It’s 75ºF, the sun warms my face as I write this and the sky is clear and as blue as Lake Superior in the early spring. So, why would I bring up winter blues at a time like this?
Well, here in the Upper Midwest, the days are already several hours shorter, the nights much cooler and we had already seen frost on the ground a couple of cold mornings last week. Many of us northerners have already set in motion the habits that will lead to our blues in 4 or 5 months.
We are retreating into our homes and locking the doors earlier in the evening. We haven’t quite packed the bikes, roller blades or swimming toys yet, but they are beginning to collect dust already. The streets and parks are quieter than a few weeks earlier, even on this perfectly beautiful day. Small talk has already shifted from baseball to football despite the still favorable position of our state’s baseball team, the Milwaukee Brewers (of course, I do live in Green Bay Packer country).
So, the time to start practicing habits to avoid winter blues is now:
- Spend more time outdoors. Cabin fever is a large contributor to seasonal affective disorder (winter blues). There are still things to do outdoors when the weather is cold and there is snow on the ground. Several years ago, I commuted 10 miles to work on a bicycle through the winter. This was probably the first year I had not experienced any weather related anxiety. Being outside every day and breathing the fresh air, I barely noticed that winter had passed when I began gearing up for spring rain.
- Dress for the weather. Of course, besides the safety considerations, if you don’t dress for the weather, you’re not going to want to spend time outdoors. When I was biking 20 miles a day on cold winter days, I had to layer myself in order to survive the wind. Because of the way I dressed, I rarely noticed the cold. Yes, it takes a little longer to get dressed in the morning and my laundry hamper tends to fill up more quickly, but a cold body loses energy quickly and you can only sit on the couch under a blanket for so long. A general rule of thumb is to wear 3 layers:
- A thin layer close to the body to keep you dry and provide an insulating foundation. Thermal underwear works great for this.
- A second layer to trap body heat. A t-shirt works fine for this.
- A loose outer layer to keep the cold out, such as a sweater, sweatshirt or jacket (or a combination if it’s really cold). It helps if these layers can be easily taken off or put back on to adjust your body temperature. If you sweat too much, you could get dangerously cold.
I generally find that the lower half of the body is comfortable with one less layer than the upper half.
- Continue exercising. So often, we drop our exercise routine when the weather starts to get cold, and then try to start it up again on January 1st. Schedules and routines tend to change when the seasons change and exercise always seems to be the first thing to get dropped. If you do lose the habit, check out 4 Simple Steps to Start the Exercise Habit at Zen Habits. Leo talks about restarting the exercise habit after losing it.
- Maintain your sleeping habits. Sleeping habits tend to change in winter as well. Daylight Savings Time ends. The cold weather drains us physically and some of us tend to sleep in longer on the weekends and stay up later. This means we see daylight even less. If your schedule is flexible enough, avoid changing your schedule with the time change.
- Appreciate the seasonal changes. Appreciate the lush greens of early autumn, the brilliant colors of turning leaves, the sepia tones after the leaves drop and the vegetation dries up and the sparkling white fluff in early winter.
- Expose yourself to sunlight whenever possible. Some experts believe that lack of Vitamin D absorbed from sunlight contributes to winter blues, others believe it’s a psychological affect. In either case, exposing yourself to the sun can help keep the winter blues away. Whether the exposure is through a window or a short vacation to a warmer region.
- Live it up while the weather is still nice. The days of autumn are often referred to metaphorically as the end of life. Trees go dormant, leaves dry up and fall to the ground, insects die, many plants dies and the rest go dormant. People who struggle the most in their autumn years are those who regret the missed opportunities of life. Living life to the fullest helps avoid these regrets. Enjoy these warm days to the fullest and you will have no winter regrets.