Daylight hours shrink. It is cold. And the sometimes treacherous roads only add to the compulsion to stay inside.
Dark, cold and isolation is a bad combination for many people. But, as Anton Chekov wrote, “People don't notice whether it's winter or summer when they're happy.” Or for those who prefer French poets to Russian playwrights, Victor Hugo penned, “Laughter is the sun that drives winter from the human face.”
In short, straightforward English: Staying happy can help us get through those winter challenges. That means staying occupied, both physically and mentally, despite seasonal limitations. And there are plenty of activities people can do by themselves indoors.
“A few minutes of meditation a day can help you to feel calmer and more relaxed,” says Sara Makin, a licensed professional therapist who serves as founder and CEO of Pittsburgh-based Makin Wellness. “It helps with negative thoughts, de-stressing and also helps calm your nervous system.”
Makin says people can also decorate or organize their spaces — whether home, office or bedroom. Changing things up can improve one’s mood, and moving heavy furniture might even provide a workout. She also recommends cleaning out the wardrobe.
“It’s never too early to begin spring cleaning and getting rid of things that don’t spark joy for you anymore,” Makin says. “Sometimes cleaning and organizing things can help us feel a bit lighter and more productive.”
Julien Raby — a fitness trainer, gym owner and CrossFit enthusiast who founded Wod Review — says people should use the time to start a workout routine and get consistent with it.
“It will help you feel energized, even on those dull winter days,” Raby says. “This can really help you de-stress and stay energized.”
Raby also suggests people flip their mindset about winter and try something like painting, which he says can be therapeutic and calming.
“Winter means that you get to stay indoors,” Raby says. “Make hot chocolate for yourself, put on some music and start to paint. You will surely have a good time.”
Erika Ferszt holds a master’s degree in organizational and behavioral psychology and founded Moodally, which helps companies improve well-being in the workplace. Ferszt says oxygen and vitamin D are two great mood modulators.
“In the summer months, we’re provided with more sunlight and we tend to be outdoors more frequently,” Ferszt says. “So, we get a natural mood boost without being aware of it. When we head indoors, both of these intake levels can drop.”
Ferszt recommends people find alternative sources of vitamin D. That can be through diets rich in vitamin D and that boost serotonin, such as salmon, turkey, eggs and nuts. People should also limit alcohol and caffeine, which can negatively affect serotonin levels and mood.
People also can find relatively cheap and portable UV lights online for indoor light therapy. An hour a day of exposure to the rays can “really improve someone’s vitamin D levels and, consequently, their mood,” Ferszt says.
Brief walks after dinner can refresh the lungs with oxygen. Exercise helps to regulate mood, Ferszt says. Cardio, in particular, can increase blood flow and provide hits of dopamine, which improves the mood, while sweating out cortisol to reduce stress levels.