Winter is hard. We haven’t even had a particularly hard winter this year and still winter is a hard thing to endure. I know there are some of you out there who love it. I do not understand you people. For me, it is something I must merely try to survive each year. I am a tropical girl. I crave sunshine and warmth. I love the feeling of my hair loose on my bare shoulders, as opposed to the feeling of my shoulders hunched up around my ears where they remain for approximately four months of each year here in Canada.
Many people get those winter blahs or blues. For some of us, and probably more than you realize, the winter blues can almost be completely debilitating. I think I was probably only sixteen when I told my family doctor that I had diagnosed myself with Seasonal Affective Disorder. Twenty-five years ago there wasn’t a whole lot of public knowledge about that particular mental health issue, but as soon as I learned about it, I knew I had a name for what I experienced each winter.
I have a few tricks to survive the winter. For one thing, I take a lot of Vitamin D. I once heard a researcher talk about Vitamin D on CBC. He said that our skin can make 50,000 units of Vitamin D in just twenty minutes of full summer sun exposure. His main point was that perhaps Health Canada’s daily recommended value of 385 units might be just a tad low, and arbitrarily so! (They’ve since upped it to 800 units for adults, with an upper limit of 4,000). This particular researcher said he takes 11,000 units per day. I have settled on 4,000 and it makes a difference. Even if is just placebo effect – a powerful force in itself – I am happy to just feel better.
Another thing I typically do is to head South for a mid-winter escape. It was in my pre-nuptial agreement. Ok, we don’t really have one of those. But we definitely had an agreement. And the only reason I haven’t gone South for some sunshine this winter is that I have quit my job to come home and be with Henry. This means that a) I can’t afford to go South and b) I am not nearly as desperate to do so because I am not leaving for work in the dark (6:45am) and returning home in the dark (5:00pm). Instead, I am out and about in the winter sunshine. We even had a little campfire on that wonderfully sunny afternoon last week. My shoulders are still riding ridiculously high because I HATE THE COLD but I am getting lots of natural sunlight. And that makes a world of difference.
I have often used a SAD light to provide some artificial sunlight and it really does work. I bought one years ago but then donated it to the Guidance Department at my high school so that kids with SAD could have regular access to the light that could change their school experience. I need to get my hands on one for home use because I know it helps. I have just been careless about that. But I do absolutely recommend them to people who suffer, even just a little bit, with those winter blues.
Sleep is also a crucial component when it comes to managing SAD. The tendency is to hibernate for the entire winter. All I want to do is sleep. If it were a sport, I would be a champion. Left to my own instincts, I would move from bed to couch and back again, snoozing my way through each day until it’s time to go to bed for real. But I am strict about sleep, having done far too much reading on the topic. I typically maintain a 10:00 pm bedtime and 6:00 wakeup time. This always worked for teaching, as I used to tell my students that my workday began at 10 pm the night before, when I went to bed on time so that I could be the teacher they needed me to be the next morning. And it works now that I have a toddler who is also a consistent alarm clock. We get a 6 am wake-up call almost every day. I am also obsessive about complete darkness in my bedroom so we have amazing blackout blinds to help us get the best sleep possible, as nature intended – without all the street lights and nightlights. And then when morning comes, I fill the house with light.
My final strategy? This is the time of year when I start to fill my space with flowers. The grocery stores are full of little pots of blooming bulbs. They are an inexpensive pick-me-up that remind me that better days are on their way. Hyacinths are my favourite because they give the entire house a dose of the intoxicating aroma of spring. I told Isobel yesterday that I could practically swim in that scent. She agreed. Even potted tulips or daffodils, with their bright colours, just ooze optimism! If you can’t head South this winter, head to the grocery store for some potted springtime.
The days are getting longer. I can feel it already. As you hunker down for another winter storm today, remember that there are definitely strategies that can help you endure. Notice I didn’t include winter sports on the list. Or any exercise, for that matter. Sorry. You’ll have to find yourself another blog if that’s your idea of a solution to anything!!! If you need me, I’ll be on the sitting where the sunshine streams through the window. Sitting with my potted hyacinth, my dog and my boy. Sitting eating chocolate and counting the days until I can get back into my garden and give spring a proper welcome.
What are your strategies for getting through the winter? Share your ideas with the rest of us!
Kari Raymer Bishop
Lover of Jesus, cheeses and tropical breezes... seeking balance in life, even as I embrace new challenges and chase new dreams. I am wife, mother, daughter and friend, as well as teacher, entrepreneur, activist, writer, beekeeper and hostess. Come along on the journey through my long-awaited midlife crisis!