Coping with Winter

This morning, as I was shoveling snow for the fifty-millionth time this year, I found myself thinking, how are we ever going to make it through this? As of this writing, it has been the fourth snowiest February on record in Minnesota, and it’s only Valentine’s Day, and every Minnesotan knows that you can’t really be sure it won’t snow until about Memorial Day.

Winter takes a toll, no matter how much of a Midwesterner you are, and this year has been especially tough. I think we’re all a little worn out from snow days, shoveling, cars getting stuck… 

So, how to cope? In my work as a therapist, I work with people to look at how their thoughts, feelings, and behavior all influence each other. Basically, if you can change the way you think and/or act, you can change the way you feel. So, if you want to feel just a bit better about winter, here are some tips:

Look for the bright side of this snow.

One of my favorite pages on Facebook is my neighborhood group. It’s been especially good lately because every time we get snow, there are dozens of posts on how someone was surprised to come home and find their sidewalk shoveled, how a group of strangers pushed someone’s car out of the snow, volunteers to shovel for neighbors who can’t… The snow brings out the best in people. 

I also love that we get to be able to remind pretty much anyone to “drive safely.” We all know that “drive safely” isn’t really meant to remind a person to drive safely. We all know we need to slow down. No, around here we have somehow figured out how to say “I care about you— don’t die” to anyone from the clerk at Target to our closest friends without getting all mushy and emotional. Nice work, Midwesterners! 

Get some sunshine (pretend or real).

I’ve heard multiple doctors say that pretty much everyone in Minnesota has a Vitamin D deficiency in the winter. That’s because there isn’t much sun, and when there is sun, it is too cold to spend much time outside uncovered. Vitamin D affects your mood and energy — too little, and your mood suffers.

A lot of people find light therapy helpful, and many insurances will cover a special light box that is meant to boost your mood in the winter. You can also buy one on your own, but be sure to talk to your doctor about whether there could be any problems for you using it. 

Otherwise, there are some easy, free ways to spend some time in the sunshine. One of my favorite places on a sunny winter day is the Como Zoo and Conservatory in St. Paul. It is free (donations accepted) and full of flowers, tropical animals in one part, and the light shines in beautifully. It’s wonderful if you have mobility or pain issues that prevent you from being outside in the cold and snow.  

Try something new.

One of the difficulties with winter is that it feels like nothing will ever change, that we will be stuck inside this never-ending season forever. That’s not true, but it can feel that way. One way to prevent this is to try something new. Maybe there’s a hobby you’ve been meaning to try, or a new attraction in town (Keg and Case, anyone?), or something outside your comfort zone like the tap-dancing happy hour at Can Can Wonderland… Or maybe you can even take up a new outdoor winter sport like snow-shoeing or cross-country skiing — you can rent skis and snowshoes at Tamarack Nature Center in White Bear Township, in case you want to try it out. 

So, next time you’re out shoveling and wondering just how much more winter you can take, keep in mind that if you change your mindset, get some sunshine, or try something new, you might just feel a bit better about this long winter. Drive safely, everyone!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Erin Brandel Dykhuizen, MA, MSW, LICSW is a psychotherapist who offers counseling for adults with PTSD, trauma symptoms, and chronic pain in St. Paul, Minnesota. She also works with individuals via remote, online counseling throughout the state of Minnesota. You can schedule an appointment and learn more about Erin’s Twin Cities therapy practice at erinbdlicsw.com, or reach Erin by phone at 651-998-8991.