Thursday 25 April 2019

10 ways to banish the winter blues, according to clinical psychologist

From keeping warm to learning a new skill - Dr Claire Hayes has ways to lift your spirits and ease the mid-winter doldrums

There are ways to ease the mid-winter doldrums
There are ways to ease the mid-winter doldrums

It's that time of year again -the mornings suddenly seem chilly, the trees are changing colour and leaves are falling to the ground. I'm lucky, I enjoy autumn, but I know that there are many who do not. I usually look forward to the winter months too, but this year I notice myself being more influenced by 'doom and gloom' conversations about the weather, traffic, politics and the day-to-day pressures we all face.

I know I am not the only one who may be affected by others' dislike of winter. Here are 10 things you can do that will help turn things around and change your mindset for the better.

1 Stay in the present

It can be tempting to rush forward into the future. Advertisers are hoping that we do exactly that. How many ads have you seen already for children's toys? How many shops are already displaying Christmas decorations? Instead of jumping ahead and living in the future, check what date it is. Even better, first thing, every day, plan one thing that you will do before bedtime that will give you pleasure - and do it.

2 Keep a sense of balance

Yes, we will have dark mornings and we will have dark evenings. But we will have bright afternoons. We will have rain, but we will have beautiful winter sunshine. We will have slippery roads, but we will have grit. When you notice others focus on upsetting things, why not see if you can gently introduce some balance into the conversation by talking about something joyful that you associate with the colder months?

3 Keep warm

Yes, it does get colder, so this is an ideal time to get our cosy boots, hats, scarves and gloves all sorted. It is also the time to have porridge, hot soup and stews. While it is tempting to stay close to heat, it is also the time to get warm and keep warm through exercise. Just think of arriving home warm and relaxed from a brisk walk before you settle down to relax for the evening.

4 Reach out for fun

Some people copy the hedgehogs and do their best to hibernate for a few months. It can be tempting to do this. It takes effort to meet friends when the wind is howling and the rain is pouring. The technology that we often complain about means that we can speak to people we love without leaving home. We can even see them if we use Skype or Facetime. That is fine but not all the time. There are some family and friends who are absolutely worth the effort it might take to meet them in person.

5 Reach out to support

The Dalai Lama said: "Taking care of others, helping others, ultimately is the way to discover your own joy and to have a happy life." It can take very little to ensure that vulnerable people in our community are supported and cared for. Every community has groups of volunteers who are committed to ensuring that others have heat, food and companionship. They welcome and usually need more members, so maybe this is the time for you to put yourself forward to support others.

6 Learn a new skill

The concept of 'life-long education' has taken firm hold in Ireland. People gather in secondary schools and community halls throughout the country to learn a new language, or to develop their skills in a range of activities including cookery, music, art, painting or writing. Some sign up for evening classes for fun, not realising that they have just embarked on a whole new journey that can result in new friends and even new careers. Yes, it takes effort to get up and get out, but the effort is so worth it.

7 Take time out to play

Those of you of a certain age may remember a television programme from years ago called 'Why Don't You Just Switch off Your Television Set and Go Out and Do Something Less Boring Instead?' or 'Why Don't You?' for short. I remember watching it puzzled, knowing that if I turned off the television, I would not know what they were suggesting I did instead. The fear of missing out, (FOMO) attacked me at a young age. There is definitely merit in turning of the television and doing something that is fun instead. When did you last bake for pleasure? When did you last play Snakes and Ladders, Scrabble or card games? It is easy to forget how much enjoyment we can get from games that we used to play when we were children.

8 Clear out and tidy

This might not be as much fun as the other suggestions, but it can bring a deep sense of peace and relief. It only takes an hour here and there to clear presses of 'stuff' that we don't even know we have. Charity shops welcome clothes, shoes and books that we won't miss. Put on music you like and, even better, see if you can get some help and discover just how much extra space you can create in a few hours. You never know, you might even enjoy it.

9 Reflect

Do you remember those promises you may have made last January? They could well be the same ones that you will make next January. It is easy to focus on what we haven't done, should have done, wished we had done and absolutely will do sometime. Instead, why not take time during the next few months to reflect on what you have done during the year that you are proud of? Then think about things the people you love and care about have done that you are proud of too. You might even write these down in a notebook to be presented to them as a gift for Christmas. A great day to reflect is December 21. It marks the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. You can create your own way to reflect and celebrate.

10 Appreciate

As the Psalm and song says: 'To everything there is a season'. Let's make time to appreciate the gifts that the winter months bring us. These might be different for each person, but there will be at least one thing that each of us can anticipate with joy that is unique to this time of year. It might be Halloween, it might be Christmas or it might be an excuse to sit beside a warm fire. Whatever it is, let's notice it, appreciate it and tell others about it. Let's turn the conversation away from doom and gloom to what we enjoy and get pleasure from. Let's deliberately look forward to and enjoy the next few months.

* Dr. Claire Hayes is a Consultant Clinical Psychologist and author of 'Finding Hope in the Age of Anxiety' and 'How to Cope'

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