How do you feel when winter begins?
Energetic? Excited about life? Jumping out of bed each morning to embrace the new day? If you answered “yes” to these questions, you must live in a warm climate (or else you’re a bit of a weirdo—and I commend you for your optimism!).
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
I’ve suffered from debilitating SAD my entire life. As soon as the weather gets cold and the days shorten, I begin to feel like a pitiful wee slug…a slug who has only one wish: TO REMAIN IN BED UNTIL THE SPRING.
Do you have symptoms of seasonal affective disorder?
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), the symptoms of SAD, which typically occur during the cold, dark months, include fatigue, depression, changes in appetite, changes in sleep patterns (i.e., sleeping too much or difficulty sleeping).
For some folks who experience SAD, especially if it’s prolonged and unmanageable, professional help from a psychologist might be needed. However, for many people, the symptoms can be quite manageable. If you recognize a change in your mood and energy levels when winter arrives, try some of these tips for beating the blues.
Hygge—The Nordic Cure for Winter Blues
Hygge (“HOO-ga” is the approximate pronunciation) is a Scandinavian word that encompasses many ideas: coziness, contentment, warmth, safety, and well-being, especially in the context of time spent with friends and family.
In countries like Denmark and Norway, where winters are long and the days are short and frigid, the notion of Hygge is central to promoting mental and physical health. Those who “practice” Hygge create a cozy, comfortable atmosphere in their homes by incorporating lots of natural light; comfortable, simple furnishings; and nice cooking smells.
Other crucial aspects of Hygge include spending time with loved ones in a respectful, laid-back environment and getting as much outdoor time as possible! All of these things help alleviate the restlessness, boredom, and even depression that can set in as the days get colder.
For those of us who feel the pain of colder temperatures and darker days, here are some Hygge tips for keeping your spirits up!
Tip #1: Get some sun! Do you have a window that lets some sunlight through during the day? Pull up a chair—get a cup of coffee and a good book. Soak up that sun and have a little read! Artificial lights can help lift your spirits, as well.
Tip #2: Exercise — even in moderate amounts. Take walks in the sunshine…two birds, one stone! Okay, okay. I totally understand. You really don’t have the energy to do any exercise. Because…it’s cold and dark.
Here’s how you make this happen: schedule time (even 10 minutes) to get outside and walk. You could start with 10 minutes, three days a week. For best results, do a little exercise outside each day. Find a buddy to accompany you if you can.
When I worked an office job, I took 15 minutes during lunch to walk around the building with a coworker. We didn’t make it outside every day, but on the days we did, it vastly improved our energy levels and mood!
If you and your walking buddy are exercising in the sun together, you’ve just accomplished Tips #1, 2, and 6 on this list! Can we call that Hygge multi-tasking? 🙂
Tip #3: Make your home a winter oasis by bringing the outdoors….inside! As soon as fall hits, I’m outside collecting leaves, pinecones, interesting-shaped twigs, etc. I bring all of these lovely little bits of nature into my home and do a little decorating! Colorful leaves can be pressed and displayed in picture frames. I also like to place pinecones in a basket with evergreen branches.
And I can’t emphasize the importance of having LOTS of plants in your home. Last count, I had 20 plants of all shapes and sizes (e.g., philodendrons, African violets, Chinese Evergreens) in my kitchen and living areas. Not only are plants great for indoor air quality, but they just make you feel so much happier!
Tip #4: Eat healthful foods. Good foods make you feel great, even hours after you’ve eaten. Unlike cookies and other sugary snacks, which might give you a momentary dopamine kick, followed by a let-down, dark, leafy greens are especially good for you during winter months, supplementing your body’s supply of essential nutrients.
Tip #5: Create winter rituals. This year, I decided to actually look forward to winter! How? By creating some fun new rituals.
For example, if it’s really, really cold out (say, in the negative temps), I’ll build a fire. This gets the ol’ heart rate up—bringing in wood, collecting kindling. When the fire is roaring, I’ll sit next to it and work or read…or take a little nap, if it’s the weekend!
Another great winter ritual is to invite friends over to cook together. A few years ago, we had friends over to make Chinese “hot pot,” a lovely winter dish that simmers on the stove for hours, filling the house with lovely spicy aromas. We enjoyed a glass of wine while the house warmed from the simmering hot pot!
Tip #6: Spend time with (or reach out to) a friend or family member, and I don’t mean on Facebook! Although it’s always nice to receive a message on social media, try a more personal approach.
Spending time with loved ones, face-to-face, is wonderful, but it’s not always possible. Instead, try writing a letter to an old friend or elderly relative. Letters are always fun because 1) you get to pick out cute stationary, stamps, and pen colors; 2) your letter recipient gets something tangible and personal; 3) long after you’ve sent the letter, you might get a call or a visit (or even a return letter!) from the letter’s recipient. What a nice surprise for you!
Tip #7: Moisturize. Okay, this one sounds a bit kooky, but it’s difficult to stay positive when you’re constantly itching your dry, flaky, winter skin. It’s just so unpleasant.
In the winter, as our heaters kick on, the humidity levels in our homes drop substantially. This can result in itchy skin, as well as other fun symptoms (e.g., dry nose, bloody noses, sneezing).
Find a good moisturizer, apply it liberally after your shower or bath.
You might also consider purchasing a humidifier for your home. One favorite (and cheap!) way to add humidity to the house is to put a simmer pot on my stove. I just boil a pot of water and add a few spices (e.g., cinnamon sticks, cloves) to fill the house with lovely, warm scents.
Tip #8: Embrace the calmness of winter. In the spring, things are budding and growing and chirping madly. In the summer, living things explode in growth and critters are everywhere. But in the winter…nature slows down. Everything takes a rest. The critters burrow. The birds, fluffed up like little powder puffs in the trees, are quiet. Take a cue from nature and rest, cozy up, and maybe even burrow into a nest of blankets for an afternoon nap.
…and remember that this, too, is temporary. Soon, the ruckus of spring will come!