Winter can be a stressful time for many people. The short days, lack of sunlight and cold weather may induce seasonal depression. Even those not affected by depression often experience the winter blues, which is characterized by low mood and reduced energy levels. It can cause people to stay home and seek comfort, leading to isolation and reduced quality of life during the winter. However, there are some simple and useful things you can do to make winter a more enjoyable time.
January can be the toughest month of the year for many people. The days are short and all the excitement of Halloween, Christmas and New Year has dissipated. Preparations for these festivals, particularly Christmas, can bring a sense of purpose to early winter, but January can feel long and gloomy in contrast.
Try a January challenge to bring focus and fun to this month. There are many organized activities, such as Veganuary, where people eat vegan for the whole month; Dry January, where they avoid alcohol; or Plankaway, where people practice the plank exercise throughout January. If none of these challenges sound tempting, gather some friends and create your own.
You might choose to create something crafty or write a poem every day or try out a new recipe every night for the whole month. Get the entire family feeling fit after Christmas by collectively walking, running or cycling 100 miles by January 31. You might want to try a new hair or make up style every day and share it with friends on Instagram. Choose a common interest and let your imagination run wild until you have something fun and challenging but achievable to focus on throughout January.
The human imagination is immensely powerful. Sunlight brings joy through its bright light and connotations of summer fun, and you can induce this euphoria through visualization techniques. Spend a minute looking at a beautiful image of a sunlit environment. It might be a place you have visited, or a picture online or in a book. Set the alarm for five minutes, or find a piece of beautiful music that is five minutes long.
Close your eyes and imagine yourself standing in this sunlit place. Take an imagined walk, exploring every part of the landscape, and gaze up at the sun as it fills the environment with golden light. Imagine how warm you would feel in this place, and picture your skin glowing in the light of the sun. When the alarm goes off, slowly open your eyes and return to the room.
If you struggle to stay focused, you can open your eyes at any time and look at the image that inspired you. Some people may not have immediate access to the vision, but they can learn and enjoy it with practice. Others find that guided meditations are helpful, and many free videos on YouTube encourage you to visualize beautiful sunny environments.
In the middle of winter, many people spend every daylight hour at work. Countries far from the equator may have weeks or even months with no daylight at all, or just a couple of hours each day. Winter workouts often take place in a well-lit gym; some people cease their activities until the evenings get light and warm. However, exercising outdoors is highly beneficial for your well-being, even in dusk or darkness.
It is hard to spend time outdoors in the fresh, frigid air, but you keep yourself warm through movement. Try joining a running or walking club so that you can exercise with others for safety and social enjoyment. You might try to find seasonal exercise opportunities such as ice-skating, tobogganing, skiing or snowboarding. Cities often set up ice-skating rinks for the winter months. Alternatively, you can look for a springtime race such as a triathlon, running race or assault course, and use the impending event to motivate you to exercise during the winter.
Many people use light boxes, which are great for combatting seasonal affective disorder that results from the lack of sunlight. For a cosier approach to lighting up the gloom, try using candles, fairy lights and lanterns to turn your home into a beautiful grotto. If you have a fire pit or access to a spot to build a fire, then you can invite friends and family to join you in the warmth and glow of the flames. Spend time observing the stars and moon lighting up the skies. Focusing on natural lights like flames and starlight can help lift your mood and bring joy in the heart of winter.
When it gets cold and icy, older adults often experience terrible isolation. Some people become housebound for months because the temperatures can cause dangerous health problems. Focusing your attention on helping someone else is an excellent way to improve your mood when you are blue.
Consider visiting an elderly neighbor and offering to run an errand or bring groceries for them. You could also contact a charity that helps people who struggle during the winter, for example, a homeless shelter or food bank. See if you can help by donating a volunteer shift or fundraising. Helping others is a beautiful way to lift your mood as many people benefit from your generosity.
It can be difficult to motivate yourself to go out during the winter. As many people get lethargic when it’s cold, social calendars can often seem empty, which may lead to further feelings of isolation and low mood. Try to plan a variety of social events with friends and family that embrace the winter rather than hide from it.
Arrange a potluck dinner with warm, seasonal food and winter-themed games. Wrap up in coats and scarves and go for a wintery hike somewhere beautiful and frosty. Have a craft afternoon in preparation for Christmas and make pretty table decorations or homemade crackers. Alternatively, invite people over for a social evening and provide seasonal drinks such as mulled wine and eggnog. You might choose only to schedule specific activities during the winter months and refrain from doing them in the summer. That way, you can look forward to doing something special.
People often go on holiday during the summer, but vacationing somewhere sunny and warm is a great way to combat the winter blues. Giving yourself a top-up of vitamin D, even for a long weekend, can lift your spirits and help you break up the winter months. Try to find a location that offers all of your favorite aspects of summer, whether that’s relaxing on the beach, hiking and camping in the wilderness or enjoying water sports.
If you cannot afford a trip away in the middle of winter, select a beautiful outdoor location close to your home and commit to spending a full day there. Leave your house as the sun rises; wrap up in warm clothing and take a picnic or food to cook on a fire. Prepare for the cold with flasks of hot drinks and soup, and keep as active as possible with sports and games, races, tree climbing or building shelters out of fallen tree branches. Even if the sunlight is weak, a full day in the winter sun will help your well-being, and vacating your routine will help add spontaneity and excitement to your week.
The winter blues mostly affect people from November through to February, although the hardest month is often January. The lack of sunlight could have you dealing with low mood and reduced energy levels for a third of the year. Try implementing a variety of these ideas throughout the winter to see if they improve your well-being. Get family and friends involved and combat the winter blues together to eradicate the social isolation the season often brings.