Winter can bring a struggle with mental wellness, but there are things you can do to help. These tips will get you started to avoid the winter blues.
By contributing writer, Molly Madonna Kehrer
So we’re just over halfway through winter, and we know there’s an end in sight, but when the snow is piled high and kids are cooped up indoors for days at a time, it can be hard to believe we’ll make it to spring, let alone avoid the winter blues.
At least, that’s how I feel if I’m not intentional with my winter days.
Instead of trudging through these remaining weeks of limited daylight and biting temperatures in the air, how do we make the best of what’s left of winter and prepare for what’s ahead?
How can we care for our mental and emotional wellbeing?
Many people struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), believed to be caused—at least in part—by changes in the amount of light exposure available at a given time of year.
In the winter months, when cloud cover is more prevalent, Vitamin D levels can take a plunge. The change in the amount of light in our days can also impact circadian rhythms and initiate a depressive state as our bodies struggle to adjust to the alterations in our environment.
There’s a reason why so many people make a regular habit of traveling to warmer climates in the wintertime—not just for more comfortable temperatures, but because our bodies are actually craving more sun exposure and light in our days.
So what happens when we can’t just hop on a plane to an always-sunny locale for an entire month in the middle of winter?
We might have to get creative, but there are certainly habits we can adopt to make this time of year feel more palatable—or even enjoyable—if we let it.
Staying on top of winter means it doesn’t overtake us, which allows us to head into spring on a positive note.
1. Be intentional about self-care
To start, it’s essential to carve out small pockets of time in our days to recharge mentally and emotionally.
I don’t mean fifteen minutes of scrolling through Facebook in bed at the end of the day, although I’m guilty of this and do sometimes find it relaxing. Of course we can decompress with things like this in down time before bed, but the emotional recharge we need isn’t likely going to come from comparing notes and photos of others’ lives on the internet.
Instead, what I’m talking about is a time set aside every day for quiet reflection, reading, journaling, listening to uplifting music, or prayer.
As a mom to little ones, I know this time is hard to find, and perhaps even harder to dedicate to ourselves. But how much better do we feel when we’ve taken even five or ten minutes for one of the above suggestions, and how much better can we care for those around us when we’ve filled our own tanks?
I like to commit to reading a chapter of a book a day, or to working through a book of encouraging anecdotes or prayers, one at a time.
You might journal to yourself daily, or keep record each day of the people and events that have added grace and thankfulness to your home and heart. Time for reflection allows us to step back from our reality—whatever that might be—and to see ourselves and our world from a different (and maybe more grateful) perspective.
I don’t know about you, but I need this sort of refueling on a regular basis – especially when the snow is piling up outside.
2. Find another vantage point
It can be defeating to sit inside with the same view, day after day, week after week, especially with the windows closed and the sun playing a good game of hide and seek.
As much as it’s not convenient to bundle up and head out, it’s important to find space to breathe outside of the same four walls. Meet a friend for coffee. Grab new books at the library. Schedule a double date and head out to dinner.
Whatever you do, don’t let the elements keep you locked up, unless the weather actually poses a danger. It’s easier now to stay cozy on the couch, but after you’ve been out and about, you’ll come home feeling refreshed.
Even the dose of fresh air walking from the parking lot to your destination will do you good.
3. Accountability goes a long way
Years ago, I wouldn’t have believed you if you told me I’d someday look forward to early morning runs in the cold, dark air. The idea of getting out of a nice warm bed to bundle up and head out to watch my breath sounded terrible.
I joined a local running group in the springtime, with the intent of training for one race, and I met a friend who happened to live just a few blocks away. We started training together in the warmer months, and when the cold hit, we just kept on going.
Working out outside in the wintertime was not even on my radar. I thought I’d hate it.
But it turns out, when you know someone else is getting out of bed and heading into the cold to meet you, you’re more likely not to leave them in the dark (literally).
This friend and I ran on snow and ice all winter long that year, and I just loved how motivated I felt the rest of the day whenever I came home from tackling winter head on with a handful of miles before the sun rose.
Find a workout partner or a class you absolutely love while the weather is still warmish, and commit to it for six months or longer. Then, get up and get going to keep your blood pumping and your body active through the most sedentary months of the year.
You might not want to begin it, but waking up and working out are sure fire ways to change your mood in winter.
4. Prep for what’s ahead
The cold weather days might seem like they’re going to last forever, but we all know that we’ll be seeing flowers pop through the ground and trees budding leaves in just a short while. In the meantime, we can make the most of days that aren’t busy with yard work and trips to the beach.
Winter is a great time to organize closets and playrooms, to deep clean the house, and to rearrange furniture for a new space that repurposes old things.
Sort through your clothes to thin out items you haven’t worn in over a year, and take items in good condition to the thrift store to start gathering next year’s tax deductions. Clean out your paper pile. Rotate books on shelves so you have some new titles to browse. Change out photos in picture frames. Start that scrapbook or baby book you planned to do a few years ago.
The sky’s the limit on how you spend downtime in the winter, and there are so many ways to set yourself up for a clutter free, stress free spring as it heads our way.
5. Don’t blink
There are days when being cooped up in the house with little ones can feel awfully confining…especially if it’s snow day upon snow day upon cold where you live. When you’re all in more confined quarters for a few months at a time, getting creative with play and imaginative spaces will give long afternoons and darker evenings a boost of energy.
As hard it is can feel—especially if you’re a stay at home parent—to be restricted by the weather, the beauty in it is that you have that much more time to watch your children change and grow right in front of you.
Kids just want to play and be played with, and winter leaves us few excuses but to do just that.
Build a fort. Tackle that messy art project. Sort through toys together and decide which ones might be better loved if they were shared with others. Read stacks and stacks of books. Dress up in ALL the dress up clothes and host a ball, a tea party, a sword fight, a rocket launch. Picnic on the living room floor.
When spring arrives, the snow will have melted, the sun will shine brighter, the kids will seem taller and longer and more able to ride their bikes, run a mile, scale the slide at the park. We’ll blink and they’ll be off and running down the block, to the pool, to a friend’s.
There’s marrow in the winter months. We just have to find it.
And often, it’s right within reach. Care for your heart, your body, your family, and your home in simple and organic ways. Then, when daylight hours are longer and we’re heading out sans boots and coats and hats again, we can do so with a spring in our step, because we’ve done the work of laying a great foundation for the days to come.
How do you maintain emotional/mental wellness in the winter months? What do you do to avoid the winter blues?