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Surviving the winter blahs February 4, 2009

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Random musings.
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I have been suffering from the mid-winter blahs for a couple weeks now. I live in Cleveland, Ohio, where we had 42 inches of snow, temps in the teens and single digits, and I think maybe one whole hour of sunshine last month. Being alone all day, every day with no one to talk to but my dog is not a recipe for emotional health when the weather traps me inside. The groundhog saw his shadow yesterday, so we are looking at six more weeks of snow, cold, and gray skies. It is a known fact that the lack of sunlight reduces your Vitamin D and all the happy endorphins in our brain chemistry, making you feel melancholy, listless, foggy, and sleepy. It makes us want to move less and eat more and work less and sleep more. The fact that the economy is crumbling and the flood of job offers has turned into a trickle – and my clients are taking forever to pay their overdue and outstanding invoices – isn’t helping. It’s enough to make me want to get a “real job” in an office somewhere.

But in the long run I have to remind myself that I love what I do and I would never do well in an office environment. I don’t do well with authority and have absolutely no tolerance for office politics whatsoever.

So in the meantime I need to embrace my malaise and fight against it at the same time. That means cuddling in with a good book and a dog on my lap when the mood strikes me, but I have also registered for the Susan G. Koman Breast Cancer 3-Day from July 31-August 2 this year. I have already started training for it, having gone on an hour and a half guided hike through the Cleveland Metroparks with my dog this past Sunday. I can’t wait for the weather to get better so I can actually go for long walks outside. Treadmills just aren’t the same as hearing the birds chirp and watching the trees bud and bloom.

Being cooped up indoors all the time in the dead of winter, without the fresh air in our lungs, is bad for us, but when we do go outdoors it’s not very fun either. We had minus zero temperatures a few weeks ago, and temperatures are hovering at 15°F right now – not exactly conducive to a long walk outside. So what do you do to combat the mid-winter blahs (I don’t want to hear from any of you who live in warmer climates. I just might fly there and strangle you at this point. 🙂 )

Here are some of my ideas. I would welcome ideas from the rest of you:

1. Add some additional vitamin D to my diet, to make up for what we get from the sun (and go outside whenever the sun shines to tank up on some D).

2. Get out of the house and visit with old friends as often as possible – or even chat online or on the phone with distant friends. Facebook has proven to be a wonderful pick-me-up recently, since I have gotten back in touch with several old and very dear friends.

3. Get out of the house and smile and talk to other people whenever possible. I am now a Meals on Wheels volunteer and delivering meals to grateful shut-ins does wonders for your mood. My regular shift doesn’t start until the 17th though.

4. Fill and run my humidifier, every day and night. The static electricity and dry air are wreaking havoc with how I look, which plays a huge role in how I feel.

5. Go to someplace sunny for a long weekend. Anyone want to go on a last-minute trip to Cancun or Greece?

6. Embrace the winter and go snowshoeing. I have two classes scheduled for the next two weekends.

7. Go cross-country skiing.

8. Go walk on an indoor track.

9. Spend as much time as possible at the Rec Center pool. The heat feels wonderful – and so does the jacuzzi after the workout. And it is really fun being nice and warm and watching the wind and snow whip through the outdoor pool.

10. Eat more citrus fruits and pineapple

11. Put on sunny, cheerful music and dance in my living room. The Gypsy Kings or my summer mix CD might work.

12. Hit Bahama Breeze for one of their frozen cocktails and enjoy the live steel drum music.

13. I found this tip online: Hold your head up. When you’re down, you look down more and your head drops more. The way to start to choose to be happy when you’re feeling dragged down and unhappy is to stand up straighter.

Being happy in the dead of winter is a conscious choice. I choose to be happy and will be consciously pursuing that goal until spring hits. It’s a struggle every day, but it is worth it.

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Comments»

1. Kevin Lossner - February 4, 2009

You forgot light therapy on your list. I think you can get the equipment for home use at a reasonable price.

We’ve had some of the same here near Berlin with sub-freezing temperatures for a long time and dangerous ice on the ground that just won’t go away. As someone who has long had a mild tendency to seasonal effects (some would strongly dispute the “mild” part), I can attest to the value of heading to sunnier climes when you can. When I was still in the US, I would fly down from the Pacific NW to see clients and family in sunny Southern California several times a month. Now that I’m in Europe I’ll have to look into a winter lease on an apartment on Agistri or something.

2. Susanne Aldridge III - February 4, 2009

First up, having an office job does NOT help at all. Until a week ago I left the house in the dark and returned in the dark. The drive is hell, my car looks like a mud-sling (until my dear husband got it a wash yesterday), it takes a while until you get warm to and from work, argh!
Now, what helped me last weekend was a couple of trips to the hot tub – we are not using it enough and in the snow it is actually pretty nice. And if you are super lucky, you may actually get hit by the tiny 2 minute sunshine that we have every now and then.
On top of that, I “invented” sunshine in a glass, which is 3 pt. Absolute Mandarine, 2 pt. lemon juice, 1 pt. orange juice and 1 pt. simple syrup, shake over ice – to die for. The citrusy fresh flavor automatically got me in a good mood, 2 of them made me forget about the snow, 3 of them…I forgot what 3 of them did, gotta ask Chuck :p

3. Melissa - February 4, 2009

Hey, I love your idea number 3. That has got to be the best instant fix for a bad mood – to spend time with someone who doesn’t have as much control over their life as we do.

Which brings to mind the whole work-at-home question… yes, it can be lonely, but then again, working in the office can make you yearn for some ‘lonely’ time!

Then you might try yoga, too, if your gym or rec department offers it. Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing sound fantastic! Believe me, when I am in the middle of a humid, buggy South Carolina summer, that is what I am fantasizing about!!

4. jillsommer - February 4, 2009

@Kevin: I tend to be pretty frugal, which is why I never considered getting a light. If they are affordable maybe I’ll look into it.

@Susanne: I need to try your “sunshine in a glass.” It sounds delicious. Guess I’ll be hitting the liquor store tonight.

@Melissa: I’ve tried yoga, and it is anything but relaxing for someone who is overweight 🙂

Keep the ideas coming, guys!

5. Ryan Ginstrom - February 4, 2009

I lived in Columbus, Ohio for two years, and the winters were really hard on me. Like you said, it’s really gloomy — people drive with their headlights on at noon during winter. Also, snow doesn’t stay on the ground, and all the leaves fall from the trees, so everything around you is shades of gray and brown.

There, don’t you feel better now? 🙂

I solved my problem by moving to Okinawa. 🙂 I’m also going to Australia for the IJET conference next week, where they’re still in summer.

Airfares are incredibly cheap right now, but unfortunately for Americans, the dollar is really weak. Still, a long weekend in a sunny place would probably do a lot of good.

6. MT - February 4, 2009

1. Try to make sure you’re eating a healthy diet. When we in the MT household start down the pizza and Cheetos path, we try to remember Michael Pollen’s advice from In Defense of Food: eat more leaves.

Mr. Pollen would argue against focusing on just one nutrient out of context (nutritionism, phooey!), but foods high in omega-3 fatty acids can help with depression and have been traditionally eaten in the winter by lots of northerly peoples. These include: walnuts, herring, mackerel, sturgeon, anchovies, halibut, shrimp, cod, cod liver oil tuna, soybeans, tofu, kale, collard greens, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and strawberries.

2. Candles. Part of the blahness of winter comes from darkness. Candles are a cheerful way to fight this. Just don’t burn anything down. If you have a fireplace, enjoy a fire.

3. Get out of the house every day. No matter what.

4. Hang out with dogs or children. They don’t seem to suffer from winter blahs and can cheer blah-affected people right up.

5. Read about people who are even colder and more miserable than you. Watch movies set in Antarctica, the Himalayas, Russia, Finland, etc. Read about fur trappers and survivalists for got frostbite. There’s something to be said for Schadenfreude. It’ll make you appreciate the comforts of your home more.

6. Try the opposite approach. Make a Hawaiian/Tahitian/Philipino/Ghanaian meal, buy a coconut or a papaya. Put an umbrella in your drink. Watch a movie about Easter Island or the Congo. Remember these places are full of mosquitoes and people with machetes and other down sides. This, too, can help you appreciate your own home more. Plus it’s like a cheap, fun little vacation in your mind.

7. Corinne McKay - February 4, 2009

Jill, when I lived in Boston for 7 years, I felt pretty much the same way about winter. I love seasons, but the short days, bone-chilling dampness, ice, dirty snowbanks etc. were a big downer. Personally I think that moving to a climate with 300+ sunny days a year did wonders for my mental and physical health, but if you don’t feel like moving to Colorado 🙂 I think that you have a lot of great ideas about how to survive until April!!

8. Abigail - February 5, 2009

Jill,

For me, staving off the winter blues is all about doing what makes me feel good: I work all morning then print out my work to proofread at a local cafe over lunch. Just being around other people and the change of scenery does me a world of good. I also find that massages and visits to the chiropractor are much more effective during the winter when it’s hard to get outside and go walking to get some fresh air and exercise. It sounds like you have lots of great suggestions to try out! Hang in there, spring will be here before you know it.

9. Tuzz - February 5, 2009

I’m a denizen of a significantly warmer climate. However, I dearly hope my commenting doesn’t incite in you a desire to strangle me because, while the average temperature where I live is not nearly as frigid as it is in your neck of the woods, it still is cause of winter blahs nevertheless.

I’ve never owned a light box and refuse to shell out the the 20 some odd dollars to purchase one (word is light boxes work wonders in helping those affected with SAD combat their lack of sunshine). What I have found to be an effective and refreshing pick-me-up during these dreaded months is to clean. Now, I’m sure that sounds trite and many of you are thinking, “That’s crazy. Spring is the time for deep sweep cleaning.” But hear me out–

I detest cleaning as much as the next person, but what I do not detest is the result of a productively focused cleaning spree. I just recently finished–after two grueling days–reorganizing and rearranging my bedroom as it is the place where I spend most of my days during these cold and confining times. It had been far too long since I upgraded the layout and overall decor of my room. It didn’t reflect how I felt anymore; it wasn’t me.

So, that took care of a whopping two days of winter… Prior to my sudden cleaning burst, I’d been writing and drawing more. In general, I’ve just been getting back to the solitary activities I so enjoy but rarely do; either because my schedule didn’t hitherto allow it, or because I’d opt to do more physically engaging activities, such as: exercising, going out (times are rough and call for miserly measures) or just playing.

I really dig your blog, by the way. Keep it up. 😉

10. jillsommer - February 5, 2009

@Ryan – that’s the beauty of being a translator – international clients. My German account is a nice cushion. Maybe I should fly to IJET too.

@MT – you never cease to amaze me. Those are indeed great suggestions. The one about machetes and mosquitos made me laugh out loud, so thanks!

@Corinne – keep trying to convince me to move to CO, but you also have more snowy days on the whole so I’ll stay here for now, thanks.

@Abigail – I’ll have to give that a try. I do have some proofreading to do tomorrow…

@Tuzz – thanks for the complement on the blog. I dig writing it, but it certainly wouldn’t be as good without all the awesome comments.

11. Sarah D - February 6, 2009

I think freelancer blues are far more common than many people realise. In fact, I’m convinced the ability to hunker down and get through them without defecting is a huge part of what seperates “successful” (i.e. long-term) freelancers from “unsuccessful” ones… (this is based entirely on my very unscientific observations by the way).

I have blah-days too, big time – in any kind of weather that makes leaving the house a drama. At the moment, that happens to be a stinking hot, muggy, buggy Queensland summer. Seriously, sometimes sunshine is overrated and definitely not worth strangling anybody for 🙂

My tactics include making a cool and inviting igloo out of my house, a shady respite from the harsh, ozone-hole-magnified Brisbane sun. (OK, probably the opposite to what you need, but the idea is the same!). Then I wait 🙂

The two rules which I’ve learned make the biggest difference to helping me get back on track again, are:
1. I don’t beat myself up for not being as productive as I would be in less extreme conditions. For example, if I want to sit in the airconned/ centrally heated/ fireplace-ed living room all day and read, I will. (Delete as applicable). (And feel glad I have that option, from a financial point of view).
2. I deliberately do more of the things that make me feel good, but that might normally be considered lower priority. That can mean reading more, surfing the internet more or exploring a bookshop with no time limit. What’s the point of being your own boss if you can’t be nice to yourself when you feel bad?!
Obviously when I’m back on track then it’s back to normal rules, where I like to push myself a bit more, but desperate times call for desperate measures!

But it sounds like you’re doing a great job Jill, your list is really comprehensive and I’ll bookmark it to check back on when I run out of ideas myself! Keep on keeping on 🙂


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