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Make Your Own Sunshine: 20 Quick and Easy Ideas for Beating the Winter Blues

I have had the hardest time removing myself from my bed in the morning lately. I keep thinking that maybe I'm fighting something… The truth is that no matter what my body is fighting (I think it's a head cold?!) my whole self is fighting depression.

I'm an easy target for depression in the winter. It happens every year actually: I find it harder and harder to stay positive and get motivated as the winter drags on.

There are mounds of snow everywhere I look outside and icicles hanging from various points on our roof. The highs have been in the single digits. Today it is super sunny outside and I am loving every ray. Mostly though, the winter skies are gray in Michigan. It can be downright depressing.

Knowing that I'm susceptible to singing the winter blues, I'm trying extra hard to stay on the sunny side of life, as they say. It isn't easy. I haven't perfected it. And, I am completely committed to keeping it a consistent practice. Some days are easier than others, as is true for most everything in life. Also knowing that so many of my friends and family members are feeling the impact of this winter, I thought I'd share some of what's working well for me… I hope you find something here that works for you.

Before I get started though, I want to be clear that I am not taking the term depression lightly here. When it comes to depression, I have found that one of the challenges we face is discerning the difference between what we can control and what we can't. In a world where appearing to be "in control" is the way to be, it is sometimes hard to admit defeat… that we just can't control everything.

So, no, we can't control the weather or any of the outcomes we face along with frigid temperatures and piles of snow. Here at my house, my kids have had numerous days of school due to weather and that has really made an impact on the way we live our lives. None of that is in the realm of my control. How I react to it however - that is all me. None of us can change the weather; we can however, change our perception of the weather and what it means for us in our lives. Okay, here we go...

1. Make Art.

A scene from one of my art journals

It doesn't have to be complicated. I find that coloring in a coloring book with my daughter can be very relaxing (as long as I follow her directions!?!). I suggest working on something that isn't outcome focused - something that is about the process of making art rather than the work of itself.

Try coloring in a coloring book with crayons or markers, your own painting or a paint by number, Zentangle, doodling, sketching, modeling clay, anything that gets your hands moving and your head focusing on something other than the weather.

2. Let the Cold Shock You

Go outside with your regular clothes on - no bundling allowed. Stand in the cold for a minute (or less if there are frostbite warnings in your area), and allow yourself to really feel the cold. It's like an electric shock (only cold)! As you feel the shock of the cold on your skin, you get a new lease on life. It's like receiving CPR without the drama. I think there's something to it too because there are so many places that use variations between hot and cold to help heal. Try it!

3. Take a Photo Hike or Drive

Pretend you are a photo journalist on location - in the Arctic maybe. Use any old camera or your phone and snap pictures. Try taking photos of things you might ordinarily miss, like snow covered branches, tracks in the snow, or the winter sky. Take close-ups - try to catch the unique formation of an individual snowflake. It is incredible to look real close and see that each snowflake really is so intricately designed. If you can capture that on film, I would love to see it!

Wire scrolling on our balcony

A snow covered branch in my yard
4. Install a Bird Feeder Where You Can See It From Your House

This could open a whole word of bird watching...

This has been so much fun. Okay, I'm a bit of a nature geek… but I do think anyone would enjoy it. I installed this feeder right outside my bedroom window. Part two of this tip is to allow yourself to just sit and watch the birds. It is amazing! As you watch, think about how great it feels to provide some food to the birds. Watch them closely. Admire their feathers. Their colors. Their flight pattern to and from the feeder. The way they move around. Birds are fascinating creatures!

5. Play in the Snow

My family playing in the snow

No explanation needed. Make an angel. Go sledding. Let the flakes melt on your tongue. Drink something warm when you're back inside.

6. Hibernate

So you're stuck inside? Make the most of it. Cuddle with your people, your pets, yourself. Wrap yourself in a blankie. Build a fire. Sip something yummy. Read a good book. Start a new one that you've been wanting to read. Flip through a magazine. Play games. Allow yourself to be still in the quiet of winter. No judgment. No place else to go… Allow yourself to really truly rest. Enjoy it.

7. Nourish Yourself Wisely

My lovely sister arranged this. Cute, huh?

This is a year-round charge; however, when you're feeling down it can be harder than usual to muster up the energy to eat nutritious foods. Some of us crave comfort foods in the winter, and for some of us that means carbohydrates… Get creative.

Years ago, three of my neighbors and I started a Supper Club. For four nights of the week we took turns making meals for all four of our families. We made simple meals that were easy to make in larger quantities. It was a huge treat to enjoy a homemade meal with my family that I didn't have to make, and to cook only once in that four day stretch. Plus, making food for other people can be good for your soul, AND it ensured we communicated with each other on a regular basis so there wasn't space for feeling isolated.

I am also hearing more and more about different places that deliver nutritious meals or the ingredients for you to make the meals yourself. Ah-mazing!

8. Do Something Nice for Someone

Again, no explanation needed. Just do it. Reach out to someone you love or a complete stranger and do something that you know will make a positive difference in their life. Send a note, make a meal, clear their driveway, let them go ahead of you in the checkout lane… even flash a great, big happy smile. You never know what a huge impact a simple of act of kindness can make.

9. Reclaim Your Space

This can entail anything from painting an entire room in your house, to rearranging your furniture, to buying a new candle and lighting it when the sun goes down. If you're going to be stuck inside, make sure you are surrounded by things that make you feel good. A new knit throw, a couple cute pillows, a picture frame, a BOUQUET of FLOWERS!!! We respond to smells so find a candle that reminds you of summer, or burn your favorite incense, or use essential oils.

It's your space, take charge and brighten it right up. Own it. Suddenly, you are no longer "stuck" inside, you now have the privilege of being there in a space you love.

10. Re-live Your Summer Highlight Reel

There was a winter not long ago that lasted so forever and a day long that I actually thought it might never end. I honestly wondered "what if the sun never shines again…?" I had to remind myself that in all my life I had never witnessed a never-ending winter. That every year of my life the sun came out to shine on me again. Revisiting pictures from summers past helped. I even felt transported to the times when the sun was warming my skin, my kids and I swam in the lake, and the nights seemed to last into the next day. Ahhh…. those days, they are a coming… eventually.

11. Make a Mix Tape

A playlist. Here Comes the Sun might be a good place to start. Get lost in the music. Listen to your favorites and find some new songs to lift your soul. Music is transformative. Click play and let yourself sway. You can thank me later.

12. Bake

Sometimes a girl just needs a cookie. It's okay. Enjoy the process of baking and the joy of biting into something homemade (space and grace around #7… all things in moderation, right?).

13. Call on Your Tribe

Vent if you need to or simply check-in. Call a friend or loved one. Tell dumb jokes. Share favorite memories. Laugh hard. Repeat. Plan a date night and reconnect with your beloved. If you can, meet someone you love for coffee or breakfast. If school is closed, gather at home… let the kids run wild together and look into your bestie's eyes. Ask her what she is working on these days? What she dreams about at night? Keep each other warm with your company.

14. Plan a Tropical Vacation

Assuming we can't all just pick up and fly south, we can plan a vacation. Where will you stay? What will you do? Even if you have no intention or ability to take this vacation, plan it. Make a collage even. Surprise yourself. Go wild. Dream big. Think SUNSHINE on your face by day and a huge star filled sky over your head at night. Campfires? Hikes? Swim up bar? Whatever suits your fancy…

15. Move

Not to Florida, move your body. Breathe, stretch, practice yoga, play Twister, wrestle, dance, do Zumba, get intimate with your lover (or yourself). Just. Move. And. Groove. Your. Body.

16. See Through the Eyes of a Child

Last night when I told my son school was cancelled for today due to sub zero temperatures (it's a Frozen Day he told me), he cheered like his team just won the Super Bowl. Children have very little attachment to the ramifications of inclement weather. They aren't worried about freezing pipes, shoveling the driveway, driving on slippery roads, or rearranging their schedules. Allow yourself to experience your life through the eyes of a child. Imagine you are seeing snow for the very first time. What would that be like? What if today was the first day you woke up? Tasted coffee? Enjoyed a bowl of oatmeal? Imagine. Be curious about what you see. Observe. Enjoy the experience of trying something you've never tried before. Even if it something you actually do every day…

17. Celebrate the Sunshine

Let the sun shine in...

When the sun does come out to light up the sky and everything below it, RELISH IT! Do a dance. Wear your sunglasses. If you can, feel the warmth of the sun on your skin. Stare out the window. Watch the way the snow sparkles when the sun hits it (truly divine!). Take a walk. Take more pictures. Watch the shadows dance. Thank God and the Heavens for the SUN and everything it does for us. Promise to never again take its light for granted. Soak it all in. Act like you're never going to see it again (it might be a while…).

18. Do an Outdoor Activity Indoors

Last weekend I played catch with two little ones in my father-in-law's garage. We have used the garage for field hockey too. If you can ride a bike in your basement, that is always fun. Play hopscotch. Blow bubbles. Find a place with an indoor pool and swim. If all else fails, take a bath. Fill it with salts, essential oils, bubbles, or take it straight up. Water has magical healing powers. Even in the winter. Especially in the winter.

19. Be Gentle with Yourself

A little latte love

Yesterday I was rushing to get a whole bunch of stuff together for a meeting, and then rushing to bundle myself up to face the cold. As I got into the car, my purse got caught on my scarf. My coat is so big and puffy that I could barely reach behind myself to untangle my purse. I wanted to cry. I wanted to rip off all the layers and go back inside and crawl into my bed. It takes a lot of extra energy to do business as usual in the winter. Allow yourself to take more time. Allow yourself to move slowly if you need to. Give yourself a lot of space to figure out what will work best for you in light of whatever comes up this winter. Whatever you do, do it gently.

20. Be Gentle with Everyone Else

Remember: whatever it is that you are feeling, the chances are very good that everyone around you is feeling the same (or worse). Let's give each other some grace to show up in whatever way we need to in order to make it through this unusually harsh winter. We are all cold. Some of us are bitter. Some of us feel like we can't take another flake of snow. Some of us ski and hope it will last forever. Wherever you are on the spectrum, know you are not alone, and that there are all kinds of other points on the spectrum too. Let's be good to each other.

Please feel free to share your ideas here too!