I have never been a fan of winter. While many of my friends start enthusing in August about cozy sweaters and pumpkin spice lattes, the end of the summer always fills me with a particular sense of dread. Even the beauty of autumn -- my birthday season -- is tainted by the knowledge of what's to come. My much-needed sunshine dwindles. The temperatures become pleasant and then quickly turn hostile. My lush, green Kentucky landscape turns brown and bare. Skies are gray, nights are long, the ground is hard, and my skin is dry. I hate it.
Perhaps this loathing is inherited. My father's grim winter motto has always been "It's one day closer to spring." I have always felt as soon as Christmas is over that I'm ready to be done with winter, but winter, that surly bastard, is just getting started with me.
Over the years, I've developed a few tricks to help me cope with this most difficult season:
1. Celebrate the solstice. I don't necessarily mean participating in a pagan Yule ceremony, although that's cool, too. I mean paying attention to the fact that the first day of winter marks the beginning of the return of sunshine. On December 21, 2016, we had nine hours, 30 minutes, and six seconds of daylight. Today we had nine hours, 38 minutes, and five seconds. We've already gotten eight minutes back! That's great!
2. Take comfort in retail. Although it always irritates me to see Christmas stuff on the shelves the day after Halloween, I love how capitalism's incessant push to expand our shopping seasons makes springtime seem just around the corner. I delight in seeing Valentine's Day candy at the store, not because I have any particular affinity for that holiday, but because it's a marker that we've made it almost two thirds of the way through winter. And as soon as that's over it's time for Easter merchandise, a reminder that that most quintessentially spring holiday will be here before we know it.
3. Have a party. I don't know about you, but I think a blustery winter night can seem pretty cozy when you have a houseful of friends and some good food. I had a friend who threw an annual wine and cheese party every February for just this reason. Make a big pot of soup or chili, or invite everyone for a comfort food potluck.
4. Get out of town. Although I fantasize every single winter about taking off for tropical climes, I have never succeeded in doing this. However, a little weekend trip can be a great break in the monotony of winter hibernation. Last year my mom and I went to 20th Century Cincinnati, a vintage home furnishings show that happens every February. We also ate some good Thai food, spent the night, and saw a movie. It was a delightful little getaway.
5. Go caving. This is my secret trick for feeling like I'm outside/enjoying nature while also enjoying slightly more moderate temperatures. If you live in Kentucky, chances are you grew up taking field trips to Mammoth Cave, and you may remember that the temperature in the cave remains fairly consistent at 54 degrees year-round. Why not enjoy that comparatively balmy environment in the dead of winter?
6. Try some new foods. I'm always eager for the return of spring and summer produce, but there's still plenty going on vegetable-wise in the winter. I love this quinoa with roasted winter vegetables and pesto recipe from the New York Times. Make a plan to try out some new recipes or foods you've never eaten before. Or stretch your culinary skills with something from this list of the Top Ten Most Difficult Recipes to Make. (That list once inspired me to make Beef Wellington, which was a capital-A Adventure.)
7. Exercise. You knew I was going to say this, didn't you? I have trouble taking my own advice on this one, because I hate being cold so very much. However, even a quick walk can boost your mood, especially if you manage to do it while the sun is shining. Winter is also a great time for yoga; hot yoga is great if it's your thing, but a pleasantly warm regular yoga class makes me feel great, especially when there's snow swirling outside. I have a friend who swears by weight lifting to keep the blues at bay. Find something you enjoy and then try to do it at least a few times a week.
8. Tune in to nature. Even though it's easy to perceive the world as cold and dead during the winter, there's actually plenty going on if you pay attention. Get a bird feeder and see who comes to visit. (This photographer in Michigan has quite the array of guests!) Notice the very gradual swelling of the buds on the trees. In late winter, see when you can spot the very first spiky little green things poking up through the earth. The night sky even looks different in winter, if you take the time to check it out.
Of course, sometimes the winter blues can't be managed quite so easily. What may be a case of the blahs for one person can quickly spiral into seasonal affective disorder for someone else. If you're finding that your low mood is persisting for more than a couple weeks and is making it hard for you to do the things you want or need to do, and especially if you're having thoughts of suicide, you need more than a few good coping skills. Talk therapy, antidepressants, and/or light therapy can help you start feeling like yourself again.
What are you tips for dealing with the winter doldrums? Share in the comments!