By Trish Russell
We know how to survive winter: put our heads down and get through the long dark months because spring is on the other side. After months of cabin fever we know the season will change and the rhythm of life will include warmer weather and the celebration of new life. Surviving winter is an accomplishment itself; one we know how to do because we did it last year.
Instead of putting our heads down and waiting for spring, what if we tried something new?
Let’s allow ourselves the possibility of thriving this winter season. Or at the very least changing our routine.
Winter tends to be a dark time because our bodies want to hibernate, spend more time idle than the rest of the year. Our constant companions are the negative thoughts brought about by life changing memories of the past. Even when we apply coping techniques, the constant battle against these thoughts wears us down.
In the warmer months we can throw on a pair of shoes and go outside, get a change of scenery. Or look up community events and plan something different for the weekend. But those options are not readily available in the isolating months of winter. As the temperature drops, so do our choices. Days and weeks and months are spent trapped in our home and place of employment, doing the same things over and over. Even when there are community events that spark an interest, the desire to go outside and travel across town is outweighed by the dreary weather, early nights, and annoying cold.
So what are we to do? Those of us living with PTSD can thrive in this season even if winter activities are unappealing. Instead of forcing myself to learn to ski or fly fish, I have given myself permission to indulge in distractions so that my brain has time to rest from the constant battle for survival.
There are three ways I distract myself during the endless winter that have helped me not only survive but thrive during this time of year.
3 Ways to Thrive in the Winter
- Discover a new hobby. With the magic of the internet we have almost anything available at our fingertips. This winter I have chosen to explore the artistic skill of painting by numbers. My skills are rudimentary and my expectations are very low; however, that is not the point. I miss the beauty of the warmer months and the paint brings color to my life that is otherwise absent. If painting is of no now interest to you, some other hobby ideas for winter are wood carving, cooking/baking, writing, or computer coding/building. For the rest of this winter try one inexpensive activity that you have always wanted to learn. Even if you choose not to continue after April at least it will have distracted you for a while.
- Find a game and play. Whether you enjoy puzzles, cards, or virtual consoles, allow yourself time each week to have fun. We schedule one night a week where we pick something we want to do. For years I have struggled with this concept. My idea of fun is going to bed early. However, I’m happy to say that four years into this practice I usually have an idea or two to bring to the table. Even if this doesn’t come naturally, try it for the rest of the winter. Again, it will at least be a change of pace from just surviving.
- Read, listen or watch a new story and discover something or someone new to you. Whether it’s through watching a television series or picking up a book from the library, explore a topic you were previously interested in or are curious about today. As for listening to something new, audiobooks and podcasts are a great way to distract your mind. I will caution with audio, I have to limit my time to 2-3 hours a week or else my mind becomes overwhelmed.
Bonus idea to thrive: move your body every day. Whether you stretch while coffee is brewing or do simple squats as you brush your teeth, choose a simple activity to get the blood flowing. Pick a movement you like and try it out for one week, see if your thought patterns change during those times.
During the winter the days may be shorter; however, we are faced with the same amount of time to manage our PTSD. Choosing to distract our mind with engaging activities we have an opportunity to thrive in a season that is usually difficult to just survive.
None of these activities replace my time with a therapist. During the winter I ensure we keep our regular meetings and when needed I call in for support. These ideas are meant to give you permission to try something new, possibly even silly. Fighting our negative thoughts day in and day out is exhausting, so anything constructive we can do to keep them at bay is worth trying at least once or twice.