Here in the Midwest, the winter blues and colder months can put you in a funk. “The post-holiday season is the epitome of winter—I consider this my own ‘hibernation’ time,” says Lindner Center of HOPE’s Clinical Director of Neuropsychology Jennifer Farley. “We spend more time together with family and indoors. Pajamas are sometimes worn early in the evening, electronics entertain us more in the winter than during any other season, and sometimes the days blend together creating a mental fog of sorts.” Whether you’re starting a New Year’s resolution to be more active or are simply unwinding from the holidays, Farley shares seven pandemic-friendly tips to cope with post-holiday blues.
Jennifer Farley: This is especially important during a pandemic in winter. We are innately built as social beings, so our mental health is incredibly affected when we lose social connections. Working from home, remote learning, and social restrictions further increase our social isolation. Depending on your own comfort level of seeing anyone in person, at the very least hearing one’s voice is much better than reading emails or texts when it comes to feeling connected.
Plan something to look forward to.
JF: We benefit from planning something positive. Having something to look forward to gives us hope and gives us perspective that we can trudge through more difficult moments of our day if we know we have something pleasant coming up. Simple things like watching the next episode of a binge-worthy show or playing a game can be something to look forward to that day. And planning for a week-long vacation can help occupy your mind while researching trip ideas.
Plan to accomplish at least one thing every day.
JF: People feel better closing down their day when they accomplished something—doing a load of laundry, completing an exercise routine, mailing a card, or working on a house project are just a few examples. What you accomplish all depends on how you feel that day and how much time you have. Setting healthy expectations without overstretching yourself is key.
Fight cabin fever by getting out of the house.
JF: Staying indoors for too long wears on our mental health. Having somewhere to go breaks up the monotony of our days and can serve as something interesting to fight boredom. Taking walks outdoors can be limited in winter, but walks in the neighborhood or at a park can be helpful. Remember that 7 p.m. is the same time in the summer as it is in the winter, they just feel different.
JF: A few years ago, I learned about hygge (pronounced hyoo-guh)—a Danish concept of being cozy that brings feelings of contentment and well-being. Danes embrace this by using warm light of candles and fireplaces, snuggling up with warm blankets and fuzzy socks, drinking hot tea or cocoa, and engaging in easy conversation with family members or enjoying peaceful activities like reading. If winter keeps you indoors, then this is a way to lean in to taking advantage of times when we can be more comfy and experience life more slowly and peacefully.
JF: Doing something active every day is better than being sedentary. Not only does it help our physical health, it helps our neurotransmitters reduce feelings of depression and anxiety. Exercising also helps promote a sense of achievement. For those who seek to start exercising on a more regular basis, seek support through a friend or virtual workout group that can keep you accountable. If you skip an exercise, don’t let it get you down. Pick it back up the next day—don’t let yourself give up completely.
Novelty keeps life interesting.
JF: When we find ourselves experiencing too much routine and patterns, we are at risk of experiencing ‘Groundhog Day’ when every day feels the same. We can become underwhelmed, and anxiety and depression thrive off this. Think of something novel to try. Be creative and brainstorm ideas for doing something different. Here are a few ideas:
- Try a new restaurant for take out
- Find a new park to explore when the weather warms
- Seek suggestions for movies or shows to watch
- Read a new book or build a new puzzle
- Do a paint-by-number activity
- Do a deep internet dive for a topic you want to learn more about