By Sharon Booth
Extra blankets are on and the slow cooker has made its annual reappearance. Even with our Aussie version of winter the chilly mornings can make us want to pull the covers back over our heads and press snooze…again. And leaving work, even on time at 5pm to find it’s already dark outside might mean we’ve missed a good dose of sunshine for the day. And after two years of Covid and its disruptions, looking to the coming winter months may leave us at times feeling discouraged…gloomy…blue.
I’ve been asked to share a little piece about beating the winter blues*. I’m thinking about this opportunity as an invitation. To pause for a moment, to notice our thoughts and fill our hearts with ‘kindness’. To reflect on how we’re doing, and what might support, nourish and grow us, even through this wintery season. Following are a few simple ideas about this. They won’t be for everyone, but my hope is that each point might encourage you to think intentionally about your own self–care this winter.
Meet with kindness daily
What if you cared for yourself this winter the way you care for a loved one? If you did so, what foods might you be eating and enjoying? How much sleep would you be getting? How would you talk to yourself?
What is something you might say to yourself that is compassionate, helpful and supportive, even now as you read this?
Keep moving and doing
Physical exercise is really important for supporting our mood. Research also shows that when we are feeling ‘blue’, exercise, self–care and the activities that we usually enjoy can start to drop off our routines. Whilst winter might reduce some of the options for favourite sports or activities, with some creativity we may discover winter’s new offerings. Perhaps you might brainstorm a list of ways to get moving, and to enjoy pleasant activities with a friend or family member. Then plan for them in your diary. Are there places you’d like to visit? A gallery? Museum? Could you learn an instrument or take a cooking class, check out a new park, or a bushwalk? Stretch, sing, walk a dog, pray, have a bubble bath, give a massage…Moving our bodies, and making plans for fun and participation, can help lift the blues.
Visit with nature
I know it’s cold out, but let’s rug up and head outdoors when the sun is shining. Pause. Notice. Breathe in. Exhale. The natural environment can nourish us whether we’re alone on a walk, with a friend or together as a family.
And speaking of family, no matter what the season, experience has taught me that kids and beach walks will always result in the need for a towel on the way home. But there is loads to do outdoors with kids in winter on the Coast, even without the swim. Getting into nature, even during the cooler months helps kids learn about the world and to appreciate its varying landscapes. I have fond memories of being rugged up for wintery walks on the beach, bucket in hand, pink–nosed, marvelling at how my bit of found woody treasure looked a lot like a duck, and gathering a collection of particularly smooth stones.
We might rake up the leaves and then have a leaf toss before putting it all in the compost. Walk through the bush and notice the way you can feel your own warm breath in the cool air. Feel the textures of leaves and rocks. Listen to the bush sounds. Spot birds. Cloud watch. Nature provides an endless sensory playground and opportunity to be with ourselves and one another in moments of curiosity, discovery and joy.
Create a culture of gratitude
This seems to be the often trending topic in many magazine and social media articles (I’ve even seen gratitude journals at KMart). But bringing attention and awareness to the good things that are present and expressing appreciation to the people around us, nourishes our hearts and relationships (and journaling about that can help us capture it).
Gratitude doesn’t have to focus on ‘big’ things. The little things count. Right now I am grateful for my heated throw rug.
Noticing the new artistry of winter’s landscapes can remind us to gather the evidence of the good in each season, even alongside its difficulties and disappointments. And that can help us maintain a balanced and helpful style of thinking. It’s not about positive thinking, but rather, a genuine attending to and gathering of the truth that life, while often challenging, also provides moments to nourish and support us.
Be intentional about connection. After all the isolation of Covid some of us are still getting back into the rhythm of socialising. Going out can be such a treat, but so can simple gatherings over warm cuppas and board games. Who might you be able to call for a catch up? It could be a chance to prepare a special meal, or just meet for hot chips on the beach. It could be about (finally) arranging a proper date night with your significant other.
Let’s be present with each other in ways that are do–able, meaningful and authentic.
Support someone else to feel connected, too
We all have a neighbour or acquaintance that we could check in with. We might say yes to an opportunity to volunteer, or give where we can, be it time, a smile or practical help. When we contribute to the lives of others in healthy ways it’s a win–win. It could be as simple as sending a text to encourage someone who is having a challenging time, or just to let someone know about the ways they are appreciated (support+ connection + gratitude!)
Change it up?
The often slower pace accompanying winter can mean less distraction. And in these times the appearance of the blues might also be a message that some change or action is needed. It could be that we are feeling ‘stuck’ and need to brainstorm some options, or problem solve a situation. It might mean getting that tax return out of the way, or sorting out a cupboard that’s become a daily frustration. It could speak to a need to keep growing through a new hobby or opportunity at work…Sort? Organise? Step up? Try out? Sometimes the blues ease when we stop thinking over the irritations that are nudging us and do something about them. Even a little action step like making a list might help us feel better.
Whatever the weather, creativity can find a place to play. Is there a creative part of your life that would love some time and attention this season? How might you go about making this happen? I’ve never heard a very little kid say they are not creative. Yet as adults we can be put off creative activities by the inner critic. I’d like to encourage you to give yourself permission to experiment and play. You might find that fun can be experienced in the process itself. What medium of expression might you experiment with? Paint, chalk on pavement, Lego, collage, scribbles and doodles, clay, poetry, music making (could you create a ‘blues beating’ playlist?)
Allow the focus to be on enjoying the playfulness and discovery in the making. Collective art projects can be great fun too. How about a collage of found objects from a family nature walk?
Some of my favourite art making has been collaborative splat painting with a friend. My kitchen counter was covered with an old sheet, we made a big mess in the process, and the resulting canvas was a reminder of our friendship and laughter.
Make a special space cosy
With more time indoors let’s be intentional about creating comforting spaces that welcome us home. It doesn’t have to cost a lot or look like an interior design magazine. I have a book on my coffee table called “The Little Book of Hygge”. Hygge is a Danish word for a mood of cosiness with feelings of wellness and contentment. Author Meik Wiking writes “Hygge is about an atmosphere and an experience rather than about things. It is about being with people we love… a feeling of being safe”. Considering such as space might involve textured blankets, favourite mugs, books, candles, slippers, fluffy socks, fragrant teas or a few squares of dark chocolate. Create a special place to snuggle up with yourself, or with a loved one. And adapting our spaces to work for us can also provide a sense of control over the things that we can change – even if the sky is grey.
The winter blues may come, but perhaps we could also welcome this season with its full palette of colours and textures. Winter brings with it a different kind of energy and beauty, offering its own unique gifts. Perhaps something has come up for you while you’ve taken the time to read this… an idea, an action in support of your wellbeing, nourishment and growth for these months ahead…
Thank you for reading. I’ll put the kettle on. Wishing you a season of warmth, wellness and kindness, Sharon.
*PS. Hey dear reader! I want to be really clear and respectful that there is a difference between feeling ‘blue’ and having a mental health diagnosis, such as depression or anxiety. Temporary blue feelings are normal from time to time, they don’t get in the way of being able to attend to daily tasks, and they lift when we respond to ourselves in supportive ways. Mental health diagnoses are medical issues and usually require professional support. None of the notes in this little article are meant to minimise genuine difficulties and hardships. Please, if you are struggling, know that you are not alone, you are worthy and deserving of support. Reach out to your GP, or a site like The Australian Psychological Society to talk to someone. And if you or someone you care about needs urgent crisis support, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
Sharon Booth is an experienced registered psychologist working with a wonderful team of clinicians in private practice at The Heart and Mind Collective. For more information about our therapists and services please visit www.heartandmindcollective.com.au or call our admin & client relationship team on 02 4327 9435.