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How Will You Stay Cheerful This Winter?

7 ways to beat the winter blues

The other day, I was talking to my therapist about…

…the approaching winter. The days are already getting colder and shorter, and, as someone who struggles with depression and anxiety, I’m hoping to keep spirits up during these darker days. I’d LOVE to hear what works for you, and here are seven ideas from a few friends and me:

1. Gaze into a light therapy lamp. Have you ever tried one? Alex had one when we first moved in together, and at first I dismissed it as new-age-y and weird. But then I tried it (you just turn it on for about 15 minutes in the morning) and was shocked by how my mood lightened. You can actually feel yourself getting cheerier. I swear by it now, more than a decade later.

2. Take a steaming bath. “My winter survival move is filling my bathtub with extremely hot water and lavender Epsom salt,” says my friend Gisela. “During the colder months, I take a bath as soon as I walk in from the street just to warm my body — and then another one before bed.”

3. Get a stack of funny books and movies. Pick up essays by Jessi Klein or Samantha Irby, and watch Palm Springs or Plus One, if you haven’t already. (Any other suggestions?) You could also cuddle with loved ones: “My boys look forward to my reading aloud to them,” says Erin. “They change into pajamas, I make hot cocoa and we get under a fuzzy blanket.”

4. Light candles everywhere. Keep candles flickering in your bedroom, living room and dinner table, whether they’re scented numbers, classic tapers or these neon sculptures. Bonus: that amazing smell of a just-blown-out match.

5. Host a virtual soup group. A couple years ago, my friend Liz started a winter soup group, where we all switched off hosting friends over a pot of soup. (“Cauliflower is a favorite,” adds Gisela.) It was easy and bolstering, and this winter, I’d love to keep it up virtually. Just choose a soup and chat over Zoom while warming your belly.

6. Walk, walk, walk. “I always take a walk in the fresh air every day, no matter the weather. It’s the Danish way!” says my friend Lee, who grew up in Copenhagen. Cold air feels invigorating, especially if you’re bundled up. (“My hatred for East Coast winters dropped 50% upon buying a week’s supply of good wool socks,” says my friend Linsey.) You could even consider going on a legit winter hike. Says Linsey: “My husband forced us to go on a snow hike last year, and though I am passionately Team Summer forever, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. We hiked up a stream with the coolest frozen icicle sculptures along the way. Day trips to the woods have been a lifeline for my mental health throughout the pandemic, so we set a goal to keep hiking at least once a month throughout the cold months.”

7. Keep an open mind. An anxiety trick I learned this year from Brené Brown is to not “dress rehearse tragedy” and instead consider that everything may actually turn out… well. Because you never know, maybe this winter will be WONDERFUL. :)

What else do you do to keep your spirits up? What’s your winter vision? Please share any tips below! Good luck to us! I love you!

P.S. Another pick-me-up: vibrators. And how to stop worrying so damn much.

(Photo by Raymond Forbes LLC/Stocksy.)

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  1. Andrea says...

    Yes to all of the above! Candles and outdoor play alllll season long. I saw a comment about hanging crystals to make rainbows and we do that too, brings such an oomph of joy. And SOUPS.

    I mainly felt the urge to post because of soups. I’d like to give a shoutout to a Minneapolis company for my fellow Twin Cities friends, where it’s already been snowing for a week and spirits are low.
    When our baby was born a couple of months ago, my husband’s coworker sent us a Simpls delivery that included soup, Birchwood birdseed rolls, chocolate chip cookies, and cider. :) Our minds kind of exploded at how tasty(!!!) and convenient(!!!) it was. They use local ingredients in their soups, donate a quart for every quart purchased, and it’s just so joyfully easy and so cozy. Highly recommend to any Twin Cities dwellers. (And hang in there!)

    • S says...

      Fellow Twin Cities person here, thank you for that great recommendation! I have a friend having a particularly tough time and this would be a perfect thing to do for her. Congratulations on your baby!! (And you’re amazing for taking the time to post with a newborn on hand!)

  2. Emily says...

    This is all wonderful advice! I would add two things:
    (1) If you have kids (or your friends have kids), get a pair of waterproof snow pants, boots and mittens and play in the snow with them. They will be delighted, and so will you. The snow is so much more pleasant when you can sit/lie down in it without getting cold or wet. Snowpants forever!
    (2) If you don’t have a fireplace and can’t do/don’t want to pay for candles, this video of a crackling fireplace is more satisfying than it has any right to be. The crackling sounds and flickering glow got me through many gloomy midwest winters before I was able to finally live somewhere with a real fireplace. We had a big old computer monitor and I put the video on it for hours at a time (even an iPad would do in a pinch). I set it up on my desk off to the side so I could see it in the background as I worked, and it gave me a subtle warm sense of well-being all day. Here’s the link:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eyU3bRy2x44&t=811s

    • Gabbie says...

      I totally agree with the fireplace video! I always thought it was a little cheesy but after moving into our current apartment, I realized how cozy it made our winter evenings. I plug in the fairy lights, light my candles and turn the fireplace video on our TV almost every night in the winter and the crackling and watching the flames is so comforting. Don’t underestimate it!

  3. Emily says...

    I decorate the hell out of my house for Christmas/winter. As soon as November hits, it’s fair game and most of the stuff stays up until February. The key is what I call “winter decorating”. Lots of greenery, candles, twinkle lights, neutral colors. It’s so cozy and not holiday specific so I feel like I can get away with it for longer. I do save the traditional Christmas stuff like my tree and stockings and any outdoor decorations until Thanksgiving though. My husband used to always tease me about it, but when we got an early November snow storm last year, he did begrudgingly admit that it was awfully nice to be in such a cozy feeling house :)

  4. MM says...

    First, thank you all for these amazing ideas! I will be testing out many as the days get shorter.
    For me the hardest months are January, February and March. The holidays are over, yet we’re still smack dab in the middle of gloomy cold weather. I’m in DC and sometimes it’s just downright soggy! Some ideas I will try to do this winter to keep myself cheerful:
    – Loved the idea of watching all the movies from a director. I may try to cross off many of the “classics” I have yet to see! And on that note… I need to finish Game of Thrones ;)
    – Cook my way through a cookbook
    – Read more real books (vs. on a screen to give my eyes a break)
    – Candles, candles, candles
    – Love the mantra of getting outside as much as possible.
    – Maybe this is the year to go big on Valentine’s Day? Any excuse to “celebrate” and break out the good stuff (wine, lingerie, cooking, dinner plates, make a chocolate lava cake, etc.) and would be a great time to send more snail mail to all those that we love.
    – Try to do take out from places we’ve never been to before. I always find that good take out is something I look forward to and perks me up.

    I’ll be bookmarking this page!

  5. Anna says...

    On morning three of my happy light…it is definitely helping me get out of bed in the morning! I have woken up each day to gray skies, and that feeling being awake and not happy about it. Within 10 minutes of the light, my mind feels clearer and I feel more ready to face the day. Hopeful it helps me with the shortened days, which I always struggle with. Thank you for the suggestion!

  6. Leah Krafft says...

    I live in Alaska I would HIGHLY recommend a heated mattress pad. I got this one from Costco last year and it made getting into bed at night such a treat! I prewarm my bed about 30 min before getting in and it’s so cozy! I don’t usually leave it on all night but you certainly could if you run cold. https://www.amazon.com/Sunbeam-Quilted-Mattress-EasySet-Controllers/dp/B00FHW8QI4

  7. Katie says...

    I prepare for The Dark Months in the PNW like the storm of storms is coming. Stock up on candles, soup, and crusty bread every chance you get. House lights on till 8. Invest in footwear that suits your region. It took me 15 years to invest in rain boots and holy game changer why didn’t I do that sooner? Last year I added “dishes to the oldies” to my winter playbook & that was huge! Listening to Motown & made cleaning the kitchen every night good times.

  8. Amber says...

    Love all of the comments about how much good winter gear makes getting outside more enjoyable. As someone who needs to up my game, I would love to see a post on people’s favorite winter gear!

    • Katie says...

      100,000%!!! As a Californian, I’ve never figured this out & I need help. If it’s not shorts or skirts or jeans weather I’m honestly flummoxed. I feel like there’s always a jillion articles every summer on how to wear sunscreen (and I’m like: put it on all over your body?) but never articles on how to layer, or, what works best in Alaska vs maine? How do you dress for sweating inside & then freezing outside? Help.

    • RBC says...

      Hmm I wonder if this would be tricky due to differences in temperature and humidity? Maybe it could be done in a few categories (for example, “Above freezing temp [0*C], dry” “Above 0*C wet” “Below 0*C, some snow” “Below 0*C, lots of snow”). Perhaps I am overthinking this lol. I moved from Brooklyn to Montreal, and though Brooklyn is reasonably cold in the winter, Montreal is a different kind of beast. And I preferred it in some ways because I so hated the cold rain that NY often gets in the winter. In Montreal, it never rains in the winter. But it snows 90 days. Totally different clothing needs! But I would love to see (or contribute to) this kind of post! :D After nearly 18 years in Canada, I’m finally figuring it all out and outfitting myself for every weather possibility.

  9. Nadja says...

    It’s a small thing, but I put prisms in some of our windows after the time change. Dancing rainbows helps me make the most of the sunshine we get!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      I love that!

  10. Terri says...

    I bought a bird feeder that I can see from my WFH location. It has been so fun to see the visitors each day and learn to identify the birds. Fall has brought new birds and I’m excited to see who comes over the winter. Plus the squirrels’ energy and gymnastics is fun to watch.

    Walks are critical. My son and I used to walk to school each morning – rain or snow and we loved it. We’ve kept up the tradition even though he is in virtual school. Every morning we go for a 1-2 mile walk and then come home to settle in behind our computers.

  11. Emily says...

    I’ve been thinking about the upcoming (likely) hibernation a lot. I bought hand warmers so that winter walks are a bit more pleasant, even when it turns really cold. I also anticipate lots of baking and planning group zooms in advance so I have stuff to look forward to. Thank you for this list!

  12. Mae says...

    Living in New Hampshire where winters are looooong, cold, dark and challenging!
    A couple of items that have helped me immensely are: 1. Luminara candles (battery operated candles from a company that invented the technology originally for use in the Haunted House in Disney Word.) They are incredibly realistic – and safe for homes with pets and/or kids. Don’t have to worry about soot or fumes or falling asleep with the flame burning. They have timers also so you can set them to go on/off at certain times. They flicker and glow just like the real thing. Incredibly cozy and comforting in those dark winter months.
    And 2. Investing in one of those little space heaters with the fake fireplace inside. Look into them a bit! The one I have is so realistic- I love to sit in the winter and look at the “fire.” Must be something primal- it’s also so comforting….much as I’d love it I don’t have any room in my tiny home for a real fireplace.
    I don’t use either of these until after the time change happens. Has become a lovely ritual to light the candles and fireplace on those days that get dark by 4 pm!