How to Stay Ahead of the Winter Blues

September 09, 2020

I don’t know about you, but…my summer didn’t go exactly as planned.

2020 has been a relentless year. Our normally lively, bustling city life has nearly been brought to a complete halt. I’m sure many of us have done the best we could to enjoy our summer, but I’ve often felt that these erratic days seem to linger on and have imposed themselves deeply upon my social life. Now that September is here, autumn is the start of a different type of change for many of us, leading to what’s commonly known as the “Winter Blues”. But keep reading, and you will find there are plenty of ways to not only cope, but flourish, during this transition.

Get Moving, Be Active

Yes, I know, the days are getting shorter and darker. There is already a slight chill in the air, and before you know it, snow will be on the ground. But that doesn’t mean that we have to sit on the couch and let whatever is going to happen just happen. This is actually the perfect time to find ways to keep yourself moving. There are TONS of studies out there which prove that even moderate exercising can give a significant mood boost. That is an absolute must during this time, since low sunlight exposure can have a real impact on our mental and emotional disposition.

Photo: Tamara Jennings

As you probably already know, gyms are open again in NYC. Although I am not a gym person, I’ve been challenging myself to go when I can, up to 2-3 times a week, at least just to get on the stair climber for half an hour. I can definitely say there is a noticeable lift in my perspective and focus during the day afterward.

In the event that gyms aren’t your thing either, city parks are open as well, and a brisk walk or bike ride can be the perfect way to get moving. One of my favorite things to do in NYC is to walk through Central Park to get a breathtaking display of just how lovely the season changes can be. But it’s also worth mentioning that fall and winter can be the perfect time to take up hiking or camping in surrounding areas in upstate New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Also, let’s not forget about the convenience and simplicity of online work-out videos (or if you’re old-school like me, DVD’s 😊) that offer much to pick from such as dance, yoga or traditional exercises. Whichever you choose, stick with it, and find a way to keep moving enough to keep the serotonin flowing!

Photo: Tamara Jennings

Be Proactive

During this time, I think it is especially important to pay attention to where your mental and emotional energy is spent. There is a saying that “an idle mind is the devil’s workshop”. I envision it as a perfect storm during this time, mixed with the impending unpleasant weather, hostile social environments, and COVID-19 keeping us isolated and anxious. Our minds seem to be hardwired to focus on things, taking them in without much effort from us. So rather than giving that focus to things that only serve to dig us into a deeper emotional hole, why not focus on something more valuable, like yourself?

Since many of us can’t be out and about like we’re used to, now is the PERFECT time to invest in yourself. Have your hours/days been cut in half due to COVID-19? Try looking online for some part-time, remote work to fill up space in your day, and search for something a little outside of your comfort zone. There are also many opportunities available to volunteer around the city. Have you always wanted to learn another language? Have you been interested in online classes? Perhaps there’s an artistic project that has been in the back of your mind for decades now. This is the perfect time to look into it, and give yourself to it as much as possible. In doing this, you will not only expand yourself, but it will also give you something to look forward to as the days pass, and will keep you mentally sharp.

Be Good to Yourself

Equally as important as exercising or investing in your talents, I believe that your mental health can soar greatly if you simply make a point to care for yourself. It’s necessary to treat yourself to something nice every so often…just because. Do something aesthetically pleasing to your senses. Buy yourself a new outfit, fragrance, or jewelry in anticipation of when you will be able to go out again. Since we are unsure of what the future holds for further social distancing (and simply because you spend more time at home when it’s cold anyway), fashion things around your home to make being there more pleasurable. Place fresh flowers and candles around your home. Treat yourself to a nice piece of art or furniture. Eliminate clutter and old unnecessary items from your space. Regardless of what is happening in the world, these things can lift your mood just by noticing them, and can cause you to take pride in yourself and your environment.

Another part of self-love is putting good things into your body. Popping a multivitamin, eating fresh, whole foods, and limiting intake of caffeine and fattening foods will definitely cause you to feel less sluggish during this time. But in addition to food, what you put into your mind also affects your mood as well. I do not believe that turning off the internet or social media completely is even possible in the time we live in. Yet, I do believe that occasionally, it’s ok and even necessary to just turn it all off, if only for a few hours a day, purely for peace of mind. A researcher at Harvard’s T.H. Chan’s School of Public Health states that while social media can be good for us, it is the way it is used that has the most influence on our mental health, and excessive use intensifies symptoms of depression, irritability, and anxiety. In knowing this, we should be mindful about making changes if we find usage has become problematic (such as excessive checking for fear of “missing out”, or becoming preoccupied with getting “likes” for validation, or even the lack of getting them). Just turn it off and use this time to read, write, meditate, draw, anything that will bring you peace.

It is my hope to offer some preemptive encouragement for those who, like me, find themselves concerned over what lies ahead during this fall and winter season. Stay open and give yourself things to look forward to for when things go back to normal. And please remember that if you find you are especially struggling during this time, please reach out to family, friends, or a professional if need be — please don’t suffer in silence!

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