5 Ways To Beat The Winter Blues
There is not much to recommend an English January and February in my opinion. If I could migrate to sunnier climes for the winter I would. Although the days are technically longer after December 21st, light is trapped behind concrete skies and night creeps upon us without fanfare. The air is chilled but not cold enough to be bracing; our skin takes on a pallid, sickly hue and our Christmas cheer has been long-exhausted, leaving us grimly polite to strangers on the bus and snappish with our loved ones. As someone who struggles to keep the blues at bay at the best of times, winter makes it even harder for me. If you can relate, maybe some of these strategies I've developed over the years will help.
1. Cosy up, snuggle down, hunker in
While the Danish word hygge might have taken the UK by storm in 2016, we are not new to the concept of cosiness. When bleak weather starts to translate to a bleak outlook, it can really help to light some candles, put on some of your favourite music, get the kettle on and find a comfy corner to settle in. I am massively blessed to have a wood-burner in the house. Fire seems to help me. If you don't have a fire, there are still lots of ways to play with lighting and keep warm. Ecclesiastes talks about seasons, the rhythm of life, the light and shade that gives texture to our time under the sun (3:1-6). The dark months we experience in the northern hemisphere can feel like a slog, but we can make the best of them.
2. Plan a holiday
According to a study in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life the happiness caused by holidays is mostly to be found in the anticipation. So get out your Lonely Planet Guides and start dreaming. Whether you actually take this trip of a lifetime is beside the point. Put a bright spot on the horizon and head towards it.
3. Get out
One of the best ways to beat winter blues is to get outside as often as possible. We need our vitamin D, we need the perspective a stride around an open space can give us, we need the endorphins that our bodies create when we exercise. Only last week I turned around a very grey mood by spending a couple of hours raking up rotten leaves in the garden and hacking back some unruly brambles. When I'm outside, I'm unfailingly confronted by the reality of God: the creator, the sustainer, the one who is beyond all ability to grasp and yet who cares for the scruffy little brown birds hopping around in the bare branches of our apple tree. The great fellwalker Alfred Wainwright famously said, 'There is no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.'
4. Make some comfort food
One of the worst things about January for me is the post-Christmas austerity drive, financially speaking but worse, on the food front. I inevitably over-eat in December and then start the year eating in miserly fashion. This is not a helpful way to tackle winter blues. So how about this as an alternative? Let's resolve to eat hot, healthy, hearty, huge meals until spring comes? I'm talking soup with beans and bacon, stews, casseroles and roasts, root vegetables in spice rubs and shaved into crispy slivers of yumminess, salads buried in toasted seeds and goats cheese and butternut squash, risotto and lasagne and Lancashire hot pot. We are physical beings and the well-being of our souls has much to do with the nourishment of our bodies.
5. Exercise your gratitude muscles
Grateful people are contented people. During times when there are fewer provocations for spontaneous gratitude are great opportunities to cultivate a habit of gratitude. We can choose to look for the ways God is present, providing for us, showing us glimpses of his glory, demonstrating his love for us, and when we see them, to respond with thanks. The New Testament writer Paul had a well-trained instinct for gratitude, and as a result he was able to say in all truthfulness, 'I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want' (Philippians 4:12).
Winter can be a hard season, but spring is around the corner. Let's be kind to ourselves, take it one day at a time, and courageously battle the blues until the colours come back.
Jo Swinney @joswinney is an author, speaker and editor of Preach Magazine. She has a Masters in Theology from Regent College, Vancouver, and lives in South West London with her vicar husband and their two little girls.