Feeling blue? The you-know-what that starts with p got you down? You aren’t alone. Liquor sales are up. Many people report insomnia, lack of interest in activities they previously did daily or weekly, and downright depression. I know at least three people who have begun counseling because of foggy brains and depression. One woman told me she usually reads two books a week, but now she can’t concentrate on one a month. Writers can’t get words on a page. Artists can’t slap paint on canvas. Dancers slump at the barre. Possibly the approaching holidays will cheer people, but being inside during the cold, dark months might cancel out that temporary high.
Here are some ideas to get you through the cold months, but one size won’t fit all. I hope one or two will resonate with you. You can get outside. You don’t need to stay cooped up. Seriously.
1. Get outside yourself. By that I mean, call a friend or write an old friend. Zoom or Skype or Facetime with friends or family. Donate food or clothing to the Salvation Army or other local nonprofit. Take a dinner or homemade bread or a dessert to a shut-in. Volunteer to pick up and deliver To-Go groceries or prescriptions to people who cannot get out.
2. Feed the birds. Buy a bird identification book and learn about the birds around you. We have a feeder, with a suet basket, on a pole in our yard. If you’re in an apartment, maybe with a balcony, consider hanging one on a plant hook. Lately the blue jays have mobbed the feeder, scaring away the chickadees and nuthatches. Bob Duchesne, my go-to expert on birds, described exactly that in his Bangor Daily News column “Good Birding” recently and said the phenomenon is widespread, something to do with the lack of food farther north. I was amazed to learn that blue jays stash food in secret spots like squirrels do. My bird books didn’t contain that tidbit.
3. Take a drive or go on a hike. In Maine, we are fortunate to have many outdoor places to hike and walk. Here on the small St. George Peninsula alone, there are at least five walking/hiking trails. Nearby are also public beaches where we have the ocean view as well. My husband and dog and I walked this Bobolink Trail in the Georges River Land Trust Riverview Hayfields Preserve not long ago. This field is one of the last remaining open hay fields on the St. George peninsula. It and provides critical habitat and a ‘flyway’ for migrating birds that feed and rest along the two rivers. Don’t like hiking? Go for a drive in the country. Find back roads and explore. You might be surprised. Grab your mask and head out.
4. Take photos on your outing. Sometimes even a small, beautiful thing can elicit wonder. Once the leaves dropped this fall, I found this small bird nest in a bush next to a path where I walk the dog daily. It’s empty of baby birds, but full of seeds and little berries. I guessed the hoarder was a red squirrel who forgot it was there. The nest and contents are still there, but today covered with snow. On another walk one winter after a freezing rain, I snapped this shot of winterberries coated in ice. Instead of putting photos in regular photo albums, we’ve lately started doing a photobook a year created at an online company.
5. Exercise. See above for walking. Some gyms are open, but the idea of treadmills and stationary bikes while wearing a mask doesn’t appeal to me. I’ve discovered SilverSneakers.com, which is free online for those over sixty-five. They offer in-person classes, but not where I live. On days I don’t walk outdoors, I’m doing my exercise online, sometimes live and sometimes on video.
6. Laugh. My husband and I were clearing shelves and getting rid of books we’d read and wouldn’t revisit. We discovered our old collection of Calvin & Hobbes books from the 1990’s. We had to reread before ditching them. For those who don’t know Bill Watterson’s comic strip, it covers the misadventures and sometimes insightful Calvin, a mischievous and extremely imaginative six-year-old, and Hobbes, his stuffed tiger. The strip often veered into philosophical insights, many of which were prescient about today’s world. We reread, we laughed, we read again. And now of course we can’t ditch them, even the one with the corner chewed by our Sarah when she was a teething puppy. You can find these compilation books still. But only if you need a good, eye-watering laugh.
7. Decorate. The holidays, remember? If you don’t celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah, decorate for winter. Create your own ornaments or greenery at your door. I have no talent for decoration or crafts, but my winter box here is passable and lasts all winter—with watering. Here’s how. Purchase a florist green foam block. Soak it before you start adding greenery. Cut small fir and pine branches and stick them in the foam. I purchased holly and some artificial berry branches and added those for color. Later in January, when the winterberries appeared, I added those. No one but us will see our Christmas tree or candles on the mantle this year, but even the act of opening the boxes and putting every cherished item in its traditional place brightens my mood. And the lights and bright colors will continue to make me/us happy.
If anyone has further ideas of how to help ourselves get through the dark winter, please comment.