Rochester, NY is home to a diverse restaurant scene, amazing, warm people, intellectually stimulating universities, interesting cultural activities, and an incredibly long and brutal winter season.
It’s fair to say that I am not a winter person. The tips of my fingers get numb on any day the temperature goes below 50 and I cringe at the thought of driving in the snow. All of this aside, Upstate New York has my heart so I’ve turned to concepts in mindfulness and the “good habits” literature to try to find ways to make winter a little easier to handle.
1. “Radically Accept” the Weather: I often find myself creating a negative inner monologue around winter weather that refuses to accept that the season is a time when it’s cold and snows a lot. I’d say things to myself such as “I can’t believe my car is covered in snow again” or “Does it really have to be 20 degrees for the third week in a row?” There’s a term Marsha Linehan uses in Dialectical and Behavioral Therapy called “radical acceptance”. She talks about giving up the internal monologue that something “shouldn’t be the way it is” and radically accepting it as it already has shown itself to be. With that in mind, I try to welcome the weather with as few judgments or comparisons as possible. One task that has involved has been deleting the weather reports on other areas of the United States from my phone in an effort to quiet thoughts like “Why can’t it be more like the weather in_____”.
2. Reward the Bothersome: Think about what bothers you most about the winter. Is it when the temperature hits a certain low? Is it shoveling off your car or driving in the snow at night? Create a reward for yourself whenever the weather is particularly frustrating. For example, there’s a really decadent hot chocolate that I choose to drink only when the high of the day is below 20 degrees. Now there’s a small part of me that gets excited when the weather is particularly cold because I know I get to have my favorite hot drink. Take some time to think about a reward that fits for you—it could be that you only watch your favorite show when you have to do some shoveling or you only take a hot bath with candles after a particularly icy drive.
3. Resist the Urge to Hibernate: Unlike bears, we’re not meant to withdraw for months on end. Set aside time to plan activities during the winter that will get you out of the house and connecting with other people. There’s a lot of evidence that suggests that novelty is good for romantic relationships and mental health so use winter as an excuse to try new experiences and connect with new people. Looking for places to start? Try visiting your local library and asking them for programming options, recreational sports, cooking classes, performances, anything in your community. Creating novelty can be a powerful way to improve life satisfaction.
4. Know when to Reach Out: An estimated 5% of the population suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder which refers to recurrent mood disturbances that are linked to seasonal changes (usually worsening in the fall and winter months). If you find yourself feeling down most of the time, withdrawing from those you love, feeling disinterested in things you usually enjoy, and/or sleeping more than you typically do, it may make sense to reach out and schedule an appointment to talk with someone. Current treatments for SAD include psychotherapy, light therapy, and medication.