Fighting the Winter Blahs

Beyond Chocolate…

It’s cold, it’s gray, and I’ve got the blahs. January always does that to me. From September through December, our family celebrates. All our birthdays fall in those months. Add in Thanksgiving and Christmas, and we have lots of excuses for getting together and having fun.

In January, it all catches up with me. I’m staring at a calendar full of put-off medical appointments, household chores, and just plain work. Even making my to-do lists leaves me feeling exhausted. There’s not much fun to look forward to, at least in the near future. It’s a bit like coming home from a vacation and facing the pile of things that didn’t get done while you were gone.

Our daughters and their husbands, as well as other family members and friends, are all back home, dealing with their own piles. I miss them already.

Contributing to the problem are January’s short days and long nights. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a well known form of depression that affects about 6% of the US population, about 14% experience a milder form. Symptoms include a lack of energy, a strong desire to sleep, and an inability to concentrate (especially on writing blog posts). Plus, there’s a craving for food in general, and particularly carbohydrates, which does battle with our best-intentioned resolutions to diet.

There are a number of ways we can cope with down times. I mean besides chocolate, carbs, caffeine, and escaping into a video game or good book.

  • Make some plans. I always seem to handle unpleasant tasks better if I have something nice to look forward to. While Christmas bills and the economy may mean no fancy vacation this winter, you can still plan something fun. I’m looking forward to seeing our out-of-state daughter in February, courtesy of some airline guest passes from a generous family member. We’re also blocking out some time this summer for family camping trips. Finally, January is when Pete and I sit down to schedule our monthly all-day dates for the year.
  • Get some exercise. I admit it—I hate to exercise. I’ve learned that if it’s going to happen, it needs to be well disguised. In high school, I spent a lot of time at the beach, body surfing and scuba diving. In college I took up folk dancing, which can be very aerobic. Now, I like to go birding or on nature walks, camera in hand. The problem in January is that most of the trails are covered with slippery ice and snow—not safe for a klutz like me. I’m reduced to using the treadmill. There aren’t many photo ops in our bedroom, but I have saved some TV shows to watch while I suffer, and it helps take my mind off my aching muscles. Exercise definitely makes me feel more optimistic.
  • Go outside. Yes, it’s cold. I look out the window and find it very difficult to get motivated. But once I’m outside, especially if it’s a sunny day, I find myself smiling at the world. We keep a dozen chickens in a coop across the driveway. Every day I have to bring them food and water and collect the eggs. If nothing else, my hens’ needs force me out the door. Natural sunlight is a proven mood lifter.
  • Eat healthy, and ditch the sugar. Many of us have a tendency to self-medicate our depression with sugar. It does seem to provide an instant fix. In fact, I’m quite sure that chocolate will cure just about anything. But the problem with using sugar as a mood enhancer is that it doesn’t last. After the rise in blood sugar comes the crash, as the insulin we’ve released runs out of glucose to work on. The natural response is to eat yet more sugar, and so the roller coaster goes. Try lots of veggies along with complex starches (whole grains and beans), plus enough protein and “good” fats to stay healthy. That stabilizes our blood sugar levels, and therefore our mood.
  • Help someone else. Depression and self-absorption seem to go hand in hand. It may be hard to care about someone else’s needs while you own loom so large. Yet, focusing on others is a great way to feel good about yourself as well. Let God take care of your emotions while you fulfill the commandment to love your neighbor. It’s a win-win proposition.
  • Hang out with God. I’ve listed this last, but really it should be first. You don’t need to shut yourself into a closet, although that might be a good idea. God must be the ultimate optimist—He knows that His story has a happy ending—and hanging out with Him causes some of that optimism to rub off on us. We let Him carry our concerns. We start counting our blessings with gratitude. We see where He wants to use us, giving us a vision and a purpose. And most of all, we remember how much He loves us.

What about you? What have you found effective in combating the winter blahs?

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