20 Ways to Thrive in a Long Winter

How to Enjoy and Even Thrive in Winter (20 Ideas)

I'm sipping my sweet and spicy green tea listening to the kids chatter in the next room as they make the most of their Snow Day. It's that time of the year when the major winter holidays are over, just as we dive deeper into winter itself. The next thing we look forward to is Spring and Easter, but hold those hopes loosely because we've seen too many pass with freezing wind chills and a still-snow-covered ground.

Seven years ago we moved back to the Midwest after a two-year break in Florida, and Nebraska welcomed us back with a blizzard in May. I've really learned to adjust my expectations around spring, and settle in for the long haul letting any early signs of warmer weather and sunnier days be a happy surprise.

I'm the girl that used to wear flip flops in thirty degree weather--not because the cold didn't both me, but because I longed for the sun. I'd scream every time I sat in my car's freezing leather seats, just because I needed some kind of outlet for my pent up rage against winter. My body tenses up in the cold, and my Vitamin D stores seem to go into the negatives with the consecutive sun-less days.

I was in college before I learned about Seasonal Affective Disorder and realized that definitely made sense for my struggle with winter. Feeling down about winter wasn't all in my head--winter was literally dragging me down. That realization has been the start of me learning to make the most of winter. Especially on the extremely cold or endless cloudy days, it can take every tool in my arsenal to be okay with what winter gives us.

Some days, my goal is still simply to survive winter. The pleasant surprise is that getting more intentional about winters has brought about thriving and even loving life in the middle of winter.

Here are twenty actions I've taken to make the most of a long winter when my heart longs for summer... A lot of this might seem like no-brainers, but I can't be the only one that spent far too long without doing these things, so it's worth mentioning even the basics.

(Affiliate links used; see full note below.)

Wear the right gear.

Being warm became an instant winter-improver for me. I went far too long without the right gear for winter. It started with my husband insisting that I get a warmer coat instead of relying on my softshell. I found a hat I like, gloves that let me still use my camera/phone, boots with grippy bottoms that don't freeze my feet out. I've even accumulated enough long sleeve shirts and sweaters to rotate through without feeling like I'm wearing the same thing everyday. Winter got exponentially more bearable with each warm item I added.

Take vitamins.

Hello, Vitamin D and Bs. If you live in a place where the sun more or less disappears for much of winter, then Vitamin D should be a staple. Vitamin D is actually a hormone, and when your body is low it shows itself in hormone-imbalance type symptoms (fatigue, mood swings, irritability, etc.). Magnesium is a supplement that helps with Vitamin D absorption, so consider that one too. Like me, you might find you even need a Vitamin D dose in summer. Vitamin Bs are natural energizers, and can be a good mood- and energy-boost when you find yourself dragging. Talk to your doctor about how much and of what to take.

Drink warm drinks.

Cold drinks are my jam, and used to be my go-to throughout the winter too. Then, when I was struggling with winter, a friend reminded me of how warm drinks literally warm us up from the inside out (again, a no-brainer). So I swapped my iced and blended drinks for hot coffee, tea, cocoa, or cider. Sometimes just holding the mug is enough to cozy me up. Adding a minty or cinnamon flavor is a great seasonal treat.

Keep blankets handy.

Make blankets easy to grab whether you're lounging on the sofa or working at a desk. Keeping them in a place you don't have to worry too much about them being folded up nice makes using them lower maintenance. Whether it's a ladder to throw them over or a basket to pile them in. Before we found our rustic "blanket" ladder in the trash, we used to just throw them in a pile in the corner of the living room. They only got folded before we had company, taking the pressure off of having to fold them after each use (basically all day long).

Do morning light therapy.

I've been meaning to add light therapy to my routine for years and finally made it happen this winter. Starting the day sitting in light (direct sunlight from a window or at least 10,000 lumens from a special lamp) can improve energy, mood, and even frontal lobe function. It's best to do this light therapy time soon after waking up to not interfere with natural sleep rhythms. For some people, it works to do this time while doing their makeup in the morning. I like using the time to write my morning pages and read my Bible. I've been using this >> light therapy lamp.

Follow the sun.

Speaking of light therapy, sometimes you just gotta follow the sun around your home whenever it comes out. Either a walk outdoors when the sun is shining, or finding a spot to sit where it comes in a window can be warming and rejuvenating. Especially on those days when the sun hasn't shone in far too long.

Get out.

My natural instinct in winter is not to go outside the house. But getting out to other warm indoor places can really help break up our cabin fever. We try to go to the library weekly to browse and restock our reading supply, go to the gym throughout the week to get the blood pumping or calm with a yoga class, or even get together with friends.

Hygge together.

Hygge (a Danish lifestyle of coziness) has become a trendy topic lately. But more than the typical coziness of blankets and hot drinks, hygge is also about cozying up together. It can bring people closer together to thrive the cold in more intimate ways. Playing games with the family, extending invites to friends, or saying yes to the invites you receive. Again, this isn't always automatic given my introvert nature. But I always appreciate an opportunity to not let winter equal lonely.

Take up reading.

Curling up under a blanket with a hot cup of tea and a good book is a winter cliche for a reason. It's just so cozy and even life-giving. Flip through a magazine that has seasonal inspiration, read a novel set in winter (or summer, if you need an escape), or look through home ideas to start getting motivated for your spring projects. See my list of favorite reads or ways to enjoy reading.

Make a happiness list.

What makes you happy? What, big or little, brings a smile to your face, warms your heart, or sparks joy in your life? This list might lead to ideas to improve your winter. More than that, just the act of creating this list reminds what brings you to LIFE, and that's something we all could use a little more of, winter or not.

Start a journal.

Especially if winter feels like a burden for you, get in the habit of starting each day getting some of that out. I learned about this as "morning pages." The idea is to start writing anything and everything on your heart and mind. Some do this for 3 straight pages everyday. I could dwell like this forever, so I give myself a page, unless I have something more I need to get out. Sometimes it's as simple as saying what the weather is like and what we have going on for the day, and sometimes it's sorting out my tangled web of thoughts and emotions. It's become a beneficial habit, and I extend it into my prayer time as I refocus and hand it all over to God.

Try some self-care.

Okay, so this list is basically a self-care list for me. What I do to take care of myself in general isn't too far off from what I do to thrive in winter. But if you're a person to neglect yourself or quiet your own needs, winter is a good time to settle in and do a check-in of sorts to make sure you're following good habits and routines to keep yourself healthy and better able to meet the needs around you. Are you drinking water? Slowing down on the holiday treat habit? Getting some movement? What could you do to better care for yourself?

Take a warm bath.

Baths used to feel like so much work, but they've really helped when I feel winter making my body tense up. I make sure it's plenty warm (sometimes even having to wait for it to cool off), and add Epsom salts and eucalyptus bubbles (which helps sooth my aching muscles after shoveling the driveway). I feel my body loosen and relax into the warmth, and my mind wanders to happy places. It's like a vacation in my own home.

Eat cozy foods.

Even if you're not a soup person, just making a hot meal of any kind can be nourishing to both the body and soul in winter. Chili and cornbread or grilled cheese and tomato soup are easy and cozy.

Bake something.

An opportunity to turn on the oven is an opportunity to warm up the main living space. Baking cookies or muffins or a casserole gives me something to do to warm up. Then I find myself hovering around it like our own makeshift fire once I turn it off and leave the oven door open. Of course if you have an actual fire, that's even better.

Make a seasonal action list.

What are some of your favorite things to do inside or outside given the weather you've got? Bundle up for a winter walk, go sledding, walk on the local frozen lake (after it's been frozen a long time for safety reasons), make a new hot cocoa recipe. Get family or friends involved with ideas and use it as a checklist of things to look forward to and make happen during these cold days while they last.

Light a candle.

Get that little flame going, especially with a spicy or citrusy scent. Woodwick candles are my favorite in the winter because they had an extra crackle that feels cozy to the senses. Diffusing mint, cinnamon, or citrus essential oil blends adds a pleasant aesthetic too.

Turn on the lights.

Make sure the rooms you hang out in the evening are equipped with cozy lighting--table or floor lamps, a hanging light, or string lights draped around a window or doorframe. A good combination of those in your bedroom and living room creates a welcoming atmosphere when the sun is still going down before dinner.

Make a music mix and dance to it.

Get on Spotify or Pandora and make a mix of some of your favorite peppy tunes. Then dance to it while you make dinner or before winding down for the evening. Getting moving is a known mood booster, as is music with happy vibes.

Talk to your doctor.

This is my first winter giving antidepressants a try, and I'm realizing maybe I should have been using a small dose in winters before. All of the self-care and winter-care ideas above definitely helped improve my winters. Talking to my doctor about prescription medication was the extra step I needed. If winters especially are a struggle, don't be shy about mentioning it to your doctor and seeing if there are ideas you're missing that could help bring you back to life.

If winter isn't your jam, it doesn't have to be a total downer. Winter doesn't have to overtake your emotions and well-being. Make the most of winter, and you might even come around to like it. Haha, okay, that's going a little far. But maybe we can start replacing just surviving with at least a little thriving.

And if winter is your jam? Share that joy, because the rest of us need to be reminded of its wonder and beauty.


also see:
new? start here...
practical ways to self-care
returning home to myself
is this season over yet?
grow your life emails

*Note: Affiliate links used in this post. Purchases through these links could earn me a small commission with no extra cost to the purchaser. This is a little known way to support the writers, bloggers, and online creatives you love. If you choose to do that here, thank you!

Returning Home to Myself

Returning Home to Myself: The problem wasn't who I needed to become (or return to) to be alive again, to fill this empty shell; it was a matter of being able to fully see who I already am, to acknowledge the life already in me.

I felt like an empty shell of a person. That was the negative self-talk that looped in my head anytime I let my guard down. I was doing all the things to fix whatever was broken in my life, to get back on whatever track it was I'd fallen from. Yet, despite doing the work, I kept returning to that feeling and that phrase "empty shell of a person" like an obnoxious song on repeat in my head.

When I was in the thick of that self-defeating thought, I sat on the two-person sofa in my counselor's office, telling him about a moment when I distinctly remember thinking I miss being alive. I had several sessions with him before being able to articulate that was the moment that motivated me to finally schedule an appointment with him. I've never had suicidal thoughts, but thinking I was somehow no longer fully alive seemed dangerously close.

That moment, now months before, the sun showered over me as I sat at our dining table scrolling through Instagram. A creative I follow shared something that sparked inspiration and creative desire in me that hadn't been there in a long time. Instead of giving me hope, it made clear exactly how far I'd fallen from where I wish I were. In that split-second juxtaposition of life-spark turned lost-journeyer, the weight of I miss being alive numbed me from the sun's warmth.

My counselor pulled out a paper from a file--a file that holds the notes he takes after our sessions along with the periodic self-evaluations I complete to track our progress. He asked if he could read his notes from our last session to me.

As he read words he had written that simply described who I was and what I brought to our conversation during that counseling session, I stared and blinked and wondered. It sounded vaguely familiar. He was reading descriptions of who I remembered being, of the me I felt like I needed to return to. But how? How do I get back there? Back to myself?

He set the paper down, and I think noticed my blank stare, so he asked if I wanted to see it. I didn't know what I'd see myself that I didn't just hear him read, but I said, "Sure."

I started reading, in his words, the version of myself that he saw in that last session we were together. The tears swelled as I read his description that was the me that I'd been searching for, that I'd felt like I lost, the person I'd been hoping to become... it was right there. On paper. But he hadn't written these words trying to help me create a self-fulfilling prophecy, like I sometimes felt like I was doing in my own journal.

He was simply noting his observation of the person currently sitting in front of him. The problem wasn't who I needed to become (or return to) to be alive again, to fill this empty shell; it was a matter of being able to fully see who I already am, to acknowledge the life already in me.

In that moment, I realized I wanted to uncover the whole person God created, fully me right now even if I don't feel it. That is what I mean when I write about borrowing God's eyes to see myself. I want to sit before Him and hear Him tell me who I am.

Without really knowing where it came from, I had the distorted idea that when God looked at me He could only see who I was becoming, like a lump of clay with potential. There's only so long someone can go on thinking they're merely a useless lump of clay before their Maker. A lump of clay isn't far from feeling like an empty shell of a person and then missing being alive... even while still technically living.

When I sit and listen to God tell me who I am, I hear a calm voice say: This is who I made you to be. There may be challenges, but I see the beauty, the hope, the wholeness I chose for you.

It's a matter of opening my eyes and truly seeing what God sees, who He created me to be and is continuing to lead me into, and not basing my identity on ever-changing feelings.

There have been too many moments that I've held the urge to edit-undo every move I make, even the good ones. I finally got tired of feeling guilt or embarrassment at showing up to my life. The low rumble of anxious thoughts got old. I was tired of the negativity that took residence in the feeling part of my life, so I got help to give it an eviction notice and kick it out.

Anything less than that is discrediting my Creator, and me as His creation. I deserve better. You deserve better.

We don't do that to His sky or sun or flowers or trees. We sit in nature and wonder at the beauty of God's creation. So why do we settle for negativity on ourselves, the whole point of His creation?

That is the value of getting quiet, getting in nature, getting in God's Word. Not just to hear who we are, but to hear God say it in a way that makes us at home with who He created us to be.

May you find stillness to feel that He is God, and you are His, flaws and all. You are a whole beautiful thriving person as you are now. And if you are having a hard time hearing it, or a hard time believing it, get help. You don't have to struggle alone to return home to yourself.

Recently, the sun showered over me again, this time as I took the trash out. I drew a deep breath, warmed from the inside-out with the thought It feels good to be alive. And that's what it feels like to get the help I needed to return home to myself.


also see:
new? start here...
self-care over the long haul
a year of showing up to life
how to find the true you
grow your life

Lessons on Steady -- A Year of Showing Up to Life

collage of photos from a year of showing up to life

Last year was my year for Steady. (You can read about my year for Slow >> here.)

Where Slow revealed what happens down in the dirt of life, Steady showed me what can happen when we keep showing up to tend to our life. Those little actions (that often feel huge) repeated over and over can really become something. Namely, a growing, even thriving, Life.

That's what happened for me in my year of Steady. I attended to the harder parts of self-care (or as it became for me, life-care) by scheduling and showing up to appointments, returning to peer accountability, and "clocking in" daily to habits I wanted to grow.

Steady reminded me I am capable of making good decisions and being a whole and healthy person. Steady over time replaced my exasperated "I miss feeling alive" with "It feels good to be alive!" Steady let showing up be enough, and some days Steady allowed showing up to turn into some of my best effort yet.

The previous year's struggles in Slow turned into this year's Steady benefits and the following lessons on showing up to life.

1. Things that give me life aren't just a preference--they're a deeply healing necessity.

While in Florida (a surprise I got to join my husband on his work trip), I walked around enjoying all of the greenery and teared up taking it all in. It was tears of joy like salve on my soul. In that moment, I realized greenery and sunshine (among other things) aren't just a preference for me--they're a deeply healing necessity.

This helps me to realize in the middle of a Nebraska winter, that I need morning light therapy to make up for the lack of sun and I need to tend to some houseplants to make up for the missing green. There's other ways this applies. When I answer "What gives me life?" I'm not just figuring out trivial hobbies or interests, I'm finding what literally fuels my life.

2. When I'm going all in just to feel okay, I might need extra help going the last bit to really be okay.

After spending a lot of time on self-care--the kind that involves counseling, shutting down technology, taking vitamins, doing a course to learn more about mental and emotional health--I noticed I was still working really hard to feel okay, and wasn't always succeeding. Even when I succeeded, it was frustrating to always feel that struggle. So I finally asked my doctor about antidepressant options.

Some form of depression (and even anxiety, which I didn't realize until the last few years) has been a part of my life since I was 13, but I've always learned how to manage it. My year of Slow left me space to realize I wasn't really managing it anymore. My usual stuff helped, but wasn't fully working. I don't know if antidepressants will continue being a part of my solution, but for now they're the extra step I needed in this season. Sometimes that extra help includes counseling or a peer support group or an accountability partner or maybe vitamins. Whatever it is, it's worth taking that extra step to fully be okay.

3. I've been here all along, even when I don't feel myself.

In the middle of my biggest struggle, I felt deeply lost. I knew who I was and what mattered to me, or at least who I used to be and what used to matter. Then I had a bit of a breakthrough when my counselor read back his notes to me from a previous session. Everything he read sounded like the me I hoped to become; but he was reading notes that were based on what he currently saw of me. That was the beginning of me realizing I've been here all along, even when I feel lost. It's a matter of opening my eyes and truly seeing what God sees, who He created me to be and is continuing to lead me into, and not basing my identity on ever-changing feelings.

4. Health improvements take time.

We attended an 8-week seminar and group session on mental and emotional health, especially addressing anxiety and depression. We learned lots of important habits that affect our health and brain function more than we usually realize. We also learned that implementing these healthy habits can take weeks, even months, to see the full effect in our daily life. This is a concept I generally knew, but seeing more of the science and facts behind it helped emphasize it and serves as a good reminder to give any positive life changes time to see the fruits of the effort.

5. The miracle is God's presence in the struggle.

It was a "why me" moment at 3 a.m. with my husband gone on a trip, my 4-year-old waking up every 15 minutes to throw up, and my own migraine brewing. I needed God to show up and, I thought, change my circumstances. But right there in the midst of the struggle, story after story came to me of how God showing up in the middle of undesirable circumstances was The Miracle.

Angels shutting the mouths of lions while Daniel still had to sleep in their presence in the den; God showing up in the midst of the fire with the Hebrew boys before they walked out; God being with Moses and the Israelites in the wilderness. A strength and endurance grew in me as I realized I wanted the miracle of resolution, but The Miracle is really God's presence in the middle of the storm. There are plenty of other "storms" in my life I've wanted calmed, and I'm learning how seeing God with me in them is more important than being saved form them.

6. Small habits build up over time, for better or worse.

Bad habits feel like they grow up out of nowhere, but they're established the same way good habits are--one action repeated again and again. Showing up was a good place for me to start. This played out in an obvious way at the gym.

I wanted to get more physical exercise, but jumping to the end result felt overwhelming, so I started with a goal of showing up. I could do 10 minutes or 5 and I'd still meet my goal by just being there. But chances are, after making the effort to be there, I'll likely finish a whole 30-minute session.

This has applied to a lot of other areas... I figure out what my minimum showing up looks like and aim to do that, then let anything more be a happy bonus. These seemingly small habits of self-care and life-care one by one help me show up to my life.

It's your turn. Pull out a pen and paper (or a notebook to collect these sorts of things). Write "What I learned last year" and start listing whatever comes to mind. This is a great way to look back and "raise your ebenezer"--noticing what brings you to life, how you showed up to your own life, and especially how God showed up.


also see:
new? start here...
goal-planning brought me back to life
making sense of a hard year
slow + steady self-care
how to find the true you
get my emails