These are the dark days of winter.
The holidays are long gone. We’ve KonMaried our houses and still find them messy. The hope of a new year and a new set of goals has already lost its sheen.
Welcome to February.
I always take a little dip into the blue this time of year. The sun is a mere suggestion on the edge of the sky. The dampness seeps into my bones. There are no big trips on the horizon, and spring is still many, many months away.
The gut-reaction coping mechanisms only make things worse: Staying inside the house. Eating too much chocolate. Pressing the snooze button long after the alarm goes off. Wasting time on silly movies or social media.
However, I have learned some healthy coping mechanisms that I come back to year after year.
1. Read something thick and interesting.
January and February are some of the best months to chip away at the reading list. Cozy up in a chair after dark and dig into a good book. I avoid anything too depressing, such as Dostoevsky or Tolstoy (OK fine, anything Russian), but it’s a great time for a David McCullough biography or a rich British novel. May I suggest: Amor Towles' “A Gentleman in Moscow” (takes place in Russia, but is refreshingly optimistic); Walter Isaacson’s “Leonardo Da Vinci”; or George Eliot’s “Middlemarch.” Poetry by Billy Collins or Mary Oliver is also lovely this time of year.
2. Invest in something sunny.
This can be a yellow rain slicker, pink socks or a postcard of the sun. I eat copious amounts of oranges in winter because the color makes me happy. Hang twinkle lights, install a few houseplants and light candles in the evening. Create bright spots.
3. Cheer up with a quick hit of novelty.
Try a new restaurant, a new flavor of tea. Drive a different way to work. Eat dinner under the table. Build a blanket fort. The tedium of winter can begin to feel like Groundhog Day. Make a new dessert. Turn up the music and have a dance party.
4. Get out in the muck every day.
I learned this trick in Minnesota, where I ran year-round despite the weather. The people who thrived were those who embraced the cold. They skied, skated, ice-fished and found ways to look forward to winter. Now that we live in the drippy Northwest, we still try to get out every day. That little hit of fresh air makes all the difference to bolster one’s mood.
5. Get with people.
Play board games. Host a dessert night. Organize a flash book club. Join a local music group. FaceTime with a friend. The temptation can be to hunker down and muscle through the misery alone. But we humans are social creatures, and interaction with others is key to happiness.
6. Take a day trip — anywhere.
This past weekend our women’s group at church took an overnight trip to the beach. The weather on the Oregon Coast was what you would expect in winter: drizzly and gray, the ocean wild and restless. It was spectacular. I was with friends. I wasn’t in my house! There was an ocean breeze. It was the perfect antidote to a February day. You don’t have to go far to get a refresher from the constraints of your winter life.
7. Work on an inside project.
Winter is such a great time to tackle the inside jobs so you can fully enjoy the outdoors during summer. Use the dark days to organize the storage room, refinish the bathroom, hang pictures and clean out closets.
8. Learn something new.
Pick up a guitar. Practice your Spanish on Duolingo. Knit a hat. Write that novel that’s been rattling around in your brain. Learn to arrange flowers. Paint a picture. Film a home movie. Make yogurt in the Instant Pot.
9. Move the body.Comment on this story
It’s hard to get the exercise we need in winter. Our family learned long ago to invest in a gym membership. Find an indoor pool, or an online exercise video. Join a walking group. Sign up for that summer race and lace up your sneakers.
Before you know it, spring will be around the corner. Every day the sun is swinging higher in the sky. Soon, the bitter cold will be a distant memory, except that when you go for a jog, open a closet or sit down at the piano, you’ll be reminded of all the ways you turned the winter doldrums into your own kind of manufactured sunshine.