The transition to winter brings with it fewer hours of daylight, colder temperatures, and for many the ‘winter blues.’These winter blues are thought to be due, in part, to chemical changes in our brains that coincide with shorter, darker days. These changes (primarily a reduction in serotonin) can lead to feelings of lethargy, a desire to be less social, and do less activity. In some cases, these winter blues can be a serious, diagnosable condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder.
In addition to these biological changes that are thought to accompany winter days, it’s also true that our culture, upbringing, and experience can impact how we feel about winter. I grew up in Florida so didn’t experience winter until I moved away to Colorado for graduate school. While most Floridians dislike the idea of cold days and snow, I still find myself 20+ years later, loving the snowfall and finding beauty in the difference between a summer sunrise and a winter one. The sky just looks and feels different.
We do have the power to decide how we feel about winter. If we believe that it will make us depressed and sad, we are increasing the likelihood that it actually will. If we, on the other hand, try to approach winter, with a different perspective, such as finding joy and gratitude in the beauty of the seasons, we just might feel happier (perhaps just incrementally) about winter. Instead of looking at winter as a season to survive and ‘get through,’ we can adjust our mindset to consider all of the new opportunities this season might offer. Instead of we “have to”, perhaps practice saying we “get to”.Of course, this may take time and experimentation. Some of us genuinely struggle during winter, but the point here is that our mindset is a powerful contributor.
Here are some ideas to help you find joy in the darker days of winter:
1. Bundle up, get outside, and enjoy natural light a little bit every day
This will provide some Vitamin D (the “sunshine vitamin”) which plays a role in mood regulation. If natural light isn’t easy to access, consider light therapy lamps as a supplement.
2. Find ways to stay active during the winter
Whether it’s yoga at home, a workout at the gym, snowshoeing, skiing, or walking outside – movement releases endorphins in the body. These chemicals make us feel good.
3. Stay connected
There’s so much evidence that social connectedness plays a key role in reducing stress, feelings of isolation, and depression. Whether it’s in person or via Zoom, it’s all helpful.
4. Try something new or go back to a hobby that you love
Whether it’s a tried-and-true hobby or a new project/activity, keeping your mind engaged on positive things is key.
5. Embrace coziness
Cozy atmospheres - think blankets, warm drinks, soup, and perhaps candles - have been shown, for some, to lift spirits and create a feeling of happiness.
Even if you don’t end up loving the entire season or get annoyed at the amount of time it takes to bundle up to leave the house, perhaps you just might find one thing that brings you joy this winter.