January 1, 2023, the start of a new year. Also, the start of the 59 hardest days of the year for me, typically.
I wouldn’t call it depression. That sounds so serious. It’s more just the winter blahs, or seasonal affective disorder or something like that. I don’t get depressed, but it’s usually the time of the year I just feel “off” or “down” for no particular reason. I mean, certainly life events during other times of the year can be harder, it’s just that usually during this time of year, I’ll feel this way, when nothing in particular is really wrong. Things could be going along just fine and I’ll catch myself just irritable or grumpy and lacking motivation.
Then I feel guilty for feeling that way. It’s a vicious cycle set on repeat from January to March. There’s many reasons I think this happens. I live in Michigan and winters can be particularly brutal. But it’s not necessarily the snow or the cold that makes it so tough. I think a lot of it has to do with the lack of sunshine. I have noticed a drastic improvement in my mood on days that are bitter cold but sunny. Besides just the lack of vitamin D in the wintertime, the sunlight is important for triggering hormones that control your sleep/wake cycles. It’s crucial to send your body signals in the daytime that it’s actually day time.
This year, I’ve got a plan to try to keep myself from falling into these winter blah’s, whatever you want to call it.
For one thing, I bought a “happy lamp”. It sounds so silly, but often, even after I’ve opened up all the blinds in our home, the sky is so grey that it doesn’t really light up the house. This lamp sends daylight signals to my brain in the morning that it’s daytime and can help with the sleepiness and low energy we often feel in the winter. I put it on my kitchen counter when I’m making breakfast or doing dishes, etc.
The next thing I’m doing is making it a priority to get outside when there is sunshine. If I see that golden sun outside, I try to get outside as soon as possible. Even if that’s just driving in a car.
Another thing I’m doing is trying to embrace winter. I’ve signed up for a challenge to get 1,000 hours of outside time this year and honestly, I don’t need it in the summer. We practically live outside in the summer. I do need accountability in the winter. The challenge will keep me motivated on hitting small monthly goals.
I’m also trying getting the family into new winter sports. We already love sledding but my kids are getting older now so we can try some more difficult things like skiing and ice skating, winter hikes, etc. I’m reading a new book, Microadventures, and I’m having fun trying to plan some of ours.
I’m also trying to enjoy winter running more. I’m usually always in the mindset to just “grit through” winter running, but I’m really trying hard to push myself to really enjoy it.
On Christmas Eve, it was a crazy snow storm. I knew I needed to do my long run and my very active dog needed to get some exercise too. With the wind chill it was -5 F. I didn’t even know if my dog should be out there! While many dog breeds are built for winter, he has no undercoat and has hardly any body fat to speak of. So, I put a sweater on him, put the mushers secret on the pads of his feet and tried wrapping a scarf around his ears and we drove to a church nearby that has heated pavement.
Even heated pavement couldn’t keep up with the heavy snow falling down. It wasn’t as bad as the other roads, but there was definitely a couple inches of snow cover that was semi slushy and a little slippery, but it was much better than the alternative. We ran, and it was torturous when I had to clean up his waste by stopping. The wind was whipping at my face and I zipped my running jacket all the way up to my chin.
When we turned, the cold blasted my face, giving me an instant headache. It took me more than 18 minutes to run 2 miles and then my dog Rocky went and stood by the truck, letting me know he’d had enough.
I took him home to get warmed up and I did the remaining 6 miles alone. I listened to a podcast, and then to some music. It wasn’t exactly what I would call enjoyable, but I got through it and was happy to be done and have done it.
Dealing with that kind of weather is not something I look forward to, but it also teaches me a bit about myself and what I’m capable of when I don’t give up. More than a few times, I thought about doing the last few miles on the treadmill but I stuck it out.
It teaches you something to go out against the elements like that and find there’s a limit to what you can do. On a great day, you may be able to easily run 2 minutes a mile faster, but you just can’t do it in these extremes. But you can endure and you can endure longer than you think. And a warm cup of coffee and hot shower are appreciated that much more afterwards.
I’ll try to write more about my winter adventures and hold myself accountable. Enjoy winter and please share your tips with me for defeating the winter blahs.