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Stay sane in the cold season: how to beat the winter blues

Posted on Dec 20, 2020 by

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Every year, since I moved to the Netherlands, I had a problem with winter: starting November, and lasting till March, I would get the winter blues and feel down, missing the sun and dreaming of spring. Around January, I would be overtaken by the feeling that that winter is worse than before, that those never ending dark days will drive me mad. It wasn’t until my 8th winter in the Netherlands that I adjusted to the climate. I started to see the beauty in the short winter days and long period of darkness. Curling up on the sofa with a book, candles on the table, waking in the morning to see the sunrise (with no effort, since the sunrise happens after eight at this time of the year) – all these are now things I look forward to.

I don’t know if my efforts to make peace with the Dutch winter have led to this current situation, or if it just happened naturally, because my body and mind have got used to it, but I’m glad it happened. This year, however, the winter might feel heavy again. We should probably call them Covid blues this time. Not being able to see my family for one year already is pressing on my nerves. It was a challenging year for everyone and, for me, the last few months brought a lot of anxiety. It culminated with a health issue that involved visits to the hospital and gave me a good scare, and I blame it on the accumulated stress.

After this, I decided to make efforts to keep myself sane and to reduce anxiety as much as possible. That’s easier said than done, but I am determined, and I have a plan, I even set up reminders. It might sound a bit crazy and you might think I am exaggerating, but I find that for some people this needs to be a project — otherwise it’s easy to fall prey to the winter blues if we don’t put a bit of effort into preventing it.

A walk in the forest

My plan to beat the winter blues

The main five actions against the blues, the ones I have reminders set up for:

  • Meditation. I installed the Calm app a few years ago, and it’s the only meditation app I liked so far. Every time I meditate daily, I see results; but the habit doesn’t stick. When I feel better, I forget to do it. I started again with daily meditation and it’s going well for the past two weeks. I do the stress and anxiety programs right now, but sometimes I try different ones or listen to the bedtime stories — they are very relaxing.
  • Morning pages. This is a technique introduced by Julia Cameron in her book ” The Artist’s Way”, consisting in writing three pages, by hand, every morning after you wake up. It’s a writing exercise destined to help artists in their creative pursuit, but it’s actually something that everyone can benefit from. You can write about whatever you want in these pages: your dreams, how you slept, whatever thoughts are bothering you or just passing through your mind in the morning. The morning pages are for your eyes only, so you don’t have to worry about the quality of the writing. You can even destroy the pages after, if you want; just get the thoughts out of your head and don’t worry about anything else. For me, writing the morning pages brings some clarity and stops the spinning wheel of thoughts I wake up to everyday. Sometimes it’s just me trying to fill in those three pages, other times my writing organises my thoughts, gives me ideas.
Writing morning pages
  • Spending time outdoors. Nature walks were my go to therapy the entire year. Going to the forest, the beach, or even just to the park and around the city is a good way to clear my mind.
  • Exercise. I used to do weights training until a month ago when I had my health problem. It was a good way to get some happiness hormones into my brain, but right now I have to take a break from the intensive sports, and do only stretching and gentle yoga. I am struggling to do even these, I don’t feel like it, but the plan is to try harder.
  • Reducing sugar and refined grains. The only way I can help my body heal (apart from rest) is to feed it whole, healthy food and less sugar. This is supposed to also help avoiding the mood swings generated by the carbs, so it’s a win-win situation.

Other things that I do and are helpful in dealing with winter of 2020

  • Spending time with friends. For me, this is a must in order to keep my spirit up, and I am doing my best to meet people safely during this second lockdown. Sometimes it’s me taking the train to Amsterdam, and it’s a risk that I assumed for about once or twice a week; other times, my friends come visiting me in Alkmaar. I am also chatting a lot with friends from Romania, and, of course, doing video calls here and there — not much, because I find them tiring if they are too often.
  • Crafting. Creating something with our own hands brings delight and relaxation. The other days I did some Christmas ornaments from paper and oranges, and it was a very pleasant time.
Making Christmas ornaments
  • Painting. The only activity that can make me forget about anything else is painting. When I paint, I am “in the zone”, I can see only the brushes, the paint, the easel. I am planning to paint more often, at least once every week.
  • Creating a cosy atmosphere in the house. Candles, Christmas lights, cute winter decor — it gives me pleasure to arrange it and makes the house prettier.
Cosy house decor
  • Vitamin D. Since I had a vitamin D deficiency in my first years in the Netherlands, I am always taking these supplements during the cold season. I know how tired and depressed you can feel if you are lacking vitamin D, so I take a daily dose of 1000 units to prevent that.
  • Cooking comfort food. One of the best things in life is a house filled with the yummy smell coming from the oven: roasted winter veggies, Shepherd’s pie, apple crumble are among my favourites.
  • Decluttering. This is a habit that stuck since last year: every month I do a decluttering session, when I get rid of the things that I don’t need anymore or I don’t use. It’s usually combined with a general cleaning of the house, and it feels very satisfying (those who clean the house when they’re stressed know what I’m talking about).
  • ASMR videos. They are an important tool in my relaxation and maybe I should dedicate a whole article to these videos.
  • Gratitude journal. I don’t keep a physical journal, but every day I take a few minutes to think about what I’m grateful for.

As you can see, my plan to beat the winter blues of 2020 is elaborated. But at the moment I think this is the most important effort I need to make: taking care of myself. And hopefully creating some long lasting healthy habits that will help me in the future as well.

Which are your favourite actions against the winter blues?

2 Comments

  1. Ooo I’m big on ASMR too! Brain massage for the win! 🧠✨

    • Really? You are the first person who tells me that! I’m glad I found someone else who is a fan 🙂

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