Until very recently, my family and I lived in central Michigan. Those of you who have been to this area of the country know very well that being on a peninsula surrounded by the Great Lakes translates to many gray, cloudy days. Last winter, the gray became quite overwhelming.
Not only was it cold and snowy (as is the norm in the Midwest), the sun barely showed its face all winter long. There were glimmers of sunshine here and there, but for the most part, everything was clouded over. The sun would come out for five minutes a day, it seemed, only to hide again and leave all Michigan inhabitants in a sunless, cold slump.
When early spring came, I was seriously excited for sunlight. However, it just rained and rained. There would be entire weeks where there was one day of sun, followed by six days of rain. In short, there was just not enough sunshine, and it was frankly pretty brutal.
It was a hard winter (and early spring) to get through, but I survived with most of my sanity intact. The following are a few ways that I got through the gloom.
Vitamin D is important for so many things it’s difficult to list them all. It’s a crucial vitamin for bone health, for the immune system, and for reducing inflammation throughout the body. Not getting enough vitamin D is linked to a number of illnesses and health conditions. A few common symptoms of vitamin D deficiency include depression, sluggishness, fatigue, frequent colds and other seasonal illnesses, and back pain.
Yep… I had nearly all of those symptoms. I was so tired, sluggish, achy, and depressed during those gray weeks that it was difficult to do anything at all. Our main source of vitamin D is good old fashioned sunshine, and I was getting hardly any of that at all. I knew that if I was going to survive the winter without going crazy or entering a depressive hole, I was going to need to replenish my vitamin D levels.
I had been diagnosed with vitamin D deficiency once in the past — when I was living in Ottawa, Ontario (even less sunshine in the far North in the winter months). So, luckily I recognized these effects of the lack of sun and bought myself some supplements. Supplementing with vitamin D did not help right away, but over time I felt less sluggish and more able to get through my days.
Different doses of vitamin D are right for different people, so talk to a health professional you trust about how much you should take. It’s not a perfect substitute for sunshine, but if sunshine isn’t an option, you should definitely get your vitamin D levels checked, and supplement if necessary. Just make sure you purchase your supplements from a reputable source you trust. Your doctor can give you some guidance on this if you are unsure… all you have to do is ask!
Eating nutritious foods
Winter has a tendency to make me more sluggish about my food choices. I generally eat quite healthy, but in winter, I sometimes slip a little and don’t eat as many fruits and veggies as I should. This past winter, I had to force myself to eat healthier, and I’m glad I did. Eating more fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds made me feel better overall, and made the lack of sunshine more tolerable. Plus, I had more energy and did not feel as depressed on those really gray days.
Even when it’s cold and gray outside, taking a walk can do your body and mind a lot of good. The great outdoors is highly therapeutic, and even when you’re not soaking in sun rays, a walk in the fresh air can help to clear your head and energize you. Exercise of any kind also releases endorphins, so you’ll find yourself feeling better the more you walk. Aim for at least half an hour each day. I walk my son to and from daycare, so that helped greatly, and really made the season more bearable.
Oh, and when the sun did peek out, I made sure to make the most of it and got out in it as much as I could!
During the long, cold, winter and rainy, dismal spring, one of the things that helped me the most was being creative. I like to draw and paint, and spending time working on my art in the evenings shook me out of my funk and filled me full of creative energy. These art sessions also gave me something to look forward to. When I was in the middle of my workday, feeling exhausted and run down, I would think about the unfinished piece I had waiting for me that evening, and that brought me joy.
To me, music is one of the most uplifting and therapeutic things on the planet. I made sure to have some playing as often as possible during those gray days. Sometimes, I chose music to match the grayness that faced me… it was good catharsis. Other days, I would put on music that was bright, exuberant, and loud. This was also highly beneficial… even though it was gray outside it was bright and energetic in the room!
All these things combined helped me get through a season with very little sun. What do you do when it’s gray outside and you’re feeling down?