When it’s cold we want to hibernate, stay tucked under the covers and just sleep. We know this happens every year, but every time winter sets in we get those blues that we can’t escape. It’s like Pepé Le Pew chasing after us.
I know what I’m talking about because my winter blues were my arch nemesis when I lived in Pennsylvania. My depressive state would kick in from any little thing, a somewhat negative comment from a co-worker or a rejection of an idea at work. I always walked a thin line that could break at any moment.
I was happy during the weekends because I had the freedom to stay underneath the covers and ignore the rest of the world, but as soon as Sunday night came around the work blues would start. The work week would begin and the negative thoughts would envelope me like Pepé Le Pew’s smell.
“If depression is creeping up and must be faced, learn something about the nature of the beast: You may escape without a mauling.” – Dr. R. W. Shepherd
I learned some techniques that should help you hold off those winter blues and maybe even appreciate them.
1. Get Out in the Weather
My cousin taught me a valuable lesson a long time ago (10 years. Just feels like a long time. Even a past life.) I was down on myself. My confidence was low and work was dragging. 9 hours felt like 12.
He convinced me to go on a winter camping hike. I bought a 0 degree sleeping bag, high altitude burner to boil water and cook meals with, and a bunch of little stuff like quality thermal wear and socks. The first night we slept on snow. It was freaking cold. I’m not going to lie – I was miserable. But after the third and last day, while hiking back down the mountain my mood lifted. I was saying “heeelloooo” to everyone we passed.
When I went into work the next day I had this vigor back in my blood. I wasn’t going to let the cold stop me from enjoying life.
I brought my heavy coat, hiking shoes, and winter hat each day and trekked through the neighborhood during lunch. I looked forward to this exploration each morning and it helped me relax every afternoon. By getting out and staring the cold in the eye I stopped letting my trepidation take over. I was back on top.
2. Make a Winter Ritual
Every fall when winter comes rolling in, I find that I begin a ritual. I find a lot of happiness in this ritual. I move my winter shirts to the front of my closet so I can see them, and I pull out my winter gear.
One of my favorite pieces of clothing is an old Browns knitted winter hat that I’ve had since I’ve been 14. Each time I put it on old memories and feelings come rushing back. It’s like I’m getting a hug from my mother, father, brother and friends all at the same time. I look forward to this time of year because of this hat.
See what patterns have emerged and how you can create a ritual to put a smile back on your face. Find a way to enjoy your preparations, which will reduce dread and increase positive feelings.
3. Take a Vacation (Preferably someplace Sunny)
You need a break from the grind that is your daily job. If you don’t take a break, your motivation will dip so far that you might not be able to recover.
I have a friend who is the a video editor for TV shows, documentaries and whoever else will pay him. When he works, it can mean grueling 12 hour days in front of a computer screen spent analyzing every little detail. He makes really good money. You have to when you’re living in NY. He also gets so stressed out that his body rebels.
So he goes on some exotic vacation to a new land every few months. His big trip is always in the winter. The prices are cheap. It’s his way of relieving the pain and gearing himself back up for work. He needs that time to himself, so he will usually go alone because he needs to do what he wants to do.
You probably also build up mental and physical pain through the winter. So try getting away (preferably some place sunny) and giving yourself that healthy relief that only a warm atmosphere can provide. The sun is very important to our sanity. We need it’s warmth to give us a break from Seasonal Affective Disorder (Mayo Clinic Link).
4. Swap Winter Blues Stories with Friends (Call it the Winter Blues Festival)
I’m a fan of dark beer, especially in the winter time. There are some comforting properties in it or something that I don’t think are scientifically proven, but very much real.
The winter blues can actually be fun when shared with the right people. For me, that means buying a six pack and/or sitting by a fire as we complain about our lives. The complaining never lasts that long because we usually get ourselves laughing, turning our moods more positive.
Let your emotions out with a friend. Talk about the pain that is going on. Then once you’ve released the pressure, focus on some of the good things that your job, life and relationships have to offer.
5. Notice the Benefits
The winter brings many benefits with it. My favorite benefit is my contemplative nature. It’s as if my mind goes into a cocoon and comes out even stronger in the spring.
Have you ever noticed how your thoughts change in the winter?
Watch how you feel, think and react to people and situations. You may be more somber, relaxed, depressed, moody, or what have you. Use this time to get creative with your thoughts.
Run with them. If you notice that you are more somber then don’t judge, but see where it leads. When you try to force happiness, you only make yourself feel worse.
By running with what the winter offers, you can let your creativity out in new ways. You may be more somber, but maybe you are less uptight about projects and can find solutions that you wouldn’t be able to see in the spring or summer.
6. Create a Winter Project
One of my less acclaimed, but most enjoyable projects was a picture book called “92 Things to do Besides Suicide.” A total of seven people bought it. I think it was six friends and one of my readers from an old blog. If you join my free e-course then email me that you have I’ll email you the photo of when I decided to use Vaseline to sick cotton balls on my face. Yes, it was a little weird, but that is why it was so much fun.
I started this project because I was depressed. I hated my job, life and thoughts. I was a miserable young man. That’s where the concept came from. I wanted to use this negative energy and make it into something more positive.
What mattered is that it focused my energy on doing something fun. If I could help just one person take a fresh look at their depressing life and make them laugh, it was all worth it.
7. Read a Good Book During Your Lunch Break
I’m talking about a book that really makes you think as well as entertain. I’ve read so many good books that have changed my life that I stopped counting.
If you want a great story from a fresh perspective, try reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower. This story is told through letters written to you by a kid having trouble in high school. The only person who can understand his problems is you – the reader.
If you want down to earth philosophy about enjoying the present moment then read Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. It’s filled with ideas that make you look at how you handle thoughts, emotions and actions.
If you want philosophy with a great story then read Fountainhead. It’s a little long, but worth the effort. It doesn’t shy away from helping you see how powerful and wonderful you can be.
That’s why I prefer books over movies. Very few movies have really helped me see life from a new perspective, and even when they do, the effect usually doesn’t last more than a few hours. Books change the way I deal with my life.
Winter Blues Should Be Enjoyed
Your blues are a part of your winter journey. If you didn’t get a little sad then spring wouldn’t feel so glorious. So be there all the way. Really listen to your thoughts and see where they take you.
Instead of going out to eat with your friends, try mixing it up and trying one of these suggestions. I know that you’ll have a new appreciation for those blues that will help make life interesting.
Photo by Shahram Sharif