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. Anna says...

    I felt compelled to comment to tell you that my brass candlesticks (handed down through the family) give me an unexpected amount of joy. This year I put flameless tapers in them and lined them up on the windowsill instead of hanging holiday lights outside and the glow that greeted me at the end of each short day has been so welcoming. Best wishes as you search for your home.

  2. grace says...

    Going to bookmark this for next year when our little family will be spending our first winter in Anchorage. As a California girl, I am dreading the snow already!

  3. Frannie says...

    Wow, I took away so many ideas from this post.

    Lately, I’ve been keeping an eye out for vintage brass candlesticks. I’m looking forward to having candles covering my dresser and bathroom on relaxing nights. Right now I’m actually house shopping and saving money in the meantime by staying with my sister’s family. I both love it and hate it, as I have zero personal space and no idea when I’ll find the perfect home. However, here are a few things I intend on incorporating into my winter routine…

    -Try takeout from new places
    -Feed the birds
    -Daily walk with my dog
    -A space heater with a realistic flame sounds lovely
    -Word search puzzles
    -Window shop downtown
    -Pick up the Sunday paper
    -Bake bread
    -Try a new hobby

  4. L says...

    This season always causes me to reflect on a favorite snow day ritual my best friend and I had in high school: a walk to a local coffee shop for hot chocolate. Simple, but it gets you outside and invigorated, snow brings a certain peace to the city and the mind, and there’s chocolate at the end! In these days of order ahead online, I totally do it with our kids (or sometimes by myself, ahhh) and it’s a reliable success.

    The article in yesterday’s New York Times entitled “How We Survive Winter” was such a beautiful meditation on the solstice and winter. I really loved reading about how different cultures and people let light in and celebrate during this time.

  5. Bertina says...

    I’m sorry, I loved this article and I strongly support any idea that can make me (and us all) support the long winter months but… 2 baths every night??? As a person living in Europe I wasn’t sure I read it right. Could we please try to be a little more environment conscious? Baths (the water consumption!) are really bad for environment and in Switzerland where I live we see baths more like a nice luxury that you can treat yourself with once in a while but not every day and certainly not twice a day. I think it would be great to see more consciousness about this issue in all content (media, internet, etc.) we read or consume.
    That being said, thank you for all the other lovely ideas :-)

  6. A says...

    I have found that reserving special little personal traditions/routines that are JUST for winter have helped me not to dread a New England winter [but this worked when I lived in the PNW as well]:
    + Pick a night of the week and have it be chili night/pizza night etc. every week. Its nice to have something really constant to look forward to!
    + Putting lotion/body oil on every morning to make sure you are taking care of yourself in a little way — this is honestly SUCH a game changer. It feels so much better to wear woolens over moisturized skin vs. Dry and flaky. Body balms/butters, shea, normal lotion. Whatever you prefer, but taking that extra time to treat your skin really helps.
    + Store your summer/spring clothes and have a nice ritual about bringing out your cold weather clothes again. This is a double win bc you get to re-acquaint yourself with lots of things you haven’t worn in a while AND when spring rolls around you can greet your other clothes like old friends. I’ve also found this is nice to do with beauty things [storing summer make-up/lipsticks away and bringing out the nice rich darker colors that get more air time in the colder months]
    + VITAMIN D/Fish Oil. It really does help significantly.
    + Reading winter specific books/watching more winter specific movies: this doesn’t have to be just for the holidays!
    + Appreciating that there are things only winter allows you to do: hours of cozy time on the couch. Eating lots of stews/soups/long form roasts. How beautiful the first snow is. How quiet the world can be after a snow storm. Shoveling is excellent exercise. I have found cherishing and honoring these types of things has allowed me to think of Winter as more of a special time, rather than a something to be white knuckled through.

    • Hannah Avery says...

      Love these suggestions so much!

    • Gabrielle says...

      My husband and I do “Pizza Friday” and we use our cast iron skillet (the ONLY way to make at-home pizza)! It’s fun to plan ahead if we want fun toppings and not have to think too hard about what we’re having for dinner at the end of the week.

  7. Sophia says...

    I’d love to know how many people who say ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing’ wear glasses, because there is definitely such a thing as bad weather if you do. Rain means low visibility in the minutes between repeatedly cleaning them (if you can); ditto for snow, which just turns into water; low temperatures mean foggy lenses; and with the addition of face masks now, you may get wet *and* foggy lenses. Am I missing some genius solution or is this just a case of people not knowing about this issue for glasses wearers? And no, wearing contact lenses is not a solution: that’s opting out of the situation and assumes you can afford, are able, or want to wear them. Ski gloves sometimes come with a small scraper attached for (more usefully, dry) snow, but this doesn’t tend to work well for rain or fog, so I’m guessing it just doesn’t get thought about for winter weather and regular glasses.

    • A says...

      It isn’t perfect, but my best solution to this has been a hat with a brim. Being a full time glasses wearer who grew up in the PNW and now lives in New England, the brim at least prevents most of the moisture from getting on your glasses and gives you visibility [as long as the precipitation isn’t sideways]. I haven’t hacked the glasses/mask combo yet, but whoever does deserves a Nobel.

    • Lisa says...

      Scuba shops sell anti fog liquid for scuba masks

  8. 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!)

  9. 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:

    • 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!

  10. 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 :)

  11. 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!

  12. 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!

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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!

  17. 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.

  18. 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!

  19. 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!