Three Ways to Feel More Alive and Thrive in Winter

By Allie Lewin, LMSW

February marks the midway point of winter. The holiday season has officially ended and as people fall back into the routine of their day-to-day lives, I think it’s safe to say that the negative effects of winter on our mental health may be at their peak. This time of year often feels dreary and bleak as we chug along awaiting the warmer months and the general shift in attitude that accompanies their arrival.  So what can we do to combat this sluggishness and feel more alive and invigorated? Here are three tricks to beat that winter funk and feel a greater sense of vitality:

  1. Get Outside:
    Going on vacation in winter is ideal for many reasons. If you opt for a warm weather trip it gives you a chance to escape the cold and soak up vitamin D, which we know plays a role in enhancing mood. But even spending a few days in a cold weather spot can drastically alter your mood, as long as you are actively engaging in nature. Studies have shown that being outside in nature makes people feel more alive (and interestingly, in these studies, even participants who just imagined being in a natural setting felt increased vitality!)  Unfortunately, our urge in the winter is to stay indoors and hibernate, but in doing so we decrease our connection to nature, which we now know can exacerbate our low energy and mental lethargy. 
     
  2. Invest in Experience:
    Maybe going on vacation and connecting to nature for an extended period isn’t feasible given financial or scheduling constraints. If that’s the case, I’d suggest investing in any sort of experience that shakes things up and gives you something to look forward to, whether that’s a concert, movie, nice meal out, or a visit to a new art exhibit. Over the last 15 years or so, psychology research has continued to show that experiences bring people more happiness than do possessions. A 2014 article in the Journal of Psychological Science examined this phenomenon and further finding that unlike purchases on possessions, the mental benefit of spending money on an experience begins before the purchase has been made and continues even after the experience has passed. This means that not only are you enjoying the experience in itself, but the anticipation of the event and the memory of the experience adds to your fulfillment and excitement. Take time out of your busy life to invest in new experiences and your body and mind will thank you before, during, and after for your effort to spice things up!
     
  3. Social Connection:
    Human beings are social creatures by nature, so when we start to spend too much time alone, we feel a heightened sense of discomfort and threat. When it’s cold out and we start feeling sluggish, we tend to isolate, which further increases our feelings of disconnection and decreases our sense of purpose, belonging, and happiness. This contributes to further feelings of loneliness, anxiety and depression, that may already exist in part due to the change in weather and ailments such as seasonal affective disorder. Don’t let the cold keep you from making plans and following through with social engagements.  During winter, you need the support of friends and family more than ever and these interactions are what’s most likely keeping you afloat. 

So next time you find yourself sitting on your couch, feeling sluggish, and drowning in mental fog, remind yourself to fight the urge to stay inside. Put in the effort to connect with nature, invest in experiences, and prioritize social connection. You’ll thank yourself as your vitality thrives and winter soon passes you by.

Allie Lewin is a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. If you would like support in prioritizing and taking care of your mental health, contact Cobb Psychotherapy and see how therapy can help.