The holidays are over, which for some of us is a huge relief, but for others is disappointing and depressing. It also doesn’t help that many of us live in places where darkness descends in the late afternoon, and the temperatures are bone chilling (no matter how many layers we layer!). Which leads us to spend less time outside, and less time with others.
All of this makes it tough to feel genuine joy and delight. It can be a gloomy time of year, and gloomy is exactly how we feel.
During winter, clients regularly tell therapist Melissa Divaris Thompson that they feel alone and tired. All. The. Time. They share that when they’re done with work, all they yearn to do is lay down on the couch and stay there.
Wintertime also is a season of slow. And once we slow down, we might “find we don’t feel so good,” said Thompson, LMFT, a holistic psychotherapist who specializes in seeing adult women and couples in their 20s and 30s in New York City. “We may tap into our feelings and realize how depleted we are.”
Brandice Schnabel’s clients feel like they haven’t had a chance to process what happened in December (namely complex family dynamics), and yet they’ve been catapulted into the land of new year’s resolutions and transformations. Schnabel, LISW-S, is a psychotherapist and founder of Sky Witness Healing Arts, a private practice in North Canton, Ohio, that provides counseling from a clinical and/or shamanic perspective based on each client’s needs.
But winter doesn’t have to feel awful—at least not completely. In fact, it can feel joyful. Yes, joyful. Here’s how.
Connect to winter’s coziness. “There is a joy and delight in recognizing that there is a season for everything, including the [season] to retreat from the elements, and seek comfort and coziness,” said Simon Niblock, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Austin, Texas, dedicated to helping men and their partners overcome some of life’s more challenging experiences.
He noted that the Danish have a word for this: Hygge. “It means to connect with the quality of coziness and comfortable friendliness that begets a feeling of contentment or well-being.”
For instance, this might mean savoring a hot cup of cocoa and wearing fluffy socks, said Niblock, founder of Man Up Therapy, a therapeutic service assisting men in overcoming the stigma of seeking mental health services. It might mean creating a warm, soothing environment at home with candles; soft, flannel sheets; and heavy throw blankets.
Similarly, Thompson suggested focusing on the lighting in your home: Build a fire, buy a new lamp, string some Christmas lights, or try a diffuser with essential oils and multicolor changing lights.
Extend warmth to others. “The other practice of Hygge, is to recognize the significance of extending that extra warmth to others when interacting with them,” Niblock said. This might mean smiling more or initiating more open, compassionate conversations, he said. What does extending warmth to others look like for you? How would you like others to approach you with compassion? Can you do the same?
Schedule excitement. Thompson suggested scheduling in activities that you feel excited about—anything from dinner with friends to a weekend getaway (maybe somewhere warm). “Making plans gives us something to look forward to and elevates our mood,” she said. What exciting, interesting, entertaining activity can you put on your schedule this week?
Start a few creative projects. Think about creative projects that would be fun to do, whether inside or outside. For instance, Schnabel suggested “small needlework or yarnwork projects, [coloring books], Zentangles, cooking experiments [and] homemade cards.” She also suggested trying a 30-day creative challenge on Instagram.
“If you have no idea what sparks your creativity, try doing The Artist’s Way,” she said. “Morning pages, artist dates, and the weekly homework are all really rewarding ways to give yourself permission to find joy in creating purely for creation’s sake.”
If you’re pressed for time, you can still connect to your creativity. All you need is a single minute, and you can play with all kinds of prompts, such as: Write several sentences using only words that start with these letters: N, U, I; and “Shhh, listen! There’s an everyday noise you can hear right now that’s part of a top-secret government experiment. What is the noise, and what experiment are they conducting?” (More prompts here.)
Embrace nature. Focus on the childlike fun and fierce beauty of winter, and head outside—even if it’s for 10 minutes. “Play in the snow, take a walk and look up at the bare branches, notice the bird nests that we usually can’t see through the tree foliage,” Schnabel said.
Pay attention to the morning and evening sky. What do you notice? Taste the snow on your tongue. Think about what you can appreciate about this season. Maybe snap a photo or two.
“Let the chilly air clear the mind and awaken whatever we need from within,” Schnabel added.
Move your body in genuinely enjoyable ways. Moving our bodies can boost our mood and alleviate our anxiety. The key is to engage in physical activities that you actually enjoy. For instance, some of Thompson’s clients love taking yoga, Pilates or dance classes for the camaraderie. Others love taking walks. You might prefer to dance, stretch or practice yoga at home.
Turn to inspiring reads. At least once every winter Schnabel reads The Faithful Gardener by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. She also plans to dive into Mary Oliver’s poetry “as my indoor option for exploring both nature and perfectly crafted parallels between the world around us and human nature. Oliver is a treasure during any season.”
Another option is to start or join a book club. For example, Schnabel helps to organize and participates in an annual reading challenge on Facebook called Band of Readers. Modern Mrs. Darcy offers a book club with a private forum and monthly video chats.
Celebrate. Schnabel believes that there’s a great opportunity for joy and delight when we realize that we survived the holiday season, and can now sink into what wintertime is truly meant for—such as rest and reflection.
Part of this process includes celebration. “I always celebrate however I have managed to navigate the tricky month of December and consciously relish January’s reprieve from those pressures,” Schnabel said.
“Each year we’re learning more and even if we didn’t escape December unscathed, we likely rocked it harder than last year and will have more experience under our belts for handling next year. Celebrate some part of that.”
Wintertime can be a difficult season for a variety of reasons. It’s important to acknowledge your feelings about it. And if you can also embrace and settle into the inherent quiet, coziness and slower pace, you just might discover some delight, as well.