Ever struggled with a lack of joy?
And the winter blues?
And felt like the long, dark days were closing in on you?
If so, you’re not alone.
I live in Vancouver, and while we don’t get a lot of snow in the winter, we do get our fair share of cold, grey, rainy days.
Every January or February I get hit by the winter doldrums.
And my mood begins to feel as grey as our weather.
I want to climb under a big, warm comforter. And stay there. Forever.
Winter hasn’t always bothered me though.
In fact I used to really enjoy it.
You know those popular winter activities? Like tobogganing, skiing and snowboarding?
Well I did them when I was younger. No problem.
Perhaps back then the cold didn’t affect me in the same way though. Or maybe I simply enjoyed all the seasons. Winter included.
I’m not really sure.
And to be honest, I don’t really care.
That was then. And this is now.
That me – the younger version – is gone.
She grew up and got older and changed. As did her preferences.
And that’s A-OK.
I’m learning to accept this version of myself.
To be whoever and whatever I need to be.
To allow myself to enjoy (or not enjoy, as the case may be) different things than I used to.
There was a time, not so many years ago however, when I was completely oblivious to my anti-winter attitude.
And I kept on pushing through any discomfort I may have felt.
As though I was supposed to.
As though I didn’t have any other choice.
Because everyone loves winter. Don’t they?!
Until one day a wise friend said to me: “have you noticed that for the past three winters you’ve called me crying from your car?”
“Wtf” I said. “Seriously?”
And just like that the light bulb went on.
“Ohhhhhhhh, so this ‘temporary’ winter funk I’m feeling is not that temporary at all? It’s really an annual thing.”
Yup. She’d seen it. Long before I had.
OK. Point taken.
So that’s when I began to take a closer look at my gloomy winter mood. To get curious about it.
I started asking myself:
What do I really need in order to get through this time of year?
What would relieve my discomfort? Bring me more joy? What would help fill up my empty gas tank — energetically speaking?
And my soul responded emphatically….a warm vacation!!
So I listened. And booked my first tropical getaway in over a decade.
I’ve continued this tradition almost every winter since. And arrived home after each sojourn feeling like a brand new person.
Hopeful. Energized. Filled up.
And ready to take on the world, for the rest of the year.
These sunny getaways give me the boost of energy I need to keep moving forward.
I’m very clear about that.
And it’s why I’m especially concerned this winter.
You see I’ve just started a new bookkeeping business and my funds are a bit tight. A warm escape may or may not be in the cards for me.
But if I can’t fly south this year, what do I do?
How do I avoid going down the slippery slope of my annual winter funk?
How do I hold onto my energy when it feels like it’s slipping away?
Well here’s what I’ve found helps.
Everyday I take a moment to close my eyes, breathe deeply, and ask myself: what do I need to do today to take care of myself?
And then I listen for the answer.
Because I know I need to do something – and I mean daily! – to keep my spirits up during these grey winter months.
Today was a prime example. I was working at home when I suddenly realized I was feeling rather blah.
So I took a moment and checked in with myself.
With my body.
And I knew instantly what it needed. A shift – a little hit of joy.
A pick me up of sorts.
I needed to get out for a walk in nature. To shift my energy.
As soon as I entered the forest I felt better. My senses took in everything.
The tall, green, moss-covered trees, the sun glistening on the wet leaves. The smell of the damp, earthy air and the roar of the nearby creek.
Ahhhhhhhh. My soul whispered.
Suddenly I felt alive again.
And my heart lifted in joy.
I was in exactly the right place.
And then came the dogs.
Oh happy day! Dogs!!
Over the course of my walk, I was greeted by all kinds of them.
Both big and small. I stopped to pet them all, and say a quick hello to their owners.
And again, I felt my spirit rise.
I lifted my eyes and said thank you to the trees.
To the sky. And to the Universe.
Thank you for these little hits of joy.
And thank you for my awareness of them.
Years ago, I wasn’t as clear about what brought me joy. But during a personal growth workshop I learned a valuable lesson that’s always stayed with me.
Our teacher asked us to spend the week between classes noticing what made us happy. As we went about our day-to-day lives, to pay attention to how we felt in our bodies.
What lifted us up. What brought us joy. And to write it down.
I’ll never forget that week.
I lived each moment with a new sense of awareness.
I paid close attention to how each experience made me feel. In my body, and in my heart. In my soul.
And I wrote down my new joy list.
It was illuminating.
There were simple things on it really.
Like eating a double-scoop ice cream cone in the sun.
Walking barefoot on the beach, and dipping my toes in the ocean.
Hearing the sound of the crashing waves, and the cry of the seagulls.
Smelling the salty sea air. Feeling the warmth of the sun on my face. Connecting with friends over coffee. Petting dogs. Curling up with a good book.
These were the things that lifted me up.
And brought me joy.
They allowed me to feel free.
Almost twenty years later, they still do.
They’re at the very core of who I am.
They’re the same things I need to do when I start to feel the winter blues coming on.
So whether I’m able to get on a plane and head south to a warm, sunny beach or not, I know how to take care of my soul.
I know how to make myself feel better.
In the simplest of ways.
I can revisit my joy list.
And do the one or two things that day that speak to me.
That pull me out of my winter funk. That propel me forward.
And just like today in the forest, I know my energy will shift.
I will start to feel better.
Bit by bit.
Because it’s not about ignoring or pushing through your pain.
Or numbing it.
It’s about paying attention to it.
It’s about stopping in the middle of your discomfort to ask yourself:
What would make me feel better?
What would bring me a little hit of joy?
And then…doing it.