Here‘s a good, if slightly facile, article on how to protect yourself against winter depression.

I’m not looking forward to this winter. It’s not as though normally, I’m all “W00T! Boston winter, yeah! Bring it on and keep it up through April again this year!” But generally winter is a slight annoyance, a constraint, a nuisance. This year I’m afraid, to be honest. Because as the days get darker and shorter and colder, so are my thoughts and my temper and my spine. Because last winter was when I was really, really sick, and now I’ve got that irrational, but hardly abnormal, fear that as winter descends, I’ll get sick again.

Even if I don’t, I want to be extra careful and good to myself this winter. Right now I feel scared and anxious about the approach of the cold weather. So I made a list of a few things I’m going to do in order to keep myself on track:

1. Invent lots of new vegetable & whole-grain stews, and share my best recipes with my readers, and ask for yours as well.

2. Stretch and meditate to the Hebrew prayers I have on my iPod at least once a day.

3. Write at a coffee shop at least twice a week, even if it’s really cold. There are several within a seven-minute walk. I have a brand-new 800 fill count Patagonia winter coat. I can walk seven minutes to a coffee shop.

4. Study Torah and write more about Judaism. Ideally, for money. (Yes, I know that sounds like the most anti-Semitic joke ever, but I mean it. I want to do this for my own benefit, but I really do want to start getting my religious writings published. I think I have a distinctive voice, and it’s a way of participating in my religion that is very, very meaningful to me.)

5. Take up photography. I’ve done bits and pieces of arts and crafts, but the problem with it is, then you have arts and crafts all over your home, and what do you do with them? (Especially if your artistic style is dark and gothic. It’s great if you’re a knitter and can knit scarves and booties, but you can hardly give someone a mixed-media Cornell box based on 16th-century anatomical drawings and clipped-out phrases from Poe and de Tocqueville as a christening gift.) I can’t quite grapple with the logistical problems of creative efforts that can’t be archived on a computer. Fortunately, photos can be.

6. Make physical pleasure a priority. Well, yes, Mr. Improbable gave a big cheer when I told him that resolution, but I’m not only talking about that. I mean burning incense. Taking time at night to rub lotion into my legs and feet. Getting a massage when I want one. Curling up on the sofa with a book and blasting the space heater right at myself until I feel like a human hot toddy. Taking a sauna after working out. Making time to sit and really gaze into my art books — or, for that matter, at some of the art I’ve bought or made myself. Taking hot baths with essential oils. Going to Colonial Drug and smelling the perfumes. I’m good at giving my brain pleasure — through work, books, conversation, television, blogging. I’m less good at giving my body pleasure. (I’m hardly the only one, I suspect, in our culture that is simultaneously Puritanically afraid of the body and hypersexual. I almost blushed writing the phrase “giving my body pleasure” — it seems dirty, crude to say. But I believe my body is as holy as my mind. I believe pleasure and beauty are religious values, not sins. I believe God wants me to be happy as well as good. Maybe if I act on those beliefs, I will truly feel them as well as believe them.)

7. Ramp down December, ramp up January and February. Because we all know December’s not the hard one. The first snow is fun. And there’s Christmas and New Year’s and Hanukkah and such to keep you occupied. It’s January and February, when the snow is old and dirty and half the Christmas lights have burned out on your neighbor’s house but he still won’t take them down and your social calendar looks as blank as Don Draper when faced with another person’s emotional need, that life gets hard. So start planning now for some treats for yourself in January. A girls’ or boys’ night out, a potluck, a costume party, trapeze lessons — whatever does it for you, and brings a little jolt of novelty into your life. Don’t burn your body and mind and wallet out during December and leave yourself depleted in January. Boston winters are a marathon, not a sprint!

(I originally typed that as “spring.” Paging Dr. Freud!)

So that’s my list. Probably a little heavy, because I’m dealing with stuff that not everyone else is. Of course, I’m also not dealing with winter stuff that other folks have to: fine, maybe you’re not worried about your digestive system collapsing, but I don’t have to worry about a commute or what to do on my kid’s snow days. Point is, winter’s hard. And this time I’m gearing up for it. Are you? What are you doing?

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18 Responses to Winterizing

  1. Amy R. says:

    I’m trying to gear up for it at the very least by investing in a long down coat. Unfortunately, they are indeed an *investment*.

    My first couple winters here, I didn’t bat an eye. Seasons are fun! Yeah, novelty has completely worn off, five winters in. I’ve toyed with the idea of a vacation some place warm, as a treat, but finances are again an obstacle. Sigh.

    One thing I can do to stay sane that is free is not engage in weather talk with my family in NC. It is very hard to have a productive, empathetic conversation with people who are freezing in balmy 45 degree weather.

  2. WES says:

    Ohh I like this post. I hate hate hate hate winters, always have, and I don’t know that I will ever stop. I am not new to this cold hard winter lifestyle it is in fact all I know. I need the light I crave the light, and I really really do like warmth over cold. And I hate wearing layers and spending out the wazoo to heat my home, I feel cold all the time down to my bones from about November -April. But yet I love Christmas and that does help me get through it all from Thanksgiving through Epiphany.

  3. EA Week says:

    The first winter prep activities are already pretty much done: vacuum out the radiators before the heat starts coming on.

    Also: wash all winter outerwear, locate hat, scarves, gloves, yak trax. Replace anything that needs replacing.

    This month, I will also take my car in for winterizing. Since the tires, brakes, and windshield wipers are all fairly new, this will mostly just amount to an oil change. I will also clean off my headlights, because the lights don’t do you much good if the casings are covered with crud.

    Exercise. I can’t emphasize this enough. Not just for the calorie-burning, but also the endorphin rush that helps combat the winter blahs. It’s vital to my health and sanity not to let myself start slacking off. So, three times a week in the pool and twice a week in the weight room.

    Ditto fresh veggies.

    Extra sleep, whenever possible.

    Making time for fun get-togethers with my friends.

    The thing that worries me most about winter is commuting from Cow Hampshire into Boston when the roads are potentially slippery. Thankfully I have a boss who is very understanding if I want to come in late, leave early, or skip a day altogether if the forecast is especially dire.

    i also try to see the beauty in the season, and not just in the holiday decorations, either: the way snow looks on pine trees, the deep blue shadows cast on white snow, the fun of tromping around outdoors in the cold (and coming in for hot chocolate when you’re done). The silhouette of bare trees against blue sky. The way sunrise looks as I’m driving down 93 in the morning. The giddy thrill of waking up on a snowy morning and hearing on the radio that my workplace is closed for the day. You’re never too old to enjoy a snow day!

    It also helps to be a fan of at least one winter sport. Following figure skating competitions on line definitely helps make the winter go faster.

    Plan at least one special excursion–maybe shopping, maybe an ice show, maybe a cross-country skiing trip.

    MC, I love your remarks about physical pleasure, and I agree completely. I also would love to read anything you write about religion. The chapter on religion in Mind Over Manners was one of my favorites–entertaining AND enlightening.

  4. bluemoose says:

    I am gearing up slowly — I still haven’t taken the window AC unit out of my bedroom window. I need a new winter coat, and this time, I am going to buy one that I both like and is good quality. I swear it. Winter will be better if I have a warm and comfortable coat.

    I have a personal shopping ban that extends from Thanksgiving to New Years, leftover from life in a small town where the Target was in the mall and the traffic was insane. So I am currently in stock up mode — shampoo, toilet paper, etc. Makes me feel like I am nesting and prepared for the worst possible blizzard PLUS removes the stress of the crazy shopping season. I still buy groceries, though, and do a bit of online shopping.

    I have worked through the fall on balancing a schedule that works and nurtures me, and I will maintain it as the days shrink. Yoga, good food, and regular entertainment with friends, plus long-range work projects. Oh! And a trip to a wedding in the keys in February doesn’t hurt.

  5. booklover says:

    I am a creature of habit, so I will be doing the things I always do! I’m boring but happy. Winter to me is cooking different types of meals involving root vegetables, possibly stews and anything in the crock-pot, and working from home (I know, so lucky) on those crappy days when I simply do not want to leave the house. I like wearing boots and sweaters, and my favorite town (Salem) has plenty of parking in the off-season (if you’ve ever been there in October, you will appreciate January). Curling up in front of the fire with a good book and a glass of red wine is also an indulgence at this time of year (oh who am I kidding, any time of year really). I also have my long weekend in Florida at the end of January to sustain me.

  6. Rubiatonta says:

    I’m dreading winter, too, and more than usual as I’m very much in the thick of an ugly relationship crisis. (I should have a sort of “corollary-to-Camelot” rule about only breaking up with people when it’s warm and sunny out. Ugh.)

    So thank you so much for your ideas — some of them are going to go on my how-to-survive-winter list, right now.

  7. Amy R. says:

    Also, in terms of surviving winter on the outside, can anyone recommend a good moisturizer? My face is already dry.

    And because I was such a Debbie Downer earlier, here’s a recipe for a delicious sounding root vegetable and herbed dumpling stew (I plan to omit the sausage and sub in veggie broth):

  8. bluemoose says:

    Amy — Try the Triple Moisture Vitamin E cream from The Body Shop. It’s good, and if it isn’t enough, there’s a serum, too.

  9. Lauren says:

    You had me at the Don Draper comment.

  10. Michelle says:

    I ski in the winter! I don’t know how people get through a New England winter without it. My roots are here, but seriously, if it weren’t for skiing, I’d move south.

  11. redacting my name today says:

    I joke I’m a waste of a New Englander…don’t ski, don’t skate, don’t snowboard. I have no winter prep…it’s just another season. Only difference is that it’s dark when I leave work (which sucks so I’ll have to try even harder to go on a walk during the workday). Last winter was my first New England winter in years, and I was ticked that all my friends in NY and NJ were getting slammed with snowstorms while I barely saw any snowflakes…maybe this year I’ll see some snow. :)

  12. Dawn says:

    Some schools and communities celebrate St. Martin’s Day at this time. It is a celebration about keeping your inner fire aflame in the face of darkness and adversity.. It’s also a feast day.

  13. Shulamuth says:

    I have Seasonal Affective Disorder, so great big high-lumen lights are part of my mornings between the equinoxes. If I remember to start them before the short days start depressing me, it makes a big difference in the whole season.

    I also avoid malls and high-end retail spaces between Thanksgiving and New Years. That’s been a help with December. So has working at the Dickens Christmas Fair (a San Francisco thing recreating (well “recreating”, there’s a lot of license there) Charles Dickens London; it’s very much Christmas, the good parts version with none of the commercial insanity and very few cranky people being rude and mean because they are hassled.

    I’m planning some interesting things for January and February, because while December can get me down big-time (the legacy, I think, of an Jewish childhood in a mostly Christian suburb, where the holidays meant my friends were busy and I spent more time with my dysfunctional family), the rest of winter can be a long slow drag.

    But I feel just a tiny bit guilty about disliking winter, because I live near San Francisco and by east coast/midwest standards, we hardly have a winter at all.

  14. Nancy says:

    Amy…This is doctor recommended for keeping your skin nice, especially through winter. It is
    CETAPHIL…The cream, not the lotion. CVS, WALGREENS, W-MART carry it. I use it and it is wonderful.

  15. BlondMaggie says:

    I love winter, but the shortage of sunshine gets me seriously down. I use the light boxes as well in the morning to combat this.

    But everything else about winter is something I love – hearty vegetable stews, brightly colored sweaters, mittens, snow, singing Messiah a billion times, Lessons & Carols services, fairy lights, Eggnog Lattes at Starbucks – and that’s just up to Christmas.

    After that, it’s skating (inside and out), sledding with my kid, baking (snowy days always make me want to bake sticky buns), long hot baths with scented soap, throwing snowballs for my dog, adventures with layered outfits, hot chocolate at Burdick’s and lots of concerts. Sometimes we’ll haul out the grill and cook outside just for laughs.

    Having a 10-year-old helps a lot with winter happiness. Kids just naturally know how to keep themselves happy, and all I have to do it tag along, even if it means putting blue food coloring in the pancake batter.

  16. booklover says:

    AmyR- thank you for the recipe, it sounds delicious! I will definitely try making that. I am already substituting stew beef for the sausage in my mind (I’m not a fan of sausage).

  17. Bexca says:

    For those who live in the Boston area, I highly recommend a visit to the Wellesley College greenhouses when you feel a desperate need to smell growing things. They’re open 365 days a year from 8am to 4pm and they’re free; you can sit in the tropical room, close your eyes, and pretend you’re in the Amazon. Walking around the campus is lovely, too.

  18. EA Week says:

    For those with dry-yet-oily skin, I recommend the moisturizer Complex 15. It’s tough to find locally, unless you want to spend $7-8 for a small tube of the facial cream, but the body lotion is available in much bigger bottles, and works just as well on the face. It’s very lightweight and doesn’t leave a greasy film–I have the most oily skin imaginable, but it also gets very dry, especially in winter, and Complex 15 is the only thing that works. I order it from in 3-bottle bundle packs that last 4-5 months, depending on the season.

    Okay, the advertisement ends here.

    For a heavier moisturizer, I love the Body Shop’s collection of body butters. There are so many wonderful scents to choose from, and it’s a great product for when my legs are dry and chapped from swimming.

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