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A few years ago — before the pandemic — I asked my sister for a therapy lamp for Christmas, and she delivered. The thing is massive, sized somewhere between a MacBook and a toddler. Even the “low” setting is eye-wateringly bright, and oh my god does it soothe my sun-loving soul in the D.C. winter. Even if it has a placebo effect (although studies suggest light therapy actually works), the laughter alone is enough to sustain me through my least favorite season.
The lamp became a particular necessity last winter, when the pandemic felt the most bleak. Each morning for 20 minutes, my roommate and I basked in our respective lamps from opposite sides of our kitchen table. Giggling, she’d switch on her tiny light box while I flipped the supersized switch on mine, cackling about how it was time for my daily sun worship.
This year is different in many ways: I’m vaccinated, and so are my loved ones. I’m lucky to have a job I love and a support system for when things get tough. But the leaves have barely begun to turn, and I’m already wondering how I’ll get through another winter of 5 p.m. sunsets behind my laptop.
And I’m not alone. We asked readers how they’re feeling about another pandemic winter, and many of you said you’re feeling cautiously hopeful, but still anxious. Vaccine hesitancy and variants are still fueling the pandemic in the United States, economic recovery has been slow for women in particular, and the interminable pace of “returning to normal” has only exacerbated burnout.
But there is some good news: Because the timing of seasonal mood changes is so predictable, there’s a lot people can do to stay ahead of it, says Ani Kalayjian, a therapist based in New Jersey. The National Institute of Mental Health recommends starting treatment before the onset of winter to help prevent or reduce the severity of symptoms. Getting into a routine now can make it easier to keep it up.
We asked you to share your best tips for enduring another pandemic winter — besides purchasing a therapy lamp the size of a billboard.
But first, we should note these tips aren’t meant as a substitute for clinical care. If you’ve tried some of these methods and your symptoms are still drastically impacting your life, it may be time to seek professional help, Kalayjian says. Click here to find some resources for free or reduced cost therapy.
Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
I’m trying to emotionally plan beyond the holiday season — last January really got me. With a wave of covid cases and cold weather that made it hard to see friends outside, I felt isolated in a way I hadn’t at any point so far in the pandemic. My mental health took a big hit, and I think I’m still dealing with the impact of that period on my emotional well-being today.
This year, I want to prepare myself better for the harshness of winter by identifying friends I’ll be able to spend time with and cultivating hobbies I can enjoy on my own indoors. I’m also trying to embrace the seasons more fully to find some peace in the changes in nature and in myself.
Cara Kupferman, 23, Boston and Washington D.C.
For the past few years, my mom and I have made a tradition out of knitting a sweater together each winter. But this year, although we’re both still knitting sweaters, it feels especially important to get out of the house. There’s a fiber art center a few towns away that offers weekend weaving classes, and it feels like a great opportunity to learn more about the rich fiber traditions of my home state.
Cecilia Nowell, Lily contributor
I made myself sign up for a rock-climbing class once a week in January so that I am forced to leave my home/workplace at least once a week.
January is historically a terrible month for my mental health. I have some diagnosed PTSD for a handful of car accidents, all of which happened in the winter. This year, my husband is moving three states away without me, and our dog is going with him! I will be truly by myself for all of January, so I’m trying to get ahead of my own brain. The adage has always been true for me: I feel loads happier and more energetic when I’m exercising regularly.
Abbey Kutlas-Pricket, 25, Bloomington, Ind.
I’ll be getting a library card! The library provides more than books; it is a hub for information, like tax preparation and community events, a place for individuals to access the Internet at no cost, and it is welcoming to all.
Michelle Nabers, 26, Parkersburg, W.Va.
I’m keeping myself busy. I have several trips planned out, including a month visiting my mom in San Diego and a Vermont excursion with friends. I’m also taking on some pet-sitting gigs, which help me get out of my darkish apartment and explore different parts of the city. And don’t furry friends always make things better?
Paola Ruano, multiplatform editor for By The Way
The number one thing for me is to be aware of the fact that in wintertime, the nature hibernates, so I should do the same. For me, it is very important to accept the lower energy levels and to give myself permission to do less. It’s not always easy, but when I can do that, it feels liberating.
The society in which we live is so goal-oriented (#neverstopgrinding) and often people’s sense of self-worth relies on achievements. We are taught that slowing down is a bad thing. But the world doesn’t end if we slow the pace a little.
Noora Paananen, 24, Turku, Finland
I’m going to work less. I have been privileged to work in one of the industries that not only transitioned easily to remote work, but where the workload increased. But last winter, my work became not just a routine; it became an obsession.
I am by no means the only person experiencing burnout during this earthshaking year. And so this pandemic winter, my goal isn’t to distract myself or lean into work when the frigid weather hits and the days shorten. Even if we’re still in a scary space, I want to live in that space. I want to pick up a new hobby. Read more books. Perfect a bread recipe. Keep in touch with friends, whatever the safest way is. I want to watch too much on Netflix. I want to beat a video game. In our productivity-driven world, it’s unfortunately on us to moderate. If I didn’t properly moderate last year, this next winter, I will.
Sarah Jeanne Terry, 34, Chicago
I’m being vulnerable and letting my circle know I might need some extra support this winter and in turn asking others how I can best support them.
Katie Devlin, 32, Columbus, Ohio
One of the symptoms of seasonal depression or winter blues is hypersomnia, or the inclination to sleep more. Have discipline about waking up on time, even if you feel the need to oversleep. Try to be strict in waking up and going to sleep at the same time and disconnecting from phones and laptops and other devices before bed.
Ani Kalayjian, therapist in New Jersey
I’m lucky to live near one of my dearest friends (a four-minute walk). We both had a hard time last winter and have talked about how we can lean on each other for support this upcoming winter. Last month, we started getting into the routine of starting the day at one of our houses a couple of times a week, just to get out of the house. We will make coffee, sit and chat, meditate and just ease into our days. Our thought is that by starting that routine long before the hard months of winter start, we are setting ourselves up for an easier time.
Rachel Orr, design editor for The Lily
I’m working with my therapist to refresh grounding practices, like finding new journal prompts. I have always used journaling for my mental health, and it has been helpful for me to be mindful about the things I choose to reflect on and what questions I ask myself. I work with my therapist to make sure I have a good balance of gratitude, celebrating my big and small wins, and also reflecting on the things that I can work on. With winter coming up, I know that I can get lost in the general ennui that comes with the season, so I use journaling to help keep me present and set my intentions.
Ashmi Patel, 32, Dallas
Last winter, my partner and I turned to cooking elaborate, themed meals to get through the darkest days. Italian coast in the summertime? We made fresh pasta and dressed in shorts and dresses (and turned our apartment heat way up). Fancy kids’ foods? We cooked chicken fingers and watched Disney movies. These nights became something to plan throughout the week, look forward to and relish. I can’t wait to dream up some new recipes and themes this winter.
Lena Felton, deputy editor of The Lily
I always start my morning with a mindful check-in. I see where my body is tight, and I stretch it. Next, I write in the Gratitude app what I’m grateful for: Today I’m grateful I could sit up, I don’t have as many pains — just focusing on all the little things. After that, I watch some comedy to make myself laugh. Even if you’re feeling down, laughing improves your mood. It tricks your mind that wants to be in bed.
Ani Kalayjian, therapist in New Jersey
I’m scheduling regular group call check-ins with family and friends. Many of us have come to the realization that the social, emotional and mental effects of the pandemic, racial injustice and unemployment have settled in lately. Most of us are just now experiencing the onset of stress and dissociation. It’s no coincidence that winter is coming and we’re all starting to get the blue feels.
Maen Rivera, 40, Fairfax, Va.
Some winter days, a run is the only thing that gets me outdoors. There’s something so liberating about embracing the terrible weather instead of avoiding it. I sign up for a spring race every year, counting backward so my training schedule carries me through the winter. My favorite training programs are the free plans from legendary running coach Hal Higdon. There’s one for every experience level and distance. Don’t forget your balaclava for the really cold days.
Hannah Good, multiplatform editor for The Lily