When people find out that I’m a native Texan living in Chicago, they often look at me with wide eyes. “How do you handle the winters?” I usually chuckle, understanding the question. But then I surprise people with my answer. “To be honest, the winters in Chicago are just like the summers in Texas. Brutal. They’re just opposite in their extremes, but the main coping skills are pretty much the same.”
The realities of winter in a cold-weather climate are tough. Several months of being bundled up. Enduring bone-chilling temperatures. Shoveling, snowblowing, and salting. And dealing with the winter blues. So if you’re feeling discouraged this winter, if you’re feeling cooped up, grumbly, or just plain ready for some sunshine, here are a few things to help you through this winter.
1. Create a cold weather ritual. Rituals call for us to do something the same way, over and over. And while rituals get a bit of a bad rap for being boring or monotonous, when done with warmth and intention, they’re anything but. Find a small activity that brings you joy. A book by the fire. A steaming cup of hot chocolate after dinner. A family puzzle night. Candles in more places than normal. Find something that’s seemingly more magical in the winter, and do it often. Over time, you’ll come to crave this ritual, finding comfort in its familiarity and the fact that it’s only available during the winter.
2. Get outside. I know this seems counterintuitive. If you’re trying to beat the winter blues, the last thing you want to do is go out in the winter weather. But that’s exactly why it’s important. Instead of avoiding the cold, highlighting all the ways it cramps your style, get out in it. Live your life. Do fun things. Reframe the cold weather by getting out and making silly, joyful and happy memories in the frigid cold. Some of my favorite Chicago memories involve my friends and I squealing in the cold, laughing as we huddled tight together, impromptu snowball throwing (almost always initiated by my husband), and last year’s winter walk through the forest preserve after 8 inches of snow. Redefine your relationship with winter by making some great memories in it, not in spite of it.
3. Think about your favorite warm weather memory. Remember sitting on the patio last summer, with a cool drink in hand? Or taking a beautiful walk among last fall’s leaves? Well guess what? You were only able to have that glorious weather and that awesome memory because of this cold weather. That awesome, warm weather memory is the flipside of this current weather. You can’t have one without the other. Challenge your winter blues by appreciating this weather. Practice gratitude. If you love those cool summer breezes and the magnificent autumn leaves, remember, this winter weather is part of the deal. Channel your inner Marie Kondo and express gratitude and appreciation for what’s in front of you, what’s it’s teaching you, and what it allows you to have.
4. Schedule something fun, at least two weeks out. Notice I didn’t say do something fun, but rather, schedule something fun. Surprisingly, research shows that anticipating and looking forward to something often increases the positive experience of actually doing the fun thing. Furthermore, the anticipation of the fun thing often increases happiness more than actually doing the thing itself! By scheduling an activity or event, you’re giving yourself the anticipation of the experience plus the experience itself. The activity or event doesn’t have to be expensive or outrageous. It doesn’t need to be a tropical vacation or a weekend away. It simply needs to be something you’ll enjoy. Schedule a day at the museum or dinner with friends at a restaurant you’ve been wanting to try. Try that indie movie theater you’ve been talking about forever or plan a roadtrip to see a friend. Put it on the calendar at least two or three weeks in advance. This will give you plenty of time to soak up the positive impact of the anticipation.
5. Be diligent about gratitude. Our brains love to grumble. They love to focus on what’s wrong. And this is alarmingly easier when it’s frigid, cold, and snowy. But grumbling is like gasoline for your winter blues. It’s fuel for the fire. So double down on your daily gratitude practice. Don’t let a day go by without doing it. And if you don’t have a daily gratitude practice, stop what you’re doing right now, and check this post. Having a daily gratitude practice is one of the quickest ways to boost your happiness. It’s free, surprisingly easy with practice, and it doesn’t require an extra layer of clothing or waterproof boots.
6. Exercise. Ok, I know the title of this post said “5 Practical Ways to Beat the Winter Blues,” but I’m adding a sixth. And I left it for last so you wouldn’t hate me too much. I know exercise is a challenge for most people. And when you add in freezing temps, limited sunlight, and slushy streets, it’s the last thing you want to do. But exercise continues to be one of the most evidence-based ways to manage mood. It’s too effective not to do. If the winter blues are making it tough to get motivated, follow this advice that I got from a trainer nearly 15 years ago. It’s magic.
If you’re struggling this winter, if the winter blues have got you down, which one of these tips are you going to try today?
PS: Worried it might be more than just the winter blues? Wondering if it might be time to try therapy? Here are three clues to know it might be time to try therapy.