Saturday, November 24, 2012

How I Avoid the Winter Blues

Ah, the holiday season.  It is that time of year when some people are immersed in baking, decorating, pageants, and shopping.  And others feel overwhelmed by all that the holidays bring.  I have never been a "holiday depression" type of person, but when I was juggling a demanding full-time job and the obligations of the season, sometimes I would forget to focus on why we celebrate in the first place.

Since my life has changed so much in the last 3 years, there are other factors that have the potential to bring the blues, if I let them.  I'm away from my extended family, it rains a lot during this time of year, and it gets dark quite early.
So these are things that I do to make sure that the winter blues don't creep in.  I think they work great. (Of course, we don't have children, who bring in a whole other level of "busy.")  =)

There is a difference between "counting your blessings," and enjoying your blessings.  To me, counting your blessings feels like a fleeting activity--one that is over before it begins and has very little effect on my mood.  The real trick is to enjoy your blessings.  Keep them in your mind to the point where you can easily tap into that fount of gratitude anytime.  First things that come to my mind?  My husband, family and friends, home, my Heavenly Father, pets, books, art and music.  See? I feel better already!

I am a planner.  I like calendars and lists almost to a fault.  I like knowing that, even if today doesn't have anything going on, it doesn't matter, because other things are right around the corner.  Whether the plans are large, medium, or small, knowing that something is going to happen always helps me.  For instance, I know that I am going out tomorrow, that Sunday is church, that next week we are decorating for Christmas and have plans to see the new Lincoln movie, that there is a Festival of the Nativities coming up next weekend, and in a few weeks I'm traveling to CA to see my family for Christmas.  Even something small is helpful, like going for a mani-pedi or planning the dinners I'm going to cook for that week. 

Because I like to know what is coming up, it helps me decide how to use my time on the days when there aren't plans.  Should I use that day to relax and rejuvenate for something big?  Should I work on my lesson for church that day?  Should I go grocery shopping or give a certain room a deep cleaning?  (I much prefer this kind of weather than Spring for that kind of cleaning.  When the weather warms up I just want to be outside!)  Is this the day I'm going to vacuum or wash the linens?  I am someone who craves order and I do function a lot better in a clean house.  Frankly, I find a dirty house more depressing that yucky winter weather.  But that is just me.  I'm not obsessive, but I can always find something to do around the house that makes me feel productive. 

I have always been someone who has a great desire to create a cozy atmosphere at home.  It is, after all, the place where we spend most of our time.  From my first apartment, to my house in California, to the house I share with my husband in Washington, there are things I do in every place I live. 
  • Keep it clean and orderly.  This does not mean making it a museum.  It just means avoiding clutter.  A place for everything and everything in its place, or into the trash it goes. It also means staying on top of things like laundry, keeping beds made, floors vacuumed, and the kitchen and bathrooms clean. Yes, it requires work, but it is about maintenance, which makes it so much easier.  I actually enjoy cleaning, and the rewards are far greater than the work involved.
  • Fill your house will savory scents.  Living in the Pacific Northwest brought some changes that I wasn't used to.  For instance, in California I always left windows and doors open to let in fresh air.  When the temperature is 40 degrees and rainy, like it is right now, I can't do that.  So I do other things.  I fill my house with the scents of a cozy home.  There are cinnamon pine cones in the living room, a pumpkin spice candle burning in the kitchen, the smells of a home-cooked meal, and a gingerbread spice Scentsy bar burning in the family room downstairs.  I have also been introduced recently to essential oils, which are wonderful. Right now I only use them for sleep, since I'm still a beginner.
  • Another thing I do is play music throughout the house.  Like the power of certain aromas, the things we listen to have great effects on our moods.  We have a set of speakers in our kitchen that get used every day.  Sometimes they are hooked up to the Pandora app on the iPad, sometimes to an MP3 player, but there is usually music going on in the background at our house, especially at dinnertime. 

Thanks to the digital age, those we love are only a phone call or a text away.  Facebook is great for that too.  But there is also the lost art of letter writing, which I do with my grandma.  She began writing to me on a regular basis in 1989 when I went away to college, and we have continued that tradition since then.  Letters from my grandma are what I most look forward to in the mail, and answering them brings me great joy..  And, even though my mom and I can have some marathon phone calls, we also like to email.  I like being able to write when it is convenient, to be able to craft my words carefully, and to send and receive photos.  Sometimes we don't write for a while, and other times we will start an email conversation that goes back and forth for days at a time.  When she is babysitting my nephew and niece, we will also do FaceTime, which is loads of fun when talking with the little ones.  It makes the miles between us melt away. Who do you know that would love to receive a letter?

I look for those rare pockets of sunshine and dry weather right now to take my dog outside and get in a good, long walk.  But since those are few and far between, this is also the perfect time of year to dive into a challenging book. I spent evenings last December curled up with Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand.  Wow, what a story--and all true.  And there was the added bonus of sitting in the living room amongst all of the holiday decorations while I was reading.  There is also the fun of puzzles and games, either alone or in a group of friends.

When all else fails, there is one, surefire way to feel better, and that is to serve our fellow man.  This can involve anything from taking cookies or bread to someone in need of some company, to volunteering at a soup kitchen or visiting people in the hospital.  It is true that Charity Never Faileth.  Time spent serving someone else is never time wasted.  There is always someone out there who feels worse than you do, and who can benefit from a visit or an uplifting word.  You may have gifts and a light inside of you that you are completely unaware of until you share it with another person.

All of these things are easy, inexpensive, and right at our fingertips.  They are possible in a home filled with people, a couple, or a single person--I know this from personal experience.  The thing to remember is that the holiday season is the season of joy, love, happiness, and remembering our Savior.  I encourage you to make the most of it, to remember why we celebrate, and to take advantage of those special moments with family and friends.  We live in a nation that affords us so much freedom and so many blessings.  Let's remember all that we have and keep our heart and minds bright and focused. 

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