With a grim political season in the rearview and a seemingly grimmer winter on the horizon, it’s time to reinvigorate the soul…to find light in the darkness and prepare yourself to face down whatever comes next.
The inspiring words above come from a recent article in The NY Times titled “Find Some Peace this Holiday” by Erik Vance. But for the purposes of this column, I’m going to change the slant to “Finding Some Peace After the Holidays.” In much of the U.S., we still have 3 to 4 months of frigid weather ahead of us, all made a little more trying by the COVID-19 bubble most of us now live in.
The 9 tips for surviving the winter listed here are pulled from the Vance article as well as two others, “Prepare Yourself Emotionally for Colder Weather,” also from The Times, and a story posted at CNN online, “With the election over, here are ways to take care of yourself, and your community.” I’ve done some editing and added a few ideas of my own. May they help soothe your soul this winter season.
9 Tips to Soothe the Winter Soul
- Feeling Blue? Don’t Fight It.
Sometimes the best way to overcome a negative feeling, whether its loneliness or melancholy, is to just ride it out. According to David Rosmarin, the founder of the Center for Anxiety in New York, you should “Accept the fact that it might be a crappy winter. Don’t try to fight it. Let the emotions come. It’s a wave. It crashes over you, and then it passes.”
One way to deal with the winter blues is to first recognize that times are hard and your feelings are normal. If you think there’s something missing in your life, do your best to address it. Miss people? Don’t socially isolate yourself, pick up the phone. Miss eating out? Support a local restaurant by ordering some take-out and serving it on your best dinnerware. Miss the arts? Look online for virtual museums or livestream a play or concert.
- Stick to a Routine.
Here are 4 for starters: Eat healthfully. Exercise regularly. Get enough sleep. Limit your alcohol intake. (Okay, I know, that can be a tough one.) The point is a regular routine has a funny way of adding purpose to your life and you can start it from the moment you wake up. This includes sitting down with a loved one or family at the end of your day for a glass of wine (there I go again) and dinner.
- Create a Ritual.
Make regular time for contemplation and stick to it. If you don’t have a regular routine, there’s no better time to start than now. As Rabbi Adam Kligfeld says, “a ritual is something you do over the course of a lifetime.” Today, tomorrow and all the days after that.
The act of contemplation, whether it be through prayer, meditation or just sitting quietly. doesn’t have to be difficult. For instance, Kligfeld simply sits, closes his eyes and breathes intentionally. Does it always work? No. But as the Rabbi points out, as in baseball, even the best fail 70% of the time and are still considered successful.
- Think Like a Poet.
What if you tried looking at your world with new eyes? There’s beauty in everyday life if you just try to seek it out. Often, we take what is around us for granted. For instance, take a quick tour around your home, looking closely at any artwork or keepsakes you have on the walls or shelves—or take in the view from various windows. You might find true beauty right under your nose.
Looking at the bigger picture, TV host and Sufi Hamid Entezam tells us that “life is full of suffering and our job is to find a path thought it.” Now’s the time to consider a new career goal, a new hobby or a new adventure you want to pursue once you emerge from lockdown. Figure out what you really want to do and where you want to go.
Here’s a way to instantly soothe the soul: Center and calm yourself with some deep, slow breaths. Deep breathing can bring instant relief to any stress you may be feeling. “Anytime you intentionally bring your attention to your breath and slow it down, you’ve already done a good thing,” says stress management expert Dr. Cynthia Ackrill. “It gives you that pause where you begin to realize that you are separate from what’s happening to you, and you can choose a response instead of just a primal reaction.”
- Take a Break from Social Media.
Here’s a recipe for unhappiness this winter. Sit on your phone or laptop all day and mindlessly scroll Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. If you have a “tribe” on social media that is friendly and supportive, that’s one thing. But all too often social media does nothing but exacerbate tensions or increase feelings of envy. Put your time to better, more constructive use.
- Get Some Exercise.
This was touched on in Tip #2 but deserves a shout-out all its on. If you were to pick just one thing to better your mental and physical health, exercising on a regular basis might be your best choice. As CNN reported, “Studies show the biggest benefits come from rhythmic exercises, which get your blood pumping in major muscle groups. Those include running, swimming, cycling and walking. Do the exercise for 15 to 30 minutes at least three times a week at low to moderate intensity.”
- Reach Out to Those in Need of Human Contact.
Sometimes the best way to lift your spirits is to life the spirits of someone else. “Helping and serving others is one of the best ways to exercise spirituality,” says Paul Raushenbush, a Christian minister in New York. You may know someone in your own family or a neighbor who could use a helping hand or just another human being to talk to, especially during this time of increased social isolation. Follow safety protocols and reach out to those in need in whatever way you and they are most comfortable.
- Light a Candle.
Lighting a candle or candles is also a great way to banish the winter blahs. It’s a reminder that even in the darkness, it is still possible to see light and often has the mysterious ability to lessen any anxiety you may be feeling. As the immortal Dumbledore said in Harry Potter: “Happiness can be found in even the darkest of times. But only to those who remember to turn on the light.”