Balancing act: Fighting winter doldrums: Learning new things, helping others crucial in overcoming frigid time of year

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 22 2013 10:16 a.m. MST

Matt Brigham and Daniel McArthur dig the snow from their car in Salt Lake City Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

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Give this a read and see if it sounds familiar.

Everyone in your family is sick, recovering from a recent illness, or starting to come down with something. Your nights are marked by the sound of hacking coughs coming from all corners of your home, and you've purchased more over-the-counter medicines in the last month than you did during all of last year.

You would go outside and breathe in some fresh air in an attempt to improve your health, but the air in the valley is filthy. And even if it wasn't, it's too cold to comfortably stay out for long.

At least you can see the sun, but even that is generally restricted to a peek from your office windows every now and then. Due to the short days this time of year, it's dark outside when you drive to work and dark outside when you drive home — especially when it's snowing and your commute takes three times longer than usual.

As a result of all of this, you find that you sometimes lack motivation at work, and when you get home at night, all you want to do is wrap up in a blanket and vegetate in front of the television.

I may be exaggerating a bit, but I've experienced all of these feelings at one time or another during the last few weeks.

In other words, I sometimes feel that I am fully enveloped in the winter doldrums.

Dictionary.com says the doldrums are "a state of inactivity or stagnation, as in business or art" or "a dull, listless, depressed mood; low spirits."

Yep, pretty much.

I think many of us have such feelings during the brief days and long nights of winter, especially after the November/December holiday season ends. The question is: What can we do about it?

I know several people who escape to the mountains and find their rejuvenation at our beautiful area ski resorts, up out of the gunky air, swooshing down the slopes on the "Greatest Snow on Earth."

But I grew up in eastern South Dakota, where we have a distinct lack of mountains, and I haven't had the time, money or inclination to learn to ski since moving to Utah.

Still, as I've pondered this problem during the last few weeks, I have come up with some ideas to help me avoid sinking deeper into the winter doldrums, both at work and at home.

For example, to stay motivated at work, I've tried to make a concerted effort to learn something new every day. This is good advice any time of year, of course, but during slower times it's even more important to me. Even if it means taking just a few minutes to learn the meaning of a term I've heard for the first time or to do some research on a new topic, I've found that this pursuit of learning helps boost my attitude during the workday.

I've also tried to find opportunities to do small acts of kindness for co-workers and to notice and appreciate it when others do the same. Usually these aren't dramatic things, and often they're as simple as holding a door for someone who has his hands full or bringing unexpected treats to a meeting. It's amazing how such little things can put smiles on people's faces and improve their workdays.

Feeling better about my day at work helps me have better evenings, too. But I've found other ways to help avoid the doldrums at home.

Again, I've discovered that serving my family in little ways gives me a boost of energy and an improved attitude. I've tried to catch up on a few, very minor projects that were pushed aside during the busy holiday season, and every time I do, I think I benefit more than the person I've served.

I've also found that reading a good book can help in this area. We may not be enjoying the sun and surf of Hawaii, but we can explore all kinds of new worlds through the magic of literature. I've seen my wife and children enjoy such virtual vacations as they've read the many books they received as Christmas gifts.

One-on-one time with my children has provided another boost to my spirits the last few weeks. I've tried to do a better job of planning and following through with regular father/child outings, and I've loved every minute of them. My children really are fascinating, funny, silly, creative, unexpectedly wise little creatures, and it's a pleasure listening to them tell me about their lives, their ideas and their activities. These outings give me a boost that lasts for hours, even days.

I feel the same about dates with my wife. These have been harder to schedule recently due to the aforementioned sicknesses, but we have manged to sneak in a lunch date or two, and they've been great.

These are just a few ideas that have helped me, but I'm sure there are lots of other ways to fight the winter doldrums. Have you experienced this kind of malaise the last few weeks? What have you done to beat it this year? What has worked in the past?

Please send me your ideas, and I'll share them in a future column.

Email your comments to kratzbalancingact@gmail.com or post them online at deseretnews.com. Follow me on Twitter at gkratzbalancing or on Facebook on my journalist page.

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