The festive season might be over, but winter is here for the long haul. I always find it a bit sad when I have to take down the Christmas decorations in my house. Everything was so shiny and bright and colourful, but now it’s over but winter isn’t. There are still long months of dark days ahead before spring brings warmth and sunshine.
Sometimes it can be a bit of a struggle to make it through this grey time. Not only am I more prone to the blues, but I am also more likely to feel physically worse. Over the last few years I have curated a plan to combat the worst of the effects the long winter has on my MS and my mental health. I focus on changing the dark days into good days. While it often works, it’s not fool proof. Sometimes depression and sickness still creep in, but it helps to have an action plan.
Reflect on the good times
There are so many great days in a year. For me, these are mostly in summer time. Going on biking tours with my husband, sitting in the beer garden with friends, holidaying in the mountains and not to mention plenty of parties, fairs and celebrations. There are many happy moments.
Meik Wiking is the CEO at the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen where they gather insights on how to increase happiness, wellbeing and quality of life. In an interview with CBC Wiking reckons that "by travelling back to happier times, we can counteract negative feelings like anxiety and loneliness and meaninglessness." In his book, The Art of Making Memories: How to create and remember happy moments he illustrates how important it is to create memories, and explains how to make them.
I take loads of photos of all the happy times in my life and then I create proper old school photo albums. Looking at these and reminiscing about the good times with my husband, always puts me in a good mood. I’ve found it helpful in times of relapse too, as it keeps me motivated by showing me there are always good times to be had.
Look forward to more happy times
Looking back is useful, and so is looking forward! One of my favourite things is to plan for things I will do once summer arrives again. Anticipating special events like an open air art fair or our town’s summer feast is a joy to me.
So is planning a holiday. When will we go, where will we go, what will we do and how will we get there? I immerse myself in travel guides I have at home or find inspiration online and in other books to help me redirect and inspire my thoughts.
Lose myself in a good book
I am a real book lover. Reading a good book means diving deep into another world. I find that it reduces my stress levels and gives me a much needed escape when the darkness of winter becomes too much to bear. There’s nothing like a good novel to help you forget about the world outside.
Maintain a healthy routine
For me it is very helpful to have structure and routine in my day. A to-do list helps keep me up to date and helps me manage my life in a positive way. I keep a routine – do my work, prepare a meal for my sweetheart, do the laundry and so on. I also include little rituals, like going for a daily walk. Getting out of the house and into the fresh air is good for the soul. So is seeing other people. I usually combine my walk with shopping for the household.
Taking up a hobby
In my community, people love to set up clubs to meet others and practice their hobbies together. Book clubs, knitting clubs, and even coffee clubs are great ways for people to come together.
Personally I love knitting, and can sit for hours following a pattern of the piece I’m working on. Making things with my hands helps combat depression and can distract from pain. Instead of focusing on bad thoughts it helps to redirect my thinking. Knitting also helps to calm me down, and as a bonus, you have a visible, tangible result that you can wear! The knitters community online is very active, so find other people and start a knitting project together in real life or online.
Spend time with friends and be ‘hygge’
Being Danish, Meik Wiking from the Happiness Institute is a strong believer in the concept of hygge, which can loosely be translated as a mix of cosiness, fun, charm, comfort and conviviality. I wrote about it in this piece.
Plan cosy afternoons and evening with friends where you cook and eat together. Everyone can bring something for the meal to make it collaborative and fun and to ease some pressure off you. Nothing needs to be perfect, instead focus on having a relaxed and cosy time where everyone can have fun.
Through these and other ways you can add brightness to the last stretch of winter. If you feel you are struggling on your own – don’t hesitate to ask for help. Speak to your doctor if you are feeling the strain. They can refer you to a coach or a psychologist to help you find your way.
UK/MED/20/0015 January 2020