really enjoy. It’s crazy, but I think I’m actually more productive in winter. Maybe there are less distractions?
This is a great list for any time you need to be a little gentle with yourself – not just winter-time. Thank you.
I love to put on some music and clean the house. It gets me up and moving and the music cheers me up. It works great on those dark, cloudy days of winter.
I am so impressed that you can type and walk at the same time!! I love your ideas–staying positive through Midwest Winters can be tricky! Enjoy the Florida sun! http://www.theblessedmessy.com