Don’t Be SAD

Easy ways to beat the wintertime blues

Photo by Martha Himes

February is the cruelest month. It doesn’t have the “New Year, New You” shininess of January. Now you’re in the slog, keeping those resolutions going (or not). You thought January weather was bad? February says hold my beer. The days may be getting longer but that just gives you more time to look out at the gloom.

I was raised in a sunnier clime than the one I now live in. I had a lot of difficulty adjusting when I moved here, and spent several years looking for ways to make winter tolerable. I don’t have SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), but I do get a form of wintertime blues. I know I’m not alone: the past few years have seen trends of “hygge” and “koselig,” Scandinavian trends where you embrace the winter’s dark and snuggle up with loved ones, blankets, candles and cocoa.

Much as I love hibernating (and I do), cabin fever hits eventually. Travel’s not really an option this pandemic winter, but I’ve come up with a few ways to brighten my surroundings —many without leaving the house.

There are three key life necessities missing in a northern winter: sunshine, warmth and color.

Warmth is the easiest one to replace, and the one targeted by trends like hygge and koselig. Curling up in a heated blanket by a roaring fireplace will warm you up in a hurry, but it won’t give you a change of scenery. A visit to a greenhouse will. Greenhouses are bright, humid, warm and often full of tropical plants. They’re like a trip to Florida without the airfare. But where to find one? Many garden centers have greenhouses. Other greenhouse sources are universities and botanical gardens. Thanks to Covid-19, however, most non-profit facilities are closed and your best chances of finding an open greenhouse are at a year-round garden center.

If you can’t leave the house or can’t find a greenhouse, you can wrap up in that heated blanket and watch a movie filmed in a tropical location. Old James Bond movies tend to be a good source of sun and sand. How else could they keep all those scantily-clad women warm? The first, “Dr. No,” was set almost entirely in Jamaica. “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” was filmed in Lisbon, Portugal, and “The Spy Who Loved Me” takes you to the Egyptian Pyramids.

Speaking of the spy famous for his Alpine chase scenes, there’s a reason skiing is so popular. It gets you outside in the winter, often above the treeline in unobstructed sunlight. Even if you’re on the bunny slope, the trails are wide and cleared, so there are no trees to block the rays. The sun can be so bright on the trails that sunglasses are a necessity and you might end the day with a bit of color in your cheeks. And the views from the lift (turn around or look over your shoulder) are spectacular.

But skiing is expensive on a good day and even more so with pandemic restrictions. A full day lift ticket at a large mountain starts at $80 for a junior and costs over $100 for an adult. Vail’s one-day adult ticket is $199 this year.

Lucky for us, there’s a free way to soak up all that sun. Put that ski gear to good use and bundle up in your powder pants, parka and mittens and sit outside in the sun. I’ve sunbathed on top of a fresh snowfall, lying on my back in my parka and pants. The key is to wear so much gear — hand and foot warmers, hat — that the chill on your face feels refreshing (all the same, this activity should not be enjoyed when the temperature’s hovering around 20 degrees F). A fire pit or gas patio heater helps, too, if you have the space for one.

Color’s the one we tend to forget about and the one I realized I miss the most. Winter tends to be fairly monotone, either brown or white with occasional splashes of green. I crave color in the dead of winter.

Paint is an easy way to brighten your soul, and it can be found in varying levels of commitment. You can paint your nails, or if you’re ambitious, your living room. Paint bars are available in many cities, where you can paint a picture, or a wine glass, or a wooden sign with direction from the staff. They have virtual events as well. Let’s Make Art is a great beginner website. They sell kits and provide online tutorials to guide you through the process.

Flowers and flowering plants are another way to add color to your life. I have a cyclamen that I bought five years ago at the grocery store. I put it in a sunny window, water it when it droops, and it blooms effusively nearly year-round. It’s grown so large I’ve had to divide it twice. And of course, for the truly black-thumbed, a bouquet of grocery-store flowers costs about $10 and will bring you joy for a week or two.

It’s okay to be sad, too. It’s okay to spend a weekend in bed, wallowing. This is a trying winter for all of us. It’s okay to eat a pint of ice cream or have cereal for dinner every night this week (just a random example, why do you ask?). But if you’re spending more time in bed than out of it, or feel unable to do anything, you need something stronger than flowers. One Pandemic Pro is the increased availability of virtual therapy sessions, some of which are free (depending on insurance).

I can vouch for virtual therapy from personal experience. If you need help that goes beyond warmth, sunshine and color, please get it.