The stresses of winter come in many forms: physical risks, isolation, darkness, and countless others. Many of us experience some version of winter blues as a result of these stressors, from the more serious Seasonal Affective Disorder to milder forms.
It’s surprising how many of us go out into the cold without enough protection. To survive and thrive in winter, we need the basics: hats or hoods, warm gloves (mittens in the extreme cold), scarves, warm socks and boots, and long underwear on the coldest of days.
- There are many benefits to dressing warmly: we are more focused and less rushed when we walk, we arrive at our destination less stressed, and we may actually enjoy our time outdoors. In fact, dressing warmly allows us to get out in the mid-day sun, which is extremely important for reducing SAD and raising our serotonin levels. The more we can “invite ourselves to go outdoors,” knowing that we are dressed for the occasion (versus resenting and resisting the cold), the more we can stay active, positive, and healthy.
- Warmth at home can include investing in a bed warmer. They come in various forms: electric mattress pads, electric blankets, and hot water bottles. Warming your bed up before you jump in can relax you and improve your chances of falling asleep in a timely manner. Hot baths and hot tea are also good pre-sleep strategies.
- Stopping at your local health club for some rigorous exercise, or for a soak in a warm pool, are great ways to reduce the stress of the cold, improve your mood, and give you a fresh start for the day or evening hours.
Physical risks (falling, slipping, icy roads, etc.)
Extra tread on shoe bottoms: There are many versions of these, from spikes to stretch mesh. Outdoor stores and larger shoe stores carry them, and you can find them online.
Invest in good snow tires: This may sound obvious, but many people choose to skimp on the expense of reliable snow tires for the sake of something else. When you think about it, a good snow tire not only protects health and safety; it also reduces the emotional stress of worrying about driving on slippery roads. Worrying is a distraction, which leads to further risks.
Walking sticks with pointed ends: These are some of the most important and useful additions to our winter “protective gear.” You can use ski poles, or purchase walking sticks at any outdoor store. They can make the difference between a calm and steady walk from the car to the office and a treacherous one.
Carpool: There are many advantages to carpooling. You have someone with whom you can walk to the office from the parking lot. Carpooling decreases the isolation we experience in winter, and allows us to share the challenges of winter driving.
Linda Patterson, LICSW, is a counselor in the Employee and Family Assistance Program at the University of Vermont Medical Center.