Tips For Beating the Winter Blues (Or Any Blues For That Matter)

Photo by Holly Mandarich on

Photo by Holly Mandarich on

Are you struggling with a problem in life that could possibly be improved by mindset?

Here’s why I’m thinking about this right now.

I’m looking out the window and we are totally fogged in. This year has been a wet one here, and it’s got me feeling the winter blues already.

My knee-jerk reaction is to think: “Ugh! Winter! I can’t stand the cold and dark. Time to buy a one-way ticket to Buenos Aires.

Actually I take great pleasure in saying the Buenos Aires threat aloud, and my husband rolls his eyes, because I actually did that one year.

I’ve struggled with the winter blues for a long time, so over the years I’ve had to research and try new survival strategies.

Especially when I lived in Portland, Oregon. The record there for continuous rainfall is 29 days. No joke.

Some years that strategy was salsa dancing lessons and bourbon. (Just kidding. Kind of.)

Other years, it was a February trip to Mexico. (The only downside was that re-entry was brutal.)

Then I discovered this article, “Life in the Norwegian Town Where the Sun Doesn't Rise” by Kari Leibowitz in The Atlantic.

A psychology researcher, she used a Fulbright Scholarship to live a year in Tromsø, Norway, a town where the “Polar Night” lasts all winter (i.e. the sun never rises), and yet its residents experience remarkably low rates of seasonal depression.

Leibowitz wanted to discover why.

At the end of the year, her conclusion was that mindset had a lot to do with it.

People in Tromsø didn’t necessarily view winter as the worst season and summer as the best.

“Almost everyone I spoke with—in casual conversations, at parties, over psychology-department lunches at the university—had a theory as to why their city flourished during the Polar Night,” she writes.

“Some people swore by cod-liver oil, or told me they used lamps that simulated the sun by progressively brightening at a specific time each morning. Others attributed their winter well-being to community and social involvement, Tromsø’s wealth of cultural festivals, or daily commutes made by ski.

Most residents, though, simply talked about the Polar Night as if it wasn’t a big deal. Many even expressed excitement about the upcoming season and the skiing opportunities it would bring.”

How could I apply the tactics from the residents of Tromsø to here, 2000 miles south? (Okay, now I feel like a wimp.)

Since I'm definitely not drinking cod-liver oil, I could:

1. Find some ways – immediately – to boost my social involvement.

2. Make the extra effort to be active outdoors, and appreciate the beauty of winter as I'm out there.

3. Notice whenever I’m having the thought, “I hate the cold and dark!” – and find another way to think about it. For example, Leibowitz said that one of her friends in Tromsø, a transplant from Australia, refused to call winter mørketid, or “dark time.” Instead, she’d use the alternative name, which meant “blue time,” appreciating the beautiful shades of blues that filled the sky from not-quite rising sun.

I could spend more time thinking about how cozy it is in winter by the fire, the special quality of light, the beauty of the snow in the mountains.

There are amazing findings about the power of mindset.

One of my favorite examples is from researcher Alia Crum. One of her studies showed that hotel employees who began viewing cleaning rooms as exercise lost weight and decreased their blood pressure, compared to those who saw it only as work.

What in life right now feels like a big struggle for you?

How could a change in mindset bring you some new openness and possibility in it?

P.S. If you want even more ideas about changing your mindset, I recommend Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck. She is the originator of the very useful fixed mindset vs. growth mindset concept, explained in this short video.