Tag Archive | "tips to beat the winter blues"

Climbing Out of the Doldrums

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En route back home, mid-August, from a brief but sweet vacation at the Jersey shore, I was suddenly overwhelmed by a strange, swift depression.   It was late afternoon, with the sun burnishing the trees golden-green, and picking out those few boughs that always turn scarlet, pre-autumn, ahead of their fellows.  The air held that slight breeze that portends falling leaves and sweaters.  My heart mourned that small portent, the passing of long, warm summer days, blue skies, and toes sunk into moist, cool sand on a white beach.

The first time this feeling hit me was several years ago, and it’s been happening ever since.   Looking back, I was grieving over winter’s approach.  The winters here in the Northeast span six months, a long time to endure short days marked by feeble sunlight, snowstorms, and ice storms.  Citing circadian rhythms, a clinician might apply the term SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) to the gloominess that grips many of us living under such conditions.

Whether I am SAD or just a victim of ages-old DNA (prehistoric hunters and gatherers did their best survival work in mild weather), I’ve worked out a little plan to inject some joy into my life as the temperature plummets.  If you are among the many people like me, perhaps you’ll benefit from a few of the things that I have found helpful.  The good news is that none of them will break your bank!

1.  Fireplaces and scented candles.   Harkening back to the days when we all lived in caves, there is probably nothing more heartening to the human spirit than the sight of a nice, warm fire.  Lacking a fireplace, you can light some scented candles.  Either way, you should enjoy the flames safely.  Hire a chimney sweep once a year to remove the soot, which can block your chimney and result in a real fire hazard, as it did for my friend’s mother.   Never leave a candle burning unattended, and be sure that pets and children are safe from the flames.  Extinguish candles with a snuffer, not by blowing them out; this is the safest way.  Trim all wicks to 1/4″ inch before lighting them, except if you are burning large candles, such as the three-wick type (in these cases, you can keep the wicks a bit longer).  Clip the soot that accumulates on the wicks during burning, for added safety.

2.  Music soothes the savage beast.   Whatever music you prefer, surround yourself with it.  Your mood will lift; I promise you.  Share that music with other people and you’ll feel happier still.

3.  You are what you eat … particularly in the winter.  When the doldrums hit, I’m tempted to shove a donut or a muffin in my mouth, particularly in the morning.  Ahhh, the instant gratification of carbs and ugggghhhh, the urge to nap the minute my body’s begun to process them.   Oatmeal is a much better choice; it’s healthy, filling, and will provide you with energy.  Forget the flavored commercial varieties loaded with chemicals and excess sugar.  Make your own toppings, including cinnamon (which lowers your blood sugar), nutmeg, a touch of brown sugar or natural sweetener such as stevia or honey, slivered almonds, pecans, chopped apples, a handful of frozen berries, or all-fruit jams and preserves.

Beans are also a good source of protein-creating energy, and are cheap.  Consult a good vegetarian cookbook or go online, to find some excellent recipes.

4.  Chocolate: the elixir of life.   You don’t need to indulge to the max in order to feel good and reap the healthful benefits of this wonderful food chock full of antioxidants.   Warm up a cup of low fat milk and slip two squares of Dove® dark chocolate, or your favorite brand, into the milk.  Stir, sip, and enjoy.  If you’re feeling particularly low, insert a peppermint candy cane and swirl it around in the cup; the scent and flavor of mint is a natural pick-me-up.

5.  Chai.   If you love this warming, healthful beverage as much as I do, eschew the pricey pre-made brands.  Get thee to an Indian grocery store and buy some spices in bulk (not too much, as you’ll want them fresh); they’re cheaper at these emporiums than they are in the little pricey jars you’ll find in your regular supermarket.  You’ll need cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon sticks.  Brew up your black tea along with these spices; remove the spices and add low-fat milk and honey to taste.  Or, for something different, forget the milk and add some slices of fresh orange or tangerine. Take the time to sit and enjoy the tea.  Slow down and relax.

6.  Build a snowman.  If you’re stuck indoors during a snowstorm, you’ll have to shovel out anyway.   Take a break, come inside for some good soup, and go back out again armed with the makings of a snowman or snow woman: an old scarf, a carrot for the nose, and some dark buttons for the eyes and mouth.   If you’ve ever built a snowman when you were a kid, you’ll revert, on an otherwise blah day, to childhood time.

If snowmen don’t float your boat, take a walk in the woods.  Gather leaves and pinecones, study the trees, which are beautiful even in winter, and send out good vibes to the little birds and other forest animals.  Obviously, avoid bear country unless you are a masochist!    

7.  Invite friends over to watch a good movie or Celebrity Ghost Stories on the Biography® channel.  Stay home, save yourself some bucks, and reconnect with your friends.  You can make the evening a potluck supper, so that you won’t bear the brunt of the food bill and the cooking.  Or just pop some popcorn, if you’re gathering a little later into the evening.  If your friends are scattered geographically, have a virtual party or a conference call. Or, just reach out and touch someone with a snail mail letter (people love these!) or an email.  Folks who enjoy strong social bonds are not only less likely to become depressed, we are also physically healthier!

8.  Send yourself some flowers with an “I love you” note to yourself.   Seriously.  Every now and then, we have to take a moment to express our love for ourselves in tangible ways.  If you’re tightening the belt, you can pick out a nice, affordable bouquet at the supermarket.  Carnations and mums will last at least few days in a vase of cool water.

9.  Give yourself a manicure, pedicure, and facial.   Pick a bright, cheery color for your nail polish (sorry, guys, this is not for you, but feel free to enjoy the facial!)  A home spa treatment is a lot cheaper than patronizing a salon and has the added benefit of forcing you to sit still for the time that it takes your nails to dry and your face to steam.  Throw some fragrant herbs into a pot of very hot water, lean close to the pot (after you’ve removed it carefully from the stove!), and toss a towel over your head.  The steam will open your pores and the herbs will revitalize you.  A very generous handful of Herbs de Provence (found in your grocer’s spice section) is a good choice.  So is a nice bunch of dried lavender and rose petals.

10.  Do a good deed or better yet, a number of them.  Organize a toy and/or coat drive for the needy.  Volunteer at a soup kitchen or a food bank.   If you’re a good salesperson or writer, drum up all manner of donations by marketing the charity, within the guidelines of the organization.

Rake the leaves of an elderly neighbor and bring him or her a nice thermos of homemade soup.   Have a seat when they offer you one and listen to the tales they’ll tell you.  Odds are, you’ll be charmed and you will have brightened the day of a lonely person.

If you’ve survived cancer or open-heart surgery, hospitals will be grateful for your volunteer services.  You can counsel, informally, the patients who are facing what you’ve gone through.  Serving as a volunteer will get you out of the house on those days when all you want to do is curl up in bed, it will impact those who really need a helping hand, and trust me please on this one: it will make you feel oh so good about yourself.

If you’re feeling a little cheerier just reading these suggestions, imagine how much better you’ll feel when you do them!

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