beating the winter blues

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We’re in the middle of a deep freeze and our annual desert vacation/parent visit has been pushed back by 2 weeks, which means all of February stretches out before me like a long, unbroken…icicle. The bulk of January has been spent flinging myself down on to the heating grate when I get home from work, and crying about ever leaving Berkeley. So warm, so many flowers.

Knowing that there’s a good 2.5 months of this to go, I need to get a game plan for getting through it. Last year in Vermont the winter was pretty mild, and before that, my last actual winter ended in January 1996 in Philadelphia. City winter time is way, way different from country winter time. The arctic has no respect for fashion, Vince.

So far the plan has been:

-A lot of candles
-Baths every night
-Nonstop escapist novels
-Huddling in front of the space heater
-Giving up sugar (Again, I know. The cravings are still going strong 3 weeks in.)

I’m still getting major cabin fever, and am jonesing for some Wellbutrin. That’s not an option, so I think it’s time to add:

-Living room dance parties
-Vicarious vacation planning
-Ditto gardens
-Keep on top of the budget so that heating oil deliveries don’t make me black out with stress (it’s hard to balance the accounts when you’re wrapped around a space heater)
-Throw some lemongrass oil in that bath to combat depression and smooth dry skin
-House puttering! Make a list of what needs to be tackled in each room and check it off
-When it gets above 0° (let’s be realistic, when it gets above 20°) more walking on my lunch break, and outdoor hikes and activities on the weekends
-Try to get 8 hours of actual sleep
-Take Vitamin D
-Look up local events & get out of the house!

Arctic friends – especially isolated arctic friends – how do you battle the winter blues?


  1. So, it’s less-than-arctic on Long Island generally, but I love true winter. I think the only way I survive though is by taking regular walks in the sunshine, either on the freezing, breezy beach, or in the woods in the snow. The key for me is making sure that I can’t possibly get cold. Many layers, thick socks, tall wellies, hats, long underwear, the works.
    That’s my $.02, now please excuse me while I escape to your pinboards…

      1. Sweet jesus and I thought our 14 degrees today was bad. Reminds me of a Little House quote, something along the lines of “And it was only 20 degrees below zero!” as though that were MARVELOUS!

  2. We’re in a deep freeze here too (though it’s above zero today, about 6 F right now). I think biking straight through the winter is what enables me to deal. I’m not minding winter at all right now because I just put on my gear and get out in it. But then, I’m in a (frozen) city, where it’s possible to commute by bike thanks to bike lanes/bike advocacy/lots of other nutters doing the same thing I am. Really the key seems to be outdoor exercise, unfortunately. I think it just makes you feel like you can face it.

  3. Vitamin D has changed my life! Last winter, without it, I was solidly depressed from January through March. This year, so much better (even though we’re getting a real winter down here!) I concur on attempting (on days above 10 degrees) to go for a midday walk. It helps me a ton. Since Harper the dog can’t go for walks while she’s recovering from her surgery right now, I’ve taken up jump-roping in my house this week. I’m liking it–I try to avoid exercise but when I do it I feel way more awake and energized, and then I go to bed at a more reasonable hour so the next day I’m not cranky and exhausted and prone to distraction via internet into the wee hours. Good luck!

    1. Oh yeah, and eating well. I’m not doing great with that (so little motivation to make food when I’m already tired and out of sorts) but I’m attempting a shift in that direction. Also, just an hour talking to a friend (in person or on the phone) really helps, too. xoxo

  4. I am also taking vitamin D. Coincidentally it is supposed to help (at least it does not hurt) with fertility issues.
    Candles, holiday planning, reading, flowers by the window, walks, manicure and other home/pampering and baking also help.
    For giving up sugar I am finding herbal teas (pepermint, camomile) are drinkable without any sugar.
    I am also doing and writing about the #January Joy prompts from Florence Finds to push the blues away.

    I hope your time off and away will come soon. Dance parties sound great.

  5. We are in the thick of the single digit temperatures here in Minnesota. I admit: being less isolated makes it more doable. I’ve geen doing to the gym a lot, both for the endorphins and the sauna. vitamin D is great. And seeing people. If I don’t make dates ahead of time, I’m tempted to never leave the house. I guess it’s a great time to catch up on serial television. I blasted through The Wire… Good luck!

  6. For some reason I feel like I read that you’re vegan, and if so I hope that I do not offend with what I’m about to say, but fish oil does amazing things for me & I’ve been known to battle some pretty serious depression in my life. My Dr also claimed that it helps with fertility too, so worth looking into? If you’re not vegan?

    1. Oh you are right but you can get the goodness from the fish oil (aka omega 3 fatty acids) from vegetable sources like linseed, rape seed, sunflower seeds.

  7. Oh, I lived in Sellersville PA in 1996 — I remember the Blizzard of ’96 fondly (since I was a kid). That January rocked! 😛

    I also hat e hate hate the cold though, even as a native Northerner. Mostly my coping mechanisms are:
    -Hot baths nightly with a book
    -I put a heating blanket on my bed for a while before climbing in each night

  8. It always fills me with wonder to read bloggers on the other side of the world posting about snow and ice. It seems like a fairytale and very romantic, but obviously real life is completely different.

    I’m the opposite of a snow expert, but it seems to me a little adventure down the road to the nearest red-wine-in-a-nice-glass selling venue might lift the spirits?

    Sending you warm thoughts.

  9. Indoor gardening. Amaryllis and hyacinth and narcissus bulbs–not only fun to watch them literally grow each day, but I find the indoor flowers battle that bleak winter feel. I have my eye on some mini daffodil bulbs I saw at the garden ctr as well. I also just planted a succulent terrarium that’s making me feel that indoors is very cozy and a good place to hunker down until winter recedes

  10. Ok so not in the artic here..but we did spend last January & Feb in England & our flat had a heated towel rack. There isn’t really a need for that in California but good lord did I want one after that. I think as far as keeping wintery spirits up, hot baths scented with rose geranium and neroli help me. I like to burn copal or frankincense and palo santo wood. Gives the place more of a
    warm homey vibe. I also have a SAD light & take vitamin d.

  11. I’m not sure that I have much in the way of advice (I get S.A.D. every single year and this January has been a nightmare of setbacks and repairs), but I wanted to say that I am so inspired by your ideas and everyone else’s in the comments here. I must say I took a bath the other night (first one in over a year) and it was so relaxing and cozy. Hopefully I can try some of these ideas and hope for some improvement in the winter blues area :)

    Ok, so I have two pieces of advice

    – Get some fresh flowers. or even just one. I bought a single stem of clematis and it makes me happy every time I look at it!
    – Read about something that really really inspires you. (wabi-sabi philosophy for me!)

  12. This song, mostly? Perfect for living room dance parties:
    And going to any and every social event I’m invited to. Caffeine is also doing wonderssss for me but I think that’s only because I didn’t have any for years and years and now I’m drinking coffee every day. It’ll probably wear off eventually.

  13. I’d see if there’s a swimming pool you can visit – going to the Y across the street from work and floating in a lot of warm water made Seattle winters bearable. And Wellbutrin. I’d go for the drugs if you can 😛

    1. I can’t :( I’ve been off them for over 2 years, since we’ve been trying to conceive. Unfortunately the nearest nice pool is FAR, but I may need to schedule a spa day…

  14. It is so so cold right now, isn’t it. I haven’t felt this cold in a while either – I was living in Newfoundland for the past three years which was surprisingly warmer than Maine.

    One thing that I love about winter is the cross-country skiing. I’m not a runner, but something about how fast you can go on cross country skis really gets me so excited. It’s a nice way to be moving around outside and working hard enough to stay warm. When we worked out in a hut in the middle of nowhere western Maine it drove me a little crazy to be so far away from everything, but skiing always helped. It is even better if you bring a thermos of something hot along!

    Also, in the winter I listen to my grandmother and wear wool alllllllll the time. She doesn’t trust anything to keep her warm unless it’s wool.

  15. with our measly -2 celcius, the cold here in the netherlands is nothing compared with the temperatures over there! I don’t have any tips to offer besides everything that’s already been said – for me, excercize, trying to catch some sun, and hot showers every night (I don’t have a bathtub… :() seem to be the most important things I can do to beat the winter blues – though I treated myself to a new haircut yesterday, and it lifted my spirits immensly :)

  16. Coconut oil. Spraying myself with summery perfume (rose+sandalwood). Ferns or green trick in a vase that I carry around with me. A humidifier in every room. Green tea with lemongrass. Inventing new variations on the hot toddy/spiced cider/chai/spicy-hot-sweet-things-to-drink. Novels upon novels upon novels. Movies like Holiday, Shop Around the Corner and The Thin Man. Dreaming of moving back to Seattle. Love, Minnesota.

      1. I have an ancient Holmes humidifier that outlasts everything, but it seems to be discontinued. The ones with wicks work better and it seems like the rule is the more hideous the design, the better they work. I just close my eyes and remember how good it makes my nose/lungs/skin feel.

  17. I got very confused here for a while. At first I thought you mean -20C, then I figured it must be F, because USA, right? But then, -20F is not such a big deal. And then figured it out by checking weather report for Montpelier. Internet can be very confusing!;)

    We’re around -10 C in Poland right now (it’s usually the coldest in February, I think, so I’m waiting for our -20 to come:)) and I noticed one thing: every time temperature drops below -5 I go into full fuckit mode. I mean, I don’t really care how I look. I just want to be warm. So I put on layers and layers and more mismatched layers and when it’s around -15 or -20C I feel like this scary Michellin logo guy but whatever.

    What else helps? Designating one room for living during coldest weeks. We just set up everything in our living room and stay there – work there, sleep there, eat there etc. I know I have a pretty bedroom but, again, fuckit. I want to be warm. I can enjoy my pretty bedroom when it’s above -5C. This way we need to heat this one room only and can save some money.

    It was said before but going out really helps, even if it’s dark. It’s better during the day, of course, because of the sun and vitamin D, but simply moving helps, too, really! Nothing fancy, simply walking around is enough when it’s this cold and you’re dragging around kilos of weight in clothes;) It’s unpleasant at first but makes you feel warmer in a short while. And your home will seem warmer after wandering around in the cold. Seriously, though. I work from home and used to shiver sitting next to the heater. Now I do my best to go for a fast walk every day (or at least every two days) and it helps.

    1. Do you mean -20F is not a big deal? Because -20F means I can’t breathe when I go outside!!! (I have bad asthma.)

      -10C is 14 degrees F, that’s balmy compared to -20F!

      I’m just not good in the cold. My shoulders are around my ears, I’m super tense, breathing hurts…I need to figure out a way to spend January and February somewhere warm and work remotely.

  18. These are all wonderful suggestions. I didn’t know Vitamin D could have an effect on mood – I’ll definitely start taking it! I second what other people have said about exercise and going out. I try and make a habit of going skating – there are many rinks near us! Also, it’s not particularly healthy, but there’s nothing nicer than walking in the snow to a warm bar and having a glass of wine with a friend. :)

  19. We’ve had some -40C days here in northern Alberta recently. It sucks, no way around it. I have an oil heater in my bedroom and I sleep with a hot water bottle AND a Hudson’s Bay wool blanket on top. I wear merino wool everything. Since changing my diet a few years ago, I have no issues with winter depression. Jan/Feb used to be horrible. I take Vit D, a vegan DHA, and a multi. I exercise outdoors when it’s not so friggin’ cold, or workout at home when it is. Yoga class is a way to treat myself. I did not want to get off the couch and go last night when it was -30C, but I was glad I did. A great mood booster.

  20. If Nova Scotia counts as Arctic, here’s my two cents! It was -26C with wind chill, snow squalls and blowing snow for most of this past week, which I agree, is kind of miserable. I’ve found over the past few winters that I’ve felt a lot better taking 1000 IU Vitamin D every day. Tea, tea, and more tea always help, and having flowers inside. I buy bulbs on clearance after Christmas and enjoy them for several weeks, and I bought a few new houseplants, too. Works for me!

    Just made my way here via Ashley English (Small Measure) and am so happy I did!

  21. Yes! Amelia Peabody books! I just read through all 19 when my baby was born. Perfect for reading while breastfeeding and during naps. And I hear you about the cold. Although it is just around 0c here right now, I know in February there will be cold snaps. “When the days get longer, the cold gets stronger.”

  22. I live in a little mountain town that gets pretty cold and gloomy this time of year. I think everyone else deals with it by skiing at the mountain but lift tickets are too expensive for me this year.
    SO, I have been going to yoga and they always blast the heat and I get so warm and sweaty. it makes me feel SO good. I also snowshoe when its sunny and even though it takes me a while to motivate myself to get out there, I am always so much happier outside and when I come back. AND i have berries frozen from the summer time that i dump half and half on (it turns into a funny little ice creamish concoction) and it makes me feel summery.
    Also, have you heard of the book ‘Women’s Bodies Women’s Wisdom’ by…christiane northrup? It helped me with some “lady issues” surrounding fertility A LOT. I would recommend it.

    Your blog is beautiful and inspiring, thanks!

  23. As a swede who can’t ski or like any winter sport, I have a hard time during winter. But, living in south west Sweden, I am quite happy when we have snow and about -10 C, we often have winters when we have like 0 C and rain, wind and darkness from October to April. Anyway, boring as it sounds, getting out every day, just for 15 min even, and to exercise at least once a week really helps.

  24. Perfect list! Dance parties are the very, very best, especially if they’re a bit spontaneous (although that in itself can be tricky). It’s high summer where I am at the moment, and I hate it and am longing for the cold – but will remember this list when winter inevitably drags on and on and on.

  25. I’m in nearby NH, so I feel you with the cold! supposed to get all warm and muddy today, though, which I rather think is worse – I have the tiniest hole in my snowboots, not enough to let in the cold, but definitely enough to let in water. My suggestions – I definitely second the dance parties (either solo or with friends!) and the humidifier – my little dorm room one is going full-tilt these days. I’ve also been trying to do a little yoga every day, which is perfect for calming and destressing. Otherwise, lots of tea and hot chocolate and studying wrapped up in my favorite blankets and wool socks!

    1. Ok, humidifier shopping right now. I just saw your post about “bitterly cold” that about sums it up! I’m kind of happy about the warmer, foggier weather.

  26. Just got a delivery of bank-breaking home heating-oil and it is sooo stressful when the tank get’s low and I don’t have the money together. I have thoughts like: “how is life here MORE expensive than in Berkeley!!”

    I’ve taken to visiting the local greenhouses just to feel some humidity and smell green things. It helps.

    I also frequent the sauna at my gym. I sit on the warm wood benches and listen to Calexico and Cowboy Junkies and pretend I’m driving through the desert.

    My skin, if I can even call it skin at this point, produces an avalanche of white flakes whenever I peel off my permanent thermal under layer…nothing has helped this. Perhaps, I’ll try Lemongrass Oil.

    But, “cold tears of sadness” that’s probably the best coping mechanism. Or, since you’re way more arctic than me, you could channel your energy into training a pack of huskies for the Iditarod.

  27. I’m deep in the country in Wisconsin so I feel your pain. Right now it’s 4˚F but with the windchill feels like 14˚F below.

    My favorite winter tactics overlap with some of yours: dance parties are at the top of my list! Also: always having a fire going in the wood stove (I keep a big pot of water on it for humidity!), and sitting in the sauna (yes we are spoiled). Unfortunately we don’t have a bathtub so no baths. I’ve been trying to embrace winter while it’s here by trying out things like cross-country skiing. Sledding is always fun and exhilarating and an endorphin rush.

    It’s hard to live so far away from the thick of things though. It’s easy to isolate yourself. It’s not like I’m going to leave the house at night after coming home from work to meet up with people or go to a show, the drive just isn’t worth it. It’s definitely a trade-off, and harder to deal with in winter. But your post and these comments are great!

  28. I’m in the mid-Atlantic and we’re having a cold snap with temps in the 20s; not as cold as VT but having been away from New England for so long, the body forgets. I lived most of my growing up years on the New England coast in an old apartment building that only had heat on the first floor.

    What helps me: soup, excellent moisturizer, Vitamin D, hot baths, walks when it is sunny. I struggle with asthma too in winter and find that a coat with a mouth piece helps — the kind that zip to under your chin. Having the moist air makes it bearable. Also, silk long underwear. Electric blankets in bed.

    Also, if you think you need antidepressants, might you talk to a fertility doc? I ask gently. I didn’t have fertility trouble but I did have terrible postpartum depression and safely used antidepressants while breastfeeding. There are options, even in pregnancy if you are very low.

    Hope the bitter cold passes into something more manageable soon.

  29. I remember my first Minnesota winter. The temperature reached -24F — not including windchill. I actually wore a ski mask to merely walk from the car into the grocery store. It really helped my resulting back pain — I tend to tense up quite a bit when cold, and my shoulders and back bore the brunt of that bad habit.

    I also survived by fully embracing long underwear, thermal boots, candles, Vitamin D, Netflix, daily yoga, and the U.S. postal service. I felt a bit isolated in the town we were in, and I found that mailing postcards and letters to friends helped stem the feeling of loneliness.

    I did find myself looking forward to seed catalogs. Nothing like planning out the spring garden while sipping on hot cocoa! Also — electric mattress pads. They’re amazing.

    Good luck — I hope the worst of winter passes soon. I had enough this year and just moved to the coast a few miles north of San Francisco. And now I miss the snow. Figures. :)

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