Chasing Away The Winter Blues
Updated: May 3, 2019
The winters in western Washington have a darkness that envelopes you completely. People complain about the rain, and it is true that the constant drip, drip can be annoying, but the always-present cloudy and rainy sky deepens the darkness. We lived in Seattle in the early 90’s when we attended grad school at UW, and I do not recollect the darkness, so before moving back to the Pacific North West, I didn’t anticipate this dark winter.
The latitude and the late sun rise and early sun sets are an issue, but there are places with higher latitudes in Canada and Alaska where daylight hours are fewer. And how does daylight versus sunlight compare in those places?
What is one to do when we must live in this sort of winter? It took me one winter to figure out how badly it affected my mood all winter. I didn’t go out much, I ate poorly, I gained weight, and I got sick a lot. And the only reason this is relevant is because I retired this year and discovered that I was at home all day and didn’t have a job to go to. One winter is all you get to mope around; it behooves you to get off the couch and do something about it before the second winter comes around. And so, I did.
Here are some suggestions for actions I took, that have helped me tremendously. These include some general suggestions that could affect everyone in the house, as well as some very specific things that needs tuning to individual interests:
1. Switch all the light bulbs to LED so you can turn on a lot of lights and keep them on all day. This seems like such an obvious thing, but I found that we are tuned from early childhood to turn off lights to save electricity. We tend to just keep the minimum. You would need to fight against this instinct and ensure that you light up shadows in dark corners.
2. Bring plants into the house. Winter is a good time to shop for house plants and pot them in colorful pots. Having the lights turned on helps these plants stay healthy and alive. The green plants effect one’s psyche in subtle but important ways. Just being in the presence of green plants is calming, plants help clear the air of toxins and bring humidity into the space which is particularly helpful when the heater is running all winter. With greater than 43% relative humidity in the air, there is scientific evidence (Noti et al, 2013) to show that having a lot of house plants can keep you healthier this winter.
3. Start a creative activity, perhaps something that you did as a child, and have always wanted to try again? Clay modeling, watercolor, mosaics, wood carving, stone sculpturing? I started doing mosaics and leaped straight into a big project to cover my 5’ high concrete block gate posts with an interesting mosaic design. These days it is not too difficult to learn a new skill using books, YouTube videos, and check your local library and community center for adult art classes. Getting out of the house to a class has an additional benefit of social interaction with often like-minded souls. I have come to love this mosaic work because it is very meditative and requires patience. I use the silence to listen to TED talks or music as I work on cutting and sticking mosaic glass pieces.
4. Learn a language. Set aside an hour a day to learn a new language. There is so many easy ways to do this now, apps on the phone or tablet, or CDs can bring you closer to a new language. If the western Washington winter lasts from October to March, and you can set aside 5 hours a week then you have put in 120 hours of time into a new language, enough to make you speak the basics and get by as a tourist in a new country somewhere. I decided to learn Spanish since we were planning a trip to Mexico City in December and I would have three months of Spanish under my belt before we left. From past trips to Mexico I know that a lot of people there do not speak English, so having some basic level of conversational Spanish will be very useful. I have been using an app called Duolingo that uses repetition to teach you the language so that once you have done the 40 lessons in each topic area, you typically don’t forget the new words you just learnt.
5. Start a new word puzzle game on your phone or tablet. I love playing scrabble but no one at home will play with me, so the next best thing is playing on my phone. I also play an anagram puzzle since this helps me be a better scrabble player. These two games keep my brain active.
6. Learn to cook a couple of new dishes. Pick at least one fun dish like chocolate soufflé. If you make it frequently during the winter, perhaps once a week, then soon you will be able to make it without looking at the recipe. This is guaranteed to impress friends who come over for dinner. Cooking can be a communal activity, include your kids, friends, spouse and anyone else, and choose a dish that is sounds interesting, for example, bread, chocolate souffle, croissants, or mango souffle.
7. Music is important to most of us, so begin music lessons in any instrument that feels right to you. If you can sing, then take singing lessons because belting out a song loudly in the middle of winter is a sure-fire way to chase away the blues.
8. Meditation often seems like a downer that calms you down, rather than an upper. But there are two ways to use meditation as a pick me up. If you wake up groggy and don’t feel very energetic, then 20 minutes of focus on breathing with closed eyes or inner chanting always helps me feel refreshed and more ready to face the day. And secondly, meditation with visualization is a powerful technique. Do this practice as soon as the sun has set and use visualization to bring in inner brightness. Close your eyes and think of a really bright place like the beach with blue skies and a light warm breeze for example, and take a walk along this beach in your mind. This always helps me perk up.
Approaching winter solstice now I am doing much better this year than I did last year. Perhaps I don’t get to everything on my list everyday but I am busy all day with creative and learning activities and this keeps me occupied with happy things so I don’t notice the darkness.
“High Humidity Leads to Loss of Infectious Influenza Virus from Simulated Coughs”, John D. Noti, et. al, 2013 https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0057485