Feeling the winter blues?

I get them every year. I am a California sunshine girl living on the rainiest, boggiest, dreariest “Mud Island” on the planet. My winter blueness begins in January and lasts until the daffodils erupt in their blaze of glory sometime in March.

(This picture is me playing Mags the Homeless Woman in my upcoming film debut. Mags has a lot to feel blue about–even though she lives in California.)

Whether you live in a cold climate or not, winter is about more than just the weather. It’s when everything slows down, closes up, goes fallow, stops growing. I struggle to stay motivated. Especially when deadly viruses abound and all I want to do is crawl into my cave like a roly poly bear.

Here are ten ways I’m facing the winter blues this year:

1.Refilling the Reservoir

Winter blues can be about more than just gray skies and cave fever.

Winter is an empty, fallow time when my energy level is low and my soul feels dry. But winter itself is actually a necessary season when life goes underground in preparation for its lavish rebirth in spring. Dry wells need winter rain in order to refill and stave off drought. Maybe we also need this season to go deeper in our souls, to replenish our emptied out spaces with activity that will not just make us feel less blue, but lead to new growth inside ourselves.

Let’s be deliberate in how we do this. If we embrace the winter doldrums and replace the dread of them with anticipation and discovery, maybe we’ll find a new purpose for them.

2.Giving Thanks for Blessings

 It may be a cliché, but counting your blessings really does make a difference. Whatever is happening in your life this winter, focus on what you are thankful for. With all the record flooding going on in England this winter, I am blessed to not have a single leak. I am blessed to be healthy, fed, warmly clothed, and have a bed to sleep in at night.

I am blessed with my family and friends.

I am blessed to be a child of God.

Just being thankful for what we often take for granted fills the empty reservoir of winter with positive thinking, and that is energizing. Negativity flattens you.

3.What are you Reading?

 It’s cold. It’s gray. Like the cat, I don’t want to go out. I turn to my stack of winter reads.

Winter reading should be different from summer reading. It needs to uplift you, or take you to a different time and place than your own. Be deliberate in what you read. Then, share what you are reading with a friend. That way, you get to uplift each other.

Here are some of my favorite genres:

Winter is a good time to read historical fiction. Since coming to live in a country that measures time in centuries, this genre has become a passion. I will read just about anything about the World Wars or the Tudors. I am currently rereading Irene Nemirovsky’s Suite Francaise with a friend. The author wrote this masterpiece about the French occupation in WW2 while in hiding from the Nazis. She died in Auschwitz but her manuscript survived. You can feel her heart beating as she writes against time.

Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize winning Wolf Hall trilogy takes historical fiction to new heights in her portrayal of Thomas Cromwell and his rise to power under Henry VIII. The final volume, The Mirror and the Light should be in bookstores this week. It has to be the most anticipated finale since the last Harry Potter book. Anticipation itself is a great gloom dispeller.

Winter is also a good time to catch up on an English classic. With a new film version of Emma in cinemas, why not revisit Jane Austen and friends? She is incredibly funny and humor goes a long way in filling my reservoir. A great winter read has to be Northanger Abbey, a hilarious spoof of all things gothic. Young Catherine’s unbridled imagination runs disastrously amok when she finds herself ensconced in an ancient country house.

If you are looking for an inspirational memoir, I highly recommend Surviving the Island of Grace by one of my favorite writers, Leslie Leyland Fields. She writes about the challenges of living on an isolated island in Alaska where she and her husband run a commercial salmon fishing business. At one point she felt she’d had enough of such a demanding life, packed her suitcase, and left the island. I know exactly how that feels! I love that she didn’t give up but returned to persevere. I figure if she could survive winter in Alaska, I can survive winter on Mud Island!

4.What are you Watching?

February is BAFTA and Oscar season, so find a movie buddy and catch up on all the nominated films and performances you may have missed. I try to see all the important films and what they convey about the world. The stand out film for me this winter was 1917, a WWI epic with a difference. I’m not surprised, however, that Parasite took home the Oscar. Like this Korean language award-winner, the Oscars always have an unexpected twist up their sleeves.

Life, like Oscar, is not always what it appears on the surface. Film teaches me about mystery and story. Those are important elements to add to my well.

5.A Night at the Museum

Like I said, life is not always what it appears on the surface.

I love this idea behind the Night at the Museum andToy Story movies where the inanimate becomes animate. Of course, as a kid, I knew that all along. My grandparents had one of those attics in which I was convinced all kinds of objects came to life when we weren’t looking!

With that in mind, winter is a great time to shelter away in the depths of a museum. Some actually have special night openings if you prefer your mummies outside of the daytime crowds.

I am fortunate to have so many world class museums close by, both in London and in Cambridge. General admission is free to public institutions in London such as the British Museum, V&A, Science and History, and the National Gallery as well as the Fitzwilliam and the Polar Institute in Cambridge.

If you’re having trouble finding a sense of wonder this winter, check out what’s lurking behind glass at your local museum. You just might discover a new interest, hobby, or even inspiration for bringing your own story to life!

6.What are you Wearing?

The darkness of an English winter seems to be reflected in what English people wear, which is generally anything in black. This goes on not just in winter, but all year long. I’ll never forget my first summer in Cambridge. It was hot. I went into town wearing my California girl white slacks and bright floral top. I felt like an alien from another planet. Nobody wears white or floral on Mud Island!

All these dark colors get me down. A black and gray world does not fill my reservoir like blue and green or pink and yellow.

What is needed is a hot pink, turquoise, or tangerine splash of color to one’s winter wardrobe. It doesn’t take much, a scarf or necklace, but something that makes you feel the zing.

I don’t like buying clothes in winter. But I decided I needed to climb out of all this black. So I picked up a light weight padded jacket in a Laura Ashley sale. Hot mustard! Outrageous. But everytime I put it on, I laugh. It’s brassy and bold, like the warmth of sunrise. The opposite of blue. Zing!

(This golden jacket has somehow taken on a life of its own. More about that later!)

 7.Be a Refreshing Color to Someone Else

Think about the people who add color to your life. Chances are it’s not because of who they are, but how they make you feel. People who fill my reservoir with color make me laugh. They make me think. They encourage me and build me up. I like being around these kind of people. I think of them like a bouquet of spring flowers on a wet and colorless day.

Think of how you could be a color to someone else. Sometimes all it takes is a smile and a cheerful word, a note that says “I’m thinking of you,” a helping hand. Making the effort to be a color in someone else’s bouquet is a surefire way to brighten your own cloudy day and add sweetness to your reservoir.

8.Contribute to a Weekly Group

This kind of goes along with the bouquet of color idea, except it involves being part of a team and building community on a regular basis. I belong to a women’s Bible study and prayer group. Both meet once a week. I wouldn’t manage the winter blues without these two vital groups. They keep me focused outward and upward, filling my reservoir with spiritual depth and substance.

I am inspired by the power of women who pray together.

We can easily commit to all kinds of spiritual and social groups. It’s important to be selective so that you commit to what has growth value for you as a person as well as where you feel you create value for others.

9.Cook Together

What a colorless world it would be without food, right?

The problem with winter blues is those fingers of mine too often find comfort in the chocolate biscuit jar. Sound familiar?

I admit it. I am a secret carbaholic. When the winter blues set in, cake becomes my comfort food.

The thing is, secret comforts make you feel guilty. Which only adds to blueness. The only reservoir that gets added to is the fat one.

In trying to work through this challenge, I’ve discovered that learning to successfully cook something new and healthy has the opposite effect, especially with my non-cook husband partnering me in the enterprise.

He saw a recipe for duck breasts and “out of the blue” said, “Let’s try it.”

My immediate negative thought was “Duck? It will be a disaster and ruin the evening.”

 Checking myself, I said instead, “Okay.”

That week we planned the Great Duck Cook Off. I put the two breasts to brown in the pan while Chris got the sticky orange sauce on the go. Voila! Easiest thing to cook in the world. They were delicious. We were so pleased with ourselves. Good-bye winter blues!

And I’d nearly nixed the whole idea.

10.Follow the Light

When our children were young, we escaped the winter blues by refilling our need for family, sunshine and warmth with an annual trip to South Africa. We followed the light like migratory birds. It’s a path of nature.

We all yearn for the light. We can’t grow without it. It’s wonderful when it comes in the form of a journey to light-filled places. But that’s not always possible. Instead, find it in the face of a hothouse plant at a Botanical Garden. Bask in the glow of an Impressionist painting. Create havens of light in your home with color and flowers.

The oldest of traditions is the gathering around a brightly glowing fire where food is shared, stories are passed on, and community is built. We still need this stretching of hands through the darkness towards the light. Follow that tradition. Even a sliver of light can lead you out of the cave.

Stay tuned for the Journey of the Golden Jacket!