Winter stew

Seven specific ways to beat the winter blues

At this time of year, everyone is writing about how to keep anxiety under control now the weather has turned and the nights are drawing in. This is useful, unless you live in the Southern Hemisphere, in which case you have to archive it for six months.

What I am less excited about is the content of many of them. Everyone says "make a winter stew". It is the ultimate cure-all, but also a difficult one to action. Which winter stew should I make and why am I making it?

In this post, I want to explore some specific actions you can take that may make you feel better this winter.

Go out on your lunch break

If you are working in a 9-5 job, you can easily find that you go to work in the dark, come home in the dark, and only see the sun on the weekend.

This is a real problem because sunlight is good for body and mind, even in the cold. Therefore it is important to make time to go out on your lunch break. You could walk to a sandwich shop a little further away, or if you want to keep the cost down, just go for a walk, with or without your lunch.

Do your Christmas shopping in person

It is easy to do your entire Christmas shopping on Amazon. It has a lot of appeal: the shops are full of people happily engaged in their annual spending frenzy, and picking your way through the crowds can be tedious and overwhelming.

But doing all your shopping from your sofa has disadvantages too. You spend less time outside. You miss out on the social contact of dealing with shop assistants. Dare I suggest that the Christmas lights are quite nice to look at too.

If you do not fancy fighting the crowds, consider doing your shopping at 11am on a Sunday morning. Nobody is in town at that time, even in the run-up to Christmas.

Plan a New Year's celebration

The idea of celebrating at New Year is an entirely arbitrary one. There is no significant event on a solar level. It is just a date we picked at random. But arbitrary celebrations are really just as important as any other. They remind us that while we could celebrate any time, having a reminder makes it easier.

Take Valentine's Day for example. I could be romantic to my wife any day of the year. But if I forget, Valentine's Day will remind me to make sure I do it at least once. New Year is the same. It's a reminder that we should celebrate.

It does not have to be a big party, meal out or overcrowded pub. Your celebration can take any form. While I do have a party these days, before I had social anxiety under control, I spent years with my annual tradition of sitting down and watching The Matrix. It was an evening I gave myself a break each year: I did not have to do anything, I could just sit and watch a bit of science fiction.

Similarly, I have spent a very pleasurable New Year's Eve sitting on a friend's sofa watching junk television together. Whatever form of celebration you choose, make sure it is something you would enjoy doing.

Do a festive Parkrun

Parkrun is a free 5km organised run that takes place at 9am every Saturday morning. There are events at most parks across the UK and increasingly across the rest of the world as well.

Parkrun is always a good thing to do. But did you know that they run a special event on Christmas Day and New Year's Day? These are a lot of fun. People dress up and everyone has a good time. It is a brilliant way to start the day; getting some fresh air and exercise.

Write a year review

Winter makes it easy to feel down about ourselves. But if we were to be honest with ourselves, we probably have done things to be proud of this year. Even if it is making a small change or working on tackling our anxiety.

A good way to remind ourselves of this is to write a short yearly review. I do this every year, trawling back through my personal blog to remind myself of all the nice things that have happened this year. Most people do not maintain a blog, but a diary or calendar (or your memory) will do fine.

Have a clear-out

There is something therapeutic about having a clear-out. It is not just physical goods I feel I have offloaded when I sort through all my stuff and dump a load of it at the local charity shop. I also feel like I have taken a load of my mind as well. Plus, I have helped a good cause.

Make this specific winter stew

I could not finish this article without fixing the problem I identified at the start: that nobody gives you a specific winter stew to make or reason why you should make it.

So make this sausage and root vegetable stew from River Cottage. Or, if you would prefer a vegan option, try this pinto bean chilli. I like River Cottage recipes because they take ages.

Why is this a good thing? Because we want make our winter stew mindfully. Take some time out for yourself, put your phone on silent and fully engage your mind in making the stew. Block the world out for an hour and reap the benefits of some self-care.

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Published 11 November 2016. Written by Chris Worfolk.

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