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  • Writer's pictureSteph

A Cold Wisconsin Winter & How to Work Through the Winter Blues

Winter in Wisconsin (or anywhere I suppose) can be exceedingly hard. Cold, dark, depressing days can make us feel heavy and out of sorts with ourselves. This isn’t a light topic so I have to preface that this isn’t medical advice, just my experiences and what has helped me combat seasonal affective disorder or SAD and actually enjoy the crisp winter wonderland that is Wisconsin. It’s not something that is openly talked about very much, but with the staggering number of people it affects I feel like it should be. So here is what has helped me along the way on my own personal journey, and if you’re struggling yourself just know you’re not alone.

  1. Get outside. I know this can be the hardest one because it’s probably the last thing you feel like doing, but the fresh air is freeing for the soul. Figure out what works best for you as far as base layers, cold gear, neck warmers and boots so you can stay warm even when the temps are below zero. I make it a priority to get active outside for 45 minutes everyday and it’s made such a positive difference, but don’t overwhelm yourself with that time goal if it’s a bit intimidating. On the days that it’s extra cold, I tell myself to just go out there for 5 minutes and if I want to go in after that, I can. But once you’re out there and the blood gets pumping, your lungs are filling with cool air and expanding, 5 minutes turns into 10, then 20, then 45. Get a headlamp and reflective gear for early mornings or evening strolls, and LED collars for your fur-friends if they’ll be joining you.

  2. Express gratitude. Cliche, right? But it’s important to find the beauty in the mundane. On my outdoor walks, I’m always looking around, finding the beauty in the way the sun or moonlight reflects off of the snow, or letting a snowflake land on my mitten and taking the time to admire the intricacy and uniqueness of each individual one. Expressing gratitude to have legs that allow me to move, for a heart that pumps blood throughout my body, lungs to fill with the fresh air around me, the freedom to get out into nature at will.

  3. Supplementation. What works for me may be different than what your body may be craving, but finding the right supplements for any deficiencies this time of year can work wonders. I’ve found that Vitamin D3, Vitamin C, Elderberry syrup (made locally here in Green Bay, Wi) along with a hormone balancer (I call this one b*tch be gone) and an adrenal restoration product have made a noticeable impact. Now I stack these with all of the other tools I’m mentioning, but I feel like they’re all pieces to a puzzle and one or another may not be “the” thing, but together they can help you feel complete.

  4. Diet. I don’t mean going on a diet, cutting calories or anything like that. When I refer to diet I’m just referring to what you consume on a daily basis. Limit your intake (I said limit, not eliminate…don’t panic!) of inflammatory foods such as dairy, gluten, high fructose corn syrup, MSG, sugar and alcohol. If you have back pain, joint pain, and feelings of overall “soreness”, cutting back on these items will help. On the other hand, ADDING in certain foods such as berries, nuts, spinach, avocado, turmeric, ginger, onions & garlic, orange fruits & vegetables will actually help eliminate inflammation and your body will move with ease. When you feel good, you’ll want to get out and do more. Oh, and just to make sure you didn’t miss it…yes I said it. Limit alcohol. It’s a depressant.

  5. Sunlight lamp & alarm clock. Waking up in the dark is one of the hardest parts. Our natural circadian rhythm flows with the sun, so waking up in the dark can feel difficult and unnatural. Having this alarm clock has changed my mornings. I wake up to the soft light, and the sweet sound of birds singing which is something that we miss out on in the winter. There are multiple settings, brightnesses & sounds so you can find the perfect combination for you.

  6. Music. Find your favorite playlist, crank up the volume and get dancing, moving and singing. It’s good for the soul.

  7. Community. When you’re feeling down, being lonely on top of it can feel very heavy. If you’re missing personal connection I recommend finding a class to sign up for such as an art class or a group fitness class at the gym, a group at your church, a co-working community (I’m a member of The Nest) or an online community that is based on a similar interest of yours. Connections with others is a physical and spiritual need that is woven into our soul. Make sure to nourish relationships and don’t be afraid to develop new friendships.

  8. Water Water Water. The natural energizer. Winter or not, I think this is something that so many of us don’t get enough of. This can lead to headaches, feeling tired, and in the winter you may notice your skin is extra dry and flaky. I shoot for a gallon a day (at the beginning you’ll have to go to the bathroom, a lot, that goes away when your body adapts ;) but at least focus on consuming half your body weight in ounces. If you weigh 200 lbs, drink 100 oz a day. I have a 32 oz Nalgene that I fill up 4 times a day to hit my goal. This is a simple, effective way to help you feel energized and refreshed.

  9. Exercise. Sometimes the word exercise can be daunting or a bit intimidating, so maybe I’ll just refer to it as “movement that elevates your heart rate”. When we exercise, endorphins, or feel good hormones, are released into our body. So not only does exercising make you feel good physically, you’re chemically allowing yourself to feel good as well. If you don’t feel like moving (getting up can be the hardest part) just try doing 10-20 squats. With your legs/glutes being your largest muscle group, it’s a quick and effective way to get your blood pumping. You could also do 10-20 jumping jacks which helps increase blood flow.

  10. Breath-work. This helps me when I’m spending time outside and need to warm my body, or it also helps me ground myself when I’m feeling stressed or not in control. Breathing with intent can slow your heart rate, reduce blood pressure, warm the core and tap into your inner consciousness which can feel incredibly empowering. I’ve also been reading more of the Ice Man, Wim Hof’s content. His story and what he has been able to accomplish is incredible and I’m straight up fascinated by him and what’s he’s accomplished, and uncovered in the mind-body medical space.

  11. Essential oils. I like to diffuse energizing oils such as sweet orange, lemon, peppermint & spearmint, and eucalyptus. I also use this as a blend in a roller that I will apply to my wrists, temples and behind my ears. When I’m stressed and looking for more of a calming feeling, I turn to lavender, chamomile, valerian & bergamot. I love to roll them, or drip them onto my hands, rub them together then cup them over my nose and mouth, inhaling deeply. This was a method of grounding that I learned from Jess at True North Healing who also has a plethora of other healing and mindfulness practices she shares as a beautiful blessing. A few weeks ago I also visited her for a reiki session that helped give me clarity and a much needed release. I’m so grateful to know Jess and cherish having her in my life greatly.

  12. CBD. I’ll admit, I was hesitant and a skeptic of CBD for a long time, and didn’t start supplementing with this until about a year ago. Now, I feel like it’s helped my in so many areas of my life, my mood being a major one. The only thing I regret is not integrating it into my routine sooner. Inability to sleep can be one of the major symptoms of SAD, and it’s helped me feel well rested and stay asleep. I also use it daily on my joints which has given me the ability to run again pain free, and the rollerball when I’m feeling anxious and stressed, and drink CBD infused tea when I need to relax. I use local products from a faith focused, female owned, Wisconsin based business called P’ri CBD that I’m blessed to be able to know and support.

  13. Journal. Writing can be so cathartic. It can also be incredibly difficult and downright paralyzing to try to put your thoughts to paper, but don’t overthink it. Releasing what’s buried in your head and in your heart can physically release the tension from your body. Sometimes we get anxiety by holding on to thoughts, feelings and emotions and it takes a literal elephant off of your chest when you can let those out. There have been times I’ll just write out a single word or two, a short thought, a half of a sentence, in a journal, a random notebook, or even a piece of paper I just end up tossing. But it’s all a mental release nonetheless.

  14. Find a winter hobby. If there’s nothing to get excited about, it’s hard to get excited, right? What can you try as a hobby that you might enjoy? Maybe it’s ice skating, downhill or cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, sledding, chasing frozen waterfalls, a state park tour. Or finding indoor activities such as swimming at the YMCA (swimming just feels like summer doesn’t it), trying out new restaurants, working on projects such as refinishing furniture, crafts, painting or redecorating a room in your home, organizing closets and drawers (fun, I know), attending a weekly heated yoga class. What’s something you could look forward to doing?

  15. Be wild and free. My favorite, and the most ambiguous of them all. Allow yourself to be unbridled and adventurous, careless and free, full of spirit and exploration (when you don’t feel like it, it’s especially important to channel this inner wild-feminine) We all have overloads of responsibility on our plates, so maybe it’s unrealistic to head out on a 3 month sabbatical across the globe, but we can find the adventure in the everyday. For example, my girls and I love to crank the heat in the car and drive with the windows down. As the wind hits our face and snowflakes hit our hands, we can’t help but laugh and smile together. Find the freedom and adventure in the every day, and let yourself enjoy the journey. It’s all an adventure and the laughter alone can help combat the blues.

If you’re not feeling like yourself this time of year, remember you’re not alone in this. Even though we laugh about it and say its just the winter blues, it’s a serious thing and recognized by the medical field as a real condition and not to be taken lightly. Make sure to talk to a professional if you need to or have feelings of hopeless beyond SAD. Like I mentioned, this is just from my personal experience and all of the tools above are what I’ve found to help me get through this time of year and actually enjoy the winter season, finally. I’ve built this list of tools up over the last 10 years, so don’t get overwhelmed and feel like you need to do everything at once.

That can be paralyzing, counteractive and might cause you to do nothing, giving you even more anxiety or stress on top of what you might be already feeling. Try one thing, then maybe add another in, and day by day you might start to feel a little bit lighter.

I pray for you, with love and light during this season ahead of us.

You got this.

We got this.