Getting Through the Dark Days of Winter - How to Survive and Thrive

The holidays are over; the skies are dark and grey;  the days are short, and the nights are long.   The cloudy skies impede sunlight, and the leafless trees look naked and depressing.  Yup - it's that time of year again!   But the grey and the cold don't have to get you down.  These are manageable conditions - if you know what steps to take to keep your mood bright, and your energy high.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) - A Common Struggle During Those Cold Winter Months

It's little wonder that during the winter months, mood disorders increase, and a dreary and hopeless mood can easily settle in.   Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a common phenomenon afflicting many during these cold seasons.  These wintry conditions can also intensify more chronic emotional challenges, such as depression or anxiety.  In whatever form, these winter blues are  fed by many factors which are more common in the wintertime. These may include the following:

  • A lack of sunlight
  • A lack of physical exercise and positive movement
  • Less appealing environmental conditions (heavy grey skies, leafless trees, etc.)
  • Physical discomfort from the cold 
  • Inability to engage in favorite activities
  • Often, the emotional and physical  impact of prior months of too many holiday treats
  • The emotional letdown of the holidays being over
  • Loved ones scattering again, after holiday gatherings, creating more loneliness and loss.
  • The post-holiday return to normal but less appealing environments, such as work or school
  • The residual financial impact of increased spending over the holidays
  • Unfulfilling additional tasks, such as snow removal
  • Heightened risk or injury or illness, due to ice, reduced visibility, car accidents, viruses, etc.

Practical Tips for Getting Through These Cold Winter Months

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To meet and overcome the special challenges of this chilly season, the following suggestions have proven helpful:

  • Increase exposure to sunlight - even if it's indirect or artificial.    One of the most simple but powerful antidotes to the winter blues is light therapy.  Obviously, you're not going to be doing much sunbathing on those wintry days!   But you can watch for times when the sun pierces through the clouds, and sit near a window or in your car during those times to increase sunlight exposure.   You might also consider purchasing an electric light that replicates sunlight, such as the Verilux Happy LIght, and begin each day reading quietly by its cheering light.  You can bundle up at times, and enjoy the unique beauty of a wintry walk.  Perhaps at times you may even want to take a trip to a location where sunlight is more abundant.   Sunlight in whatever form is one of the most powerful antidotes to the winter blues.
  • Increase exercise and movement.   It's human nature, when the cold hits, to sit motionless and miserable for extended periods throughout the day.  But that inactivity literally feeds depression, and reduces positive energy.   While you may have to adjust your favorite exercise activities (if you prefer exercising outside), be creative about looking for daily opportunities to move your body.  The adrenalin and endorphins generated by movement will bring a needed emotional  lift, and will leave you feeling less cold and trapped by your wintry surroundings.   Your energy will increase, and positive mood and motivation will follow.
  • Look for the unique beauty and enjoyment in each day.   Even on cold grey days, if you look for it, you can find something to take joy in, something to appreciate.   Keep a gratitude journal each day,  listing the positives in your life.  Take advantage of the unique enjoyments of winter - the steaming cup of hot cocoa; the warmth by the fire (or the electric heater!); the comfort of thick fuzzy blankets; the warming embrace of a loved one;  the quiet beauty of newly fallen snow; the fun of building a snowman, going sledding, or enjoying a day of skiing, snowshoeing, or ice skating.    
  • Dress for the season.  Enjoy the unique textures, fabrics, and colors of winter.   The time for t-shirts and flip-flops will return.  But for now, let yourself revel in the thick socks, heavy boots, insulated coats and gloves, flannel shirts and pajamas, velours and wools of winter.   You'll be more comfortable, better equipped for the challenges of the season, and even have some fun dressing for the uniquely crystalline environment of winter. 
  • Remember - This too shall pass!   Fortunately, for most people, the winter months come, and the winter months go.   On a particularly dreary or depressing day, remind yourself that spring is only a few weeks away, with its colorful blossoms and emerging sunlight.   Look at photos of yourself in sunnier times, and remember that these cold grey days are not a permanent feature of your life. 
  • Reach out to others.   In every season, including winter, nothing will lift your spirits more effectively than finding a way to brighten someone else's day.   Extend kindness to family members, friends, colleagues, and customers.   Invite a friend over for a warm cup of cocoa and a cozy game night.   Volunteer to make a difference for those less fortunate, whose lives are even more challenging than yours.   Look for opportunities to bring light and cheer into others' lives, and you'll be amazed how the light you bring to them ends up warming you as well. 

Before long, winter will be over, and you can once again enjoy the rich sunlight of a warmer, brighter day.  In the meantime, by being intentional and proactive, you can find joy even in the cold grey surroundings of these dark winter months, and replace those winter blues with tranquility, cheerfulness, and hope. 

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HappinessToolkit book thumbnail-- Carrie M. Wrigley, LCSW 
     Counselor, Speaker, Performer, and Author of
     Your Happiness Toolkit: 16 Strategies for Overcoming Depression, and Building a Joyful, Fulfilling Life

   > For more complete Information on this topic,  see the book,  Tool #3:
"Positivity: Notice and Enjoy the Good Things"