Winter blues? Some ideas for lifting your spirits!

January 28, 2010

Dan on Facebook asked for some thoughts on seasonal depression. A lover of the outdoors, he’s finding it challenging to spend so much time inside. Winter is a challenge for me too, even here in California where the winters are far milder and shorter than in my native New Jersey. Finding ways of getting through winter has been a big focus for me, and for the first time this year, winter’s not so hard. In fact, at times I’m even enjoying it!

Seasonal depression is quite common, and it can range from simple “winter blahs” to something much more intense. The darkness of winter, combined with the cold and the necessity to stay indoors, can all lead to feeling blue. But I think sometimes winter can also trigger a stronger depression that has to do with unresolved emotional issues that surface when winter forces us to be less active and we have less things to distract us from what lies within us. In that sense, winter can also be an opportunity to see what parts of yourself need healing and attention. For example, for most of us, there’s grief from a variety of losses in life that we’ve never fully processed. Our culture doesn’t do grief well. We get a “stay on the sunny side of the street” kind of message that causes us to avoid the painful feelings of grief. But avoiding, suppressing and distracting ourselves from feelings doesn’t make them go away. Given the more restful time of winter, these feelings can surface.

Although I’m going to share list of some things I’ve done to make winter easier, I have to start by saying that inner work I’ve done in the past has a lot to do with my good spirits this winter. Your everyday, garden-variety winter doldrums might be helped by some of the things I’ll share, but it may take more than that if the depression is more intense.  If you feel your depression is more than simple winter blahs, I’d encourage you to explore the possibility that there is more going on. You can find lots of reading online about depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder. It may be that winter is helping you to see that there’s some inner work to do. Attending to your depression can lead to a more fulfilling life later on. There are lots of good therapies for depression, so I hope you’ll get some help if needed.

And now, as someone who has always dreaded the coming of winter, here are the things I’ve found that are making a big difference for me:

  • I bring more light into my home – light candles, have some pretty lamps lit. If I had a fireplace, I’d make lots of fires. It’s amazing though, how much even one lit candle can mean in winter. Whenever possible, I spend a least a few minutes in the sun, really soaking it in. Full spectrum lighting can help as well.
  • Exercise. Exercise helps with depression, and part of the blahs may come from being more sedentary in winter. I used to rely a lot on walking and when it was too cold to go out in winter, I was at a loss. A few things have made all the difference — an elliptical machine, a bodybar and the hula.
  • I do whatever it takes to stay warm. Lots of layers of clothes, especially yummy wool sweaters with beautiful colors that lift my spirits. I use an electric mattress pad to warm my bed before I get in. If I feel chilled, I’ll even warm my clothes in a dryer and put them on. I can’t tell you how good the heat feels. I have no shame when it comes to keeping warm. People joke about it when I wear two wool hats, one on top of the other, but my comfort comes first!
  • Find enjoyable indoor activities. For me, lately, it’s been the hula. I can’t tell you how happy it makes me. Find something that really lifts your spirits and do it!
  • Bring nature indoors. If you, like me, are a lover of nature, having plants indoors can really help. Taking care of them, seeing them grow brings a bit of spring and summer into your home. Forcing bulbs in winter is also wonderful. How about some lovely, fragrant narcissus or hyacinth? The Nature Attunement Meditation is perfect for this as well!
  • Attitude. Oh yes, lest I forget, that all important ingredient. Cognitive therapy is effective in depression, and I think of an attitude adjustment as being just that. If I focus on how long and dreary winter is and how much I want it over with, it does seem incredibly long and dreary. Instead I’m learning to focus on the positive side of winter — the opportunity to be more restful and go within. It’s a time to hibernate and meditate. It’s a time to contemplate.
  • Surrender. Finally, perhaps the most important ingredient is surrendering to the melancholy when it’s present. We’re conditioned to fight it and resist it, to feel it’s bad or wrong. It’s a natural part of life. So often our suffering comes from feeling we should be different than we are (as in always happy and upbeat). Life as we know it couldn’t exist without the poles of opposites – joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain. Let it be OK to feel blue.

Perhaps some of these things will be useful for you. Or you may have some other strategies to share. I’d love to know what works for you!


11 Responses to “Winter blues? Some ideas for lifting your spirits!”

  1. Kim on January 28th, 2010 2:50 pm

    Lovely post and great examples! Can’t tell you the difference my winter orchards and brighter light bulbs have made to me this winter :-)

  2. Mary on January 28th, 2010 3:42 pm

    Thank you, Kim. Sometimes just a few little things can make a big difference.

  3. Valerie on January 29th, 2010 1:13 am

    Living in Australia I am in the middle of a heat wave right now that has left me lethargic but not depressed. Where i live it is never too cold to go outdoors. For me it is a joy to visit other parts of the world and experience the beauty of the winter season that we do not get to enjoy. I have thought however that while it is magical and wonderful for a few weeks, I would struggle with the short days (particularly the limited sunlight) if I had to cope with it in the longer term.
    I love the idea of lots of fires and candles to brighten up the winter. I find candles wonderful mood setters and lifters at any time of year.

  4. Lotus on January 29th, 2010 2:41 am

    Thanks for sharing, these are all great suggestions!

    For me, this winter has been a big improvement. Never thought much of it until I read this.

    I go to the park few times a week to do a form of qi dance with a group. With time my friendship with those people has deepen. What I find is that, it is not only the getting out in the sun or the exercise but the human connection. I think that makes a big difference.

    I don’t know does the human connection have the same result with others. Or is it just that I am a people person. One thing I know is that I feel very joyful when I connect with others especially when we are all involved in deep meaningful activities.

    For all said, I am also a person who totally embrace Solitude. If there is one thing I truly indulge in, it is the joy of Silence.

    I think the essential key to it all is the right BALANCE (or some call the Middle Way).

  5. Mary on January 29th, 2010 10:49 am

    @Valerie – I thought about the fact that some of us are experiencing summer now, and that winter can be so different in different parts of the world. I do think the limited sunlight is the main thing that can make winter difficult in some places. And yes, candles are always helpful!

    @Lotus – I’m glad you brought up the importance of human connection. That makes a big difference for all but the most reclusive of people. And balance is certainly the key, and the right balance is different for all of us. We need to listen to our own unique rhythms.

  6. Dan on January 29th, 2010 10:49 am


    Thanks so much for this blog and for all you do for you listeners! There are some great ideas here and believe it or not MOST of them… I have not even tried yet. I have been able to take some time to meditate more often and some interesting things have surfaced as a result. I believe you are right, in that we tend to push our grief down and then become so active with daily “stuff” that it sometimes will surface when we are not active, more sedentary and indoors. This surfacing has actually been a necessary and positive thing for me. Another positive thing is that I have been spending more time with my family, rather than running off on my outdoor quests. We have even decided to take a night this weekend to look thgough some old photos and talk about our next family vacation. Thanks again for the valuable insites. As always looking forward to your next CD and/or podcast. I will be thinking of you and Richard in California when I light that candle tonight! i hope some of the light reaches you.

  7. Mary on January 29th, 2010 11:07 am

    Thank you for inspiring this post, Dan! Isn’t it interesting how nature’s rhythms help us to bring balance to our lives. When we notice a little brightening up tonight, we’ll know its coming from you!

  8. Matt on January 29th, 2010 12:00 pm

    Great post Mary. The list you gave is very helpful with good common sense ideas and activities. As you know I have lived with a life time of ‘blah’ and with in more recent years, I have forced my self to wake up telling my self how lucky I am. If this doesn’t work, it’s not hard to think of others in the world less fortunate than I am. The inner voice which seems to replay a negative ‘blah’ I witness and stop what I am doing and tell it to get lost and replace with ‘I love me and the world’ affirmations. Through your wonderful work, I am now always aware that all life is meditation so, I may like to repeat how wonderful I am many times in the back of mind and how great everything is. If I can’t think of anything great to find, I don’t have to look far and see the sky, breathe air, listen to water along a stream or river, flowers, trees and birds. Dogs running about, children laughing, paintings that make me happy and so on, o, and music, always cleanses my soul. After about twenty minutes, the repeated ‘I am a wonderful person, or I love me loads’ affirmations create a different feeling than before I practice saying these. So it cheers me up, or helps put my thoughts on track. However, I also have to appreciate that my body may want to feel ‘blah’ and as you say, allow my self to feel blue, in that moment. I have a ‘Rule number 6’ thought which always works well with me. The rule says ‘Don’t take life so seriously!’ – I admit, some times things are too overwhelming at times and nothing in that moment can cheer me up however, as with being happy, sadness must also be there, a balance I guess. I think it is a skill or ant art to not let the low ‘blah’ continue as it so easily can so I spend time listening to me and with honesty I try to make better in learning what I am hearing, putting action on to it, resolve or put to one side and come back to it later, and move on.

    Friends are my best anti-depressant and thankfully they are there when I need them. The pills I get given to relax, help lift my mood more but it’s is far from a cure. I have been also practising a form of Mind-Chi. 8 minutes each day and usually after I have listened to your lessons. It involves placing your thumbs to either one of your fingers intern or when either one is required through out the day. Remember this BEAT. Body Emotion Action Thought. In thought for example, I can enhance my awareness and think better as to what I wish to focus on. I find this helps with creativity or organising my list of things to do. Action for when I’m feeling a little lazy or slack, or before I walk or do other exercises . This seems to create an energy making me get up and crack on. Emotion opens up the feeling good or bad to surface, I seem to notice an ease soon after and also get many creative ideas but most of all, seems to clear the grey matter better. The body I find is similar to chakra meditation as my awareness is on my physicality. Any back ache or itches, I can focus on, it seems to heal or ease the pain or itch.

    With out being a routine person, I do make certain each day or night that I am at least doing things kick out the blues and try to calm the highs that can be quite lofty! :)

  9. Donna Johnson on January 29th, 2010 3:03 pm

    I find that music is a huge help for me. I light candles, find a playlist on my iPod that feels right, and I start feeling better almost immediately. I also move more because I get up and dance to the music.

    Thanks so much for all this helpful information.

  10. Mary on January 29th, 2010 3:45 pm

    @Matt – I so admire your spirit and determination, as well as your willingness to explore yourself and learn ways to feel better and make your life more fulfilling. Thank you for sharing in such detail, since we all learn from each other.

    @Donna. Yes, music! Even better, candles and music and dancing! Thanks for sharing…

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