Finding the light
Thirteen things to keep your spirits up this winter

Finding the light
Stacy Reuille-Dupont - 01/02/2019

Winter is here! Many of us love it. But, for others, it means dark, cold, lonely days. As a psychologist, I tend to see the latter this time of year. No matter which camp you are in, here are 13 things you can do to keep your spirits up this winter:

1. Accept your feelings about winter – living in Durango, we cannot not have winter. Acceptance allows for choice. It doesn’t mean you agree with or condone the current situation, it just means you acknowledge what is going on. Acceptance gives you power and allows you to decide what you want to do.

2. Make a pros and cons list: what do you like and not like about winter? From here you can build on things you like and work with what you don’t like.

3. Take stock of your pros & cons. What can help you? Even if you have nothing good to say about winter, reframe what you wrote. Trapped inside can become checking out new indoor spaces, rearranging your furniture or making small steps to get outside a little bit at a time.

4. Make a plan to tackle dark days and loneliness. Find out what local organizations offer for connection and outings this winter. Put them on your calendar so you have things to look forward to and commit to going to them.

5. Get moving. As an exercise scientist-turned-psychologist, I am amazed at how many people do not use their body to treat their moods. When we don’t move, our energy gets low, and we tend to try using calories to increase it. Hello weight gain (see No. 8.) Instead move – even if your pushups are against a wall and your squats land you on the couch. Check out the Rec Center – being in a warm pool is pretty nice when it’s snowing outside.

6. Do some beach-oriented guided meditations. The power of the mind is great. Just think about a succulent, bright yellow, aromatic lemon. How many of you salivated? Next blizzard, cozy up, put on your earphones, close your eyes and take a 20-minute vacation in the comfort of your own home.

7. If it’s cold you hate, make sure you have gear. Get a new blanket (try a weighted one), sweater, bathrobe, slippers, hat or scarf. Get a fake fire app on your phone, TV or computer – you’ll be surprised at your mind’s abilities to create an experience for you if you let it.

8. Take a look at your diet. Many of us eat foods that leave us feeling depleted, tired and SAD (standard American diet). Eating for mental health includes a variety of foods, especially leafy greens. This gives the body the nutrients it needs to make the neurotransmitters you need for contentment, joy, pleasure and ease. Get with a nutritionist to review your diet and make sure you are getting what you need. Find some new recipes that look  appealing and commit to making a new one every week. If you don’t like to cook, enlist someone to do it for you, take a class or find some new local restaurants to sample.

9. Connect with friends and family. Let them know winter is hard for you and you need some extra support. Set up reoccurring dates: game nights, lunch and movies.

What if I don’t have family or friends? Look around your community for options that interest you, even if you don’t know anyone yet. Some of you may need to take an additional step by getting into therapy, joining a group or reaching out to an online community. Be open to trying – it may be uncomfortable at first, but without being flippant, we have to start somewhere.

10. Be gentle with yourself and others. Work to have compassion. People will say things you don’t like, do things you may think are weird, and struggle to connect with you. When you shift the focus from yourself, you’ll be surprised. If people aren’t your thing look into volunteering with animals. You may even get the added benefit of being outside

11. Take up a new hobby. Find something that’s healthy and commit to learning it. Stay open, even if it’s a bit difficult or boring at first. Staying curious activates your pre-frontal cortex, which helps you stay in the moment, judge, plan and respond rather than react. Stick with it – having grit increases confidence. When you increase confidence, things get a little brighter.

12. Take stock of your thoughts. Do not underestimate your ability to change your mind. Remember that lemon? If lemons don’t do it for you, how about a crunchy pickle? You can hate winter all you want, but the more you tell yourself you hate it, the more you will. If moving to “I love winter” is too much, just go neutral. Move away from the emotional content of your statements and just be objective. Many of us remain trapped in the prison of our minds (about all sorts of things) because we refuse to give up our stories. Hard part of changing your mind ... no one can fix the way you think but you.

13. Commit to yourself! By being proactive, you can have a different experience this winter. By noticing the way you talk to yourself, you can learn how to shift your focus and stand a better chance at tolerating what you don’t like.
And then, winter be damned, it becomes spring.

– Dr. Stacy Reuille-Dupont is a licensed clinical psychologist and addiction counselor. She’s trained in somatic, cognitive and behavior psychology and is also a kinesiologist and personal trainer.

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