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.

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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

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