Thursday, 19 November 2009

Surviving the Winter Blues: How to Embrace the Dark and Gray

I write this from my fourth-story living room where the rain is beating heavily against the windows and pressing all around me, is the aura of gray. It's 2:00PM, but already the daylight has a spent, dwindling feeling. It will have faded almost completely in another two hours. And there's still another month before the winter solstice, which means the darkness will only increase before it begins to decrease again.

One of the perks of living in the UK is the luxuriously long summer days one experiences here. But, the flip side is of course, the dark, darkness of winter. A source I just found, documents the shortest day of the year in Northern Scotland as being 6 hours and 20 minutes in length, with a sunrise at 9:00AM and a sunset at 3:20PM. Sounds familiar.

My point in writing isn't to spread the gloom, though it may sound that way from my mood so far! As I stare into the face of my second winter here, I've been trying to think of ways to counteract the gloom and embrace the gray. Here are some of my thoughts.

1. Exercise. Go for a walk, a run, a hike, a bike ride. Go kick a ball around in the rain. Don't worry about getting all muddy. Embrace the elements. Try to have fun. Being cold and wet and muddy might just make you feel more alive, besides the happy feelings that come along with getting your heart rate up.

2. Drink tea. It's cheap, it tastes good and it helps keep you warm. The perfect winter combo.

3. Use candles excessively. Part of embracing the darkness is trying to turn it from something oppressive into something, well...romantic, for lack of a better word. You can buy a large box of tea lights for very cheap, so you don't need to feel bad about burning through them quickly. Have a candlelight dinner. Even brushing your teeth can feel interesting when done by candlelight. Put a candle in your bedroom before you go to bed to make a cold bedroom feel just a little more inviting.

4. Turn on the lights before it gets dark. (This is something I learned from my oldest sister who lives in the Seattle area where winters are also very dark.) She finds that if she turns on some lamps about half an hour before the daylight starts to fade, she can counteract the late afternoon blah's that come when that dingy, gray daylight is filling your house.

5. Try to wake up early. I know it's hard, especially when it's still pitch black outside. But, with relatively few hours of daylight, it's important to take advantage, and waking up early allows you to meet the light when it arrives. Many people find that mornings are a particularly productive time, even when it's dark, while productivity often wanes on dark afternoons. Waking up early enables you to capitalize on your own energy.

6. Surround yourself with green. Studies have shown that the color green is important for counteracting depression. A great source of green, is of course, plants. If you can get your hands on some house plants, great. If not, here are a few ideas:

  • Buy some green onions (scallions or spring onions) at the grocery store. Bring 'em home and stick 'em in a jar of water so that the bulbs are covered. Leave them on the counter or on a windowsill somewhere. They should last up to two months, maybe longer. You can still use them for culinary purposes too, of course.
  • Take a pair of scissors and go find an overgrown hedge somewhere and do a little "trimming". Bring the "trimmings" home and arrange them nicely in an old jar or bottle. Some hedge trimmings will stay green for months. Others might lose their leaves after a few weeks.
  • Do the above, but with ivy, which also abounds in most areas of the UK.
7. Use music to set the mood. Don't underestimate the importance of putting on music throughout your day. Energizing music can help you find energy during the day. Soothing music can make a dark, dull evening feel pleasant and relaxing.

8. Bake. Take advantage of these cold months to fill your home with the wonderful smells and delicious flavors of home baking. Besides, having the oven on keeps the place extra warm.

Other suggestions welcome!

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