The winter months can seem to drag on and on. Especially when we are smack in the middle of the season. Now is a good time to reframe our attitudes toward winter. Think of the terms we use to describe this time of year “bleak, grey, ice cold,” and my favorite: ‘the dead of winter.” Can you relate?
What if we called the second half of winter “The height of winter,” “winter’s glory days,” or maybe even “the peak cozy zone?” Come up with your own term to help you get to April. Whatever term you chose, think of the second half of the winter as a playful friend that will walk with you into springtime.
Even with a positive spin, there are days when the second half of winter may feel endless and we may be tempted to revert to bad habits. We may feel isolated from our support systems and tired of shoveling our way our the house to meet a friend. We may even feel separated from our own mind and body. Many of my clients say that the most bothersome symptom of the winter doldrums is a feeling of fuzzy-headedness, brain fog, and detachment from the day-to-day. They describe it as a kind of sensory "underload" that just needs to be endured.
Binge-watching videos may not be the cure
We've been brainwashed to believe that distraction is the answer to moving through a period of discontent, but mindfulness can introduce us to the magic of full engagement. The science of mindfulness shows us that the more we are engaged in any activity, whether it is doing laundry, reading to a child, or writing an annual report, the more satisfaction and joy we will find in the activity. Let’s apply this concept to the second half of winter!
- Right now, rate your energy/mood level from one to ten, (example: “I’m convinced that the sun has permanently left our solar system and my energy level is at rock bottom”).
- Then pick one or two of the suggestions below for twenty-four hours.
- Re-check your energy/mood level after committing to one of the suggestions below.
- Need more motivation? Find a “peak of winter” partner and make a pact to try these happy winter habits. The goal of these habits is to help you experience winter with more ease and joy.
Happy Winter Habits:
There’s still time to turn winter around with these easy practices.
Chart the sun’s progress: Fact: If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, the sun is headed your way. We’ve made it through the shortest day! Track the sun’s progress by getting curious about the changes in sunrise and sunset. Take five minutes at the start and end of each day to notice how the light is changing. This is a powerful mindfulness practice that will lift your spirits because looking at the horizon activates areas in the brain that help us broaden our visual and psychological perspective.
Meet your energy where it is and start a gentle exercise routine: When you are feeling sluggish and you are trying to introduce more movement into your routine, it’s important to meet your current energy level. Give yourself permission to try a gentle or restorative exercise routine. Ten minutes of stretching makes a world of difference!
For example, the end of the week or the end of the weekend is a great time to invest in a restorative yoga class, one that uses props as a way to support longer holds. If you can’t make it to a class, check the options available to you on YouTube. If you are ready to make bigger commitment, try the options available at Gaia or a similar yoga platform. These on-line yoga services allow you to choose the length, style, and intensity of yoga you are craving, so you can create the perfect routine on low-energy days.
Visualize warmth: A seashell on your desk, fresh flowers in your house, going to sleep with a recording of ocean waves -- these are just a few tricks you can use to relive the warmer months. Don’t go as far as wearing your flip-flops in the snow, however. The trick is to conjure up memories of a warm day without getting frostbite.
You can also go inward and visualize your last summer vacation by practicing a visualization of a relaxing summer day. It’s a fantastic time to connect to thoughts that are calming, soothing and relaxing. Follow these steps to time travel back to your last summer vacation. Although you won’t come back with a tan, this ten-minute exercise will leave you feeling relaxed and energized.
Slightly adjust your sleep schedule: Here’s another opportunity to track the return of light. Do you notice your sleep patterns subtly changing as the light returns? Try to adjust your sleep/wake cycle to mimic the sunrise/sunset. Adjust your bedtime and morning alarm by just ten minutes. This is a small but refreshing change that will remind you that you are part of nature!
Eat for the season, but start adding more fresh foods: You may be starting to burn out on items like Brussels sprouts, kale, parsnips, sweet potatoes, and hearty winter soups. Now is a good time to add some variety to your diet, but instead of giving into carb urges, try to add in more fresh fruit and veggies this month. You’ll naturally feel more energized because your system won’t be focused on digesting heavy food. Put a lighter spin on an old recipe. Make your next batch of chili with extra veggies and serve green salsa on the side.
It’s winter carnival time: Is there a winter celebration happening in your locale? Perhaps a snow or ice sculpture festival? Don’t miss out or let icy sidewalks dissuade you. I highly recommend investing in a pair of yack tracks or microspikes. I love the feeling of confidence they give me as conquer winter ice on my driveway and around town. If I have a choice between feeling like an ice-defying superhero or worrying about my head hitting the ice, I always chose superhero!
Keep up with your light therapy: If you have been using light therapy to boost your mood, concentration and energy levels, keep up with your routine. As you have more of an opportunity to get more exposure to natural light as the days get longer, start shortening your light therapy session. Everyone responds differently to light therapy and depending how much time you are spending outdoors, you may need your HappyLight Therapy Lamp® year-round. Keep a light journal, compare your mood to the amount of time you spend outdoors, and keep using your full spectrum light as needed. Notice Nature’s other cues: You may notice as we eek toward the warmer months that there are a few more birds chirping each morning, perhaps even more squirrel activity. Use these cues to remind yourself that spring always return. We are often just the last animals to notice.
Whatever term you chose, think of the second half of the winter as a playful friend that will walk with you into springtime.
….maybe winter just has a bad reputation. Think of the terms we use to describe winter – “bleak, grey, ice cold… and my favorite winter descriptor: ‘the dead of winter.”
The science of mindfulness shows us that the more we are engaged in any activity -- whether it be one of the activities mentioned above or even laundry, reading to a child, or writing an annual report -- the more satisfaction and joy we will find in our day-to-day lives. I've found that's especially true in winter's glory days.
Donna Torney is a writer and Licensed Mental Health Counselor. She lives in Jackson, NH, facing winter head on. She specializes in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. This simply means that Donna considers the effects of the mind on the body and the body on the mind when she helps individuals work through situational challenges and everyday stress. She works with many emerging and established adults who are struggling to live in a fast-paced society with more peace and less anxiety. She was lucky to go through her clinical training during the “mindfulness revolution” – when research on the brain/body benefits of mindfulness and related contemplative practices was exploding.