Jilly: Banishing the Winter Blues

Adieu, cockroachWhat do you enjoy – really love – about wintertime?

All day yesterday, I did battle with the cockroach. I prefer the French term le cafard to the mundane winter blues, because it’s visual and value laden – the perfect name for an annoying, persistent, ugly, scuttling thing that is not welcome in my life.

I spent almost a whole day working on this post. I started, rejected and saved for another time half-a-dozen perfectly good ideas because somehow I didn’t have the juice to do them justice. I read back what I’d written and it wasn’t bad, it was just…meh. I hate meh almost as much as I loathe the cockroach.

If I have a problem, I make a plan, so I went searching to see if I could find any new news regarding strategies to banish the blues. Eureka! According to this week’s Daily Mail, a researcher from Stanford University spent ten months in the small Norwegian town of Tromsø, 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle, researching this problem. Although Tromsø is one of the coldest, darkest places on the planet (they experience two whole months of polar night each year), the inhabitants don’t experience typical levels of seasonal depression or winter blues. The research team devised a Wintertime Mindset Scale and tentatively concluded that many residents of Tromsø welcome and embrace the dark months, and this positive mindset enables them not just to manage but to thrive during the depths of the polar winter.

Click here to read the Daily Mail article.

Perhaps this doesn’t sound like rocket science, but in many ways it’s quite radical. Try a quick online search and you’ll discover the traditional approach is to regard the winter blues as a problem. Suggested remedies include: spend as much time as you can outside, exercise, keep warm, eat healthily, take up a new hobby, spend time with your friends and family, and talk about your feelings.

Nothing wrong with any of that, but for the first time in my life, I decided to write a list of things about winter that I’d positively celebrate. Uplifting, life-enhancing things, not just convenient side-effects like I don’t have to spend time maintaining (or more likely feeling guilty about not maintaining) the garden.

Here’s what I came up with:

  • My wedding anniversary is at the beginning of February. We’ve been married a long time (we met at university) and I hope we enjoy many more years together. My husband usually buys out most of the local flower shop, we go for a nice dinner together, and some years we’ll go away somewhere for a day or two. Perfect.
  • Writing time. Around now, people go to ground. Nobody has the money or the inclination to go out, and generally people don’t start projects they need help with. It gets light later and dark earlier. What better time to stay home and put words on the page? And that’s a satisfying activity, which adds to the feel-good factor.
  • Reading time. When not writing, the other great use of any and all free time is to snuggle up on the sofa with a good book, or two, or three, take a virtual trip and fill up the creative well.
  • Winter recipes. I love hearty, warming winter food. Traditional English roasts. Soups and slow-cooked stews. Steamed puddings and custard. Possibly not compatible with the ‘eat well’ recommendation above 😉 .
  • Red wine. I have a share in a small but perfectly formed wine importing business, and the depths of winter is an excellent time to drink their best, richest, most complex reds. Probably with a bowl of stew.
  • Ice cream. Any time of year is good for ice cream, but there’s something decadent about eating an ice cream cone outside in midwinter. And it doesn’t melt, so you don’t have to rush.
  • Cashmere. There’s also something utterly luxurious about the feeling of a super-soft , super-warm cashmere sweater or hat, gloves, scarf or socks. Luckily the supermarket chains manage to deliver the goods at a manageable price.
  • Sheepskin slippers. I get mine from a small English company called Celtic Sheepskin. No need to wear socks, just pull on and wriggle your toes till they’re toasty.
  • A winter-weight duvet. We have a Siberian goose down duvet which is as light as air but deliciously warm. Snuggling down for a good night’s sleep feels so good it should be illegal.
  • A roaring fire. We don’t have one at home, but lots of pubs do. Sitting in a comfortable armchair, watching the flames and sharing a cosy hour or two with friends and family…priceless.
  • Clear, moonlit skies. A full moon on a cloudless winter night – wow! There’s a window on the upstairs landing at our house that always seems to catch the light just right. Sometimes I hear an owl hooting outside for bonus atmosphere.
  • Cold, dark nights. I’ve visited countries near the equator where the hours of daylight and darkness are more or less the same all year round. I love the fact that here the mixture is constantly in flux and the seasons are so varied. It’s exciting.
  • Inching toward the equinox. After the winter solstice, the days get a tiny bit lighter every day. It feels like a promise of hope, and growth, and new life.
  • Winter flowers are some of the most beautifully scented. Plus, snowdrops!

I keep finding things to add to my list, and I can honestly report that compiling it has put a smile on my face. Adieu, cafard!

What would you celebrate?

10 thoughts on “Jilly: Banishing the Winter Blues

  1. Jilly, I totally second these positives, substituting “birthday” for “anniversary, and skipping the cashmere (I’m allergic). I’d also add my personal oddity, The Winter Clear-out. Each year after the holidays I go through closets and drawers and cabinets and weed out things that haven’t been used in a long time or are worn out and need to be discarded. Sometimes I find things I didn’t even remember I had. I like the “light” feeling I get when I’ve cleared things that don’t need to be cluttering up space any longer, plus it usually turns into good brainstorming time for me. Today I worked on new story ideas while reorganizing shoes in the closet.

    • I need to clean and declutter. I always think I should be taking care of the yardwork in the summer, and I leave housework until the dark of the year. Then I try to take advantage of the three winter deadlines (Jan. 1, Chinese New Year and Spring Equinox) to declutter. I don’t really believe in superstitions, but some gibbering ape in my head thinks if I can just get things tidy and clean enough, the new year’s luck will come rolling in for sure this time. Oh well, if it allows me to get things slightly better than the end of November, these fears are a good thing.

    • A winter clear-out is an excellent idea. I’m sure I have closets and drawers full of things I haven’t used in a very long time. I bet it would feel great to give them away. I’m going to add this to my list.

      Very bad news about the cashmere allergy. I love the feel of it, the lightness, warmth and softness. My only problem with it, apart from the financial one, is keeping the moths at bay.

      • I did a winter clear-out myself. I did a couple of closets, purged the Christmas decorations as I was putting them away, and, most importantly, the plastic container drawer. Now, I am assured that if I find a container that the leftovers/lunch food will fit in, the lid is definitely there. For every sock I lost in the washer/dryer, I gained a lid without a container or a container without a lid – or that is how it seemed.

  2. Such a sensual post! Engages every single nerve (-:. I, too, struggle against winter blahs and the urge to hibernate (which ends up in that odd dozy state where sleep doesn’t happen and I feel guilty for not getting anything else done, either).

    We’ve been lucky that the sun has been OUT, so I get a few minutes of Vitamin D replenishment via solar power each day.

    I nodded at many of your suggestions, am downright jealous of a few (a roaring fire at the pub???? OMG! The UK just went on my serious to-do list), and made beef stew Friday night (it was delicious! I wish I’d made triple the amount so we’d still be eating it).

    Here are some extra things I love about winter. That peculiar smell that sometimes comes in cold weather, when the wind smells like watermelon (and so does the laundry that’s hung outside). Tokachi Blue skies, where it seems like the cold freezes out any hint of pollution, and I can see the snow-covered mountains on my drive to work. The chance to indulge in good, simple cocoa topped with complicated marshmallows that melt half-way before being gobbled up. Oh, and the warm ceramic that embraces any hot drink, the way you can cradle that and warm your fingers. Naked birch trees next to snow-covered fields. A hot-water bottle, covered in fleece. Soft and fuzzy laprugs (I got a new one for Christmas).

    There’s so much I absolutely detest about winter, but there is one more major good thing: it makes the spring so much more joyous.

    • I’m very jealous at the idea of a watermelon-scented wind, in fact I love the sound of all your choices. Lovely. I wish hot chocolate came with marshmallows over here. I was also wondering – are your hot springs a year-round venue, or are they just a summer treat? A couple of times on my travels I’ve sat in a hot springs or swum in a hot pool with snow all around, and it was glorious.

      • (-: The kind of hot chocolate I like is from the cocoa box recipe, and then I just scrounge up marshmallows to go in. I’m trying to work up courage to try the Darjeeling tea marshmallows. Mocha is a thing; choco-chai might be a thing?

        The hot springs are indeed wonderful all year around. There are both an outdoor bath and a variety of indoor baths at my favorite place. I do like going out when it’s not too chilly. Sometimes my hair freezes while I’m soaking, and there’s something so delightful in the contrast . . . . Sometimes, a trip to the baths feels like the only way to warm up. We’ve been having a series of -18 to -19 nights lately, and I never seem to warm up all the way to my bones.

        I’d love to go to one of the baths that have snowbanks. I don’t think I’d like to actually walk on snow in barefeet to take a soak, but I love the idea of being able to grab a snowball and watch it melt in the hot water.

        (-: That said, I also love the idea of bathing with monkeys, although I have a feeling that the reality would be a little too smelly and conflict-driven for me.

  3. On my last workday before the holidays it was black dark by the time I left work at 5:30. On Thursday the sky was a medium blue. The days start getting longer pretty quickly–a minute at each end.

    I used to declutter on New Years, going through files and shredding out-of-date paperwork, and through cupboards and discarding bowls without lids and vice versa. But five years ago I started hosting a New Years Eve party for my 8 grandchildren so their parents would be free to go have fun. Now my New Years’ mornings are spent directing a house-wide treasure hunt instead.

    The files are out of control and it sometimes takes three tries to find a proper container with a lid when I want to put something in the fridge, but I love the idea of my grandkids looking back fondliy on these slumber parties and carrying on the tradition with their own grandchildren.

  4. I, too, have an anniversary. I also have a birthday. So those are causes for celebration. I also love a good fire. We have a firebox in our family room (catalytic fireplace that burns its own smoke) that makes the room so toasty and cozy. Tonight, we will be relaxing with a warm fire and Labyrinth to celebrate David Bowie’s life. And I can dissect the hero’s journey aspects of it.

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