Overcoming the Winter Doldrums

– By Sharon Ashton and Raksha Dave-Gates (Counselling Psychologists)

As the month of March begins, the old saying, “March comes in like a lamb and out like a lion” reminds us that we are sure to have a few more wintry blasts ahead.  We can be reassured knowing that the long winter is almost over and a warmer season is just around the corner.  Before spring arrives, however, seasonal depression or “the blues” will affect many Calgarians, especially those who are less mobile. Overall, we tend to connect with family, friends, and neighbors less frequently during the winter season, and as a result, we may experience a significant drop in our sense of satisfaction with life. Let’s face it, subzero temperatures, icy sidewalks and slippery road conditions make getting out uninviting and potentially dangerous for most of us.

Being shut-in over the winter and being less socially active, may be a significant factor leading to seasonal depression.  Human beings are designed to be social beings.  In fact, our sociability begins at birth and is directly supported by our newborn physical characteristics. Mother Nature sets the stage for social connected-ness by bringing us into the world as cute and cuddly infants, with disproportionately large eyes, and a head-to-body ratio that caregivers find hard to resist.  Watch how adults and even elementary age children gather around a baby, and respond to it with touch and conversation as that baby cooes, smiles or gurgles.

Infants require a lot of touching to produce healthy emotional and physical development.  Touch continues to be critically important throughout the life-span.  As we grow and develop, we learn to accept other forms of recognition – a smile, a compliment – as additional means of satisfying our craving for physical touch or contact. Hunger for contact is so significant for all age groups, that when positive forms seem to be unavailable, people will seek out negative exchanges from others – a frown, an unkind remark – rather than receiving no contact at all.

Here are a few suggestions to help you ward off the winter blues by increasing the amount of positive physical and social contact you experience throughout the winter season.  You may want to use this list as a starting point to help you create your own guide to go to when you need a lift…

  • When a chinook blows into town, take advantage and be sure to get out to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine.  Meet a friend and go for a walk.  Step outside and chat with a neighbour.
  • Visit the tropical plant section at a garden center. While you’re there, strike up a conversation with other customers.  Begin planning your spring planting.
  • Call someone you care about every day when you can’t get out.  Promise yourself that you won’t put your energy into talking about the weather.  Instead, focus on common interests.  Retell a joke and enjoy laughing together.
  • Sometimes a hug from a friend, cuddling with your spouse, your parent, or your child would be a perfect pick-me-up.  Ask for it.  Chances are, they will benefit as much as you.
  • Invite friends over for an evening of games, to watch and old video, or perhaps just to share a dessert.  Keep it simple – the idea is not to make work, but to enjoy one another’s company!

Keeping a thriving social network is an enjoyable and rewarding way of staying happy and maintaining your physical and emotional health.  You can’t control the winter weather, but with a bit of extra effort, you can certainly stay upbeat by staying in contact with those in your social circle.