Ten Ways to Kindle Light in the Cold Dark Season

Photo by John Flannery

By Elaine Mansfield

We made it through the holidays and the darkest days, but this winter we’ve faced unrelenting cold in the northeast. With an empty chair at the table or a person we love who is fragile and ill, cold weather can be as confining and discouraging as the dark.

Limited daylight brings a threat of Seasonal Affective Disorder to everyone, but it can add to the depressive effects of grief. Social gatherings evaporate as the flu spreads. Taking the dog or yourself for a walk or getting outside to shovel requires major will power. Avoiding the cold means staying home and not seeing friends. It might mean being alone when you’d rather have company. It might mean being shut in by yourself when you’re ill or sad.

So how do we survive these cold dark days? I hope some of these ideas help or encourage you to imagine your own solutions.

  1. Read an uplifting novel: Ask a friend or librarian for a recommendation. A good book is a way to travel in time, in space, or in the imagination. A mini-holiday.
  2. Join a hospice bereavement group or talk to a counselor about the challenges you face. They’ve heard it all and can help you survive the roughest times. Maybe you aren’t sure you want to expose your feelings to others. I felt like that until I attended my first bereavement group with other widowed women. We had so much to share and so much to give each other. Our group became a supportive sisterhood.
  3. Bring flowers into your daily life–bright blossoms that make you smile. An $8 bouquet from a grocery store can bring color to your life for a few weeks.
  4. For more color, set up a jigsaw puzzle on a card table for those long dark evenings. Handcrafts, needlework, watercolors, or a painting class can bring unexpected joy and renewal. Or get a birdfeeder and enjoy cardinals and blue jays. Color energizes us in this white and brown season.
  5. Pile on the layers and spend time outside. Being outside midday even for a short time lifts Seasonal Affective Disorder blues and soothes “cabin fever.”
  6. Call a friend who understands you’re struggling and invite them to join you for coffee or even a walk in a shopping mall. Or just talk. No, you aren’t a drag. Yes, they want to be with you even if you’re sad. If you’d rather be alone, that’s OK, too.
  7. Listen to music and move. Sway to classical or rock favorites or find an exercise video on Youtube. Sometimes gentle movement works well to improve our mood. Qigong (chi gung) is a possibility or yoga (chair yoga if you have trouble walking or balancing). Any movement is good movement.
  8. Create supportive ritual. It doesn’t need to be elaborate. Light a candle dedicated to the person you love whether they’re sick or have died. Say their name. Let the tears flow if they need to. Don’t forget to light a candle dedicated to your own well-being.
  9. Some people like to travel, but for others traveling brings its own challenges, even with friends. If you’re a caregiver or a patient, you might not have freedom to travel. Experiment with short trips to a local museum (More color!). If you’re grieving and can travel, some people need to get away. Others need to stick close to home to feel safe and supported.
  10. Ask a friend to join you for a movie or concert or a Netflix evening at your house. Sometimes the silliest Marx Brothers movie is just what’s needed. Laughter is good medicine.

Notice life’s small kindnesses and pleasures—a cardinal at the birdfeeder, a cup of warm tea, a sweet card from a friend, a beautiful photograph. Spring will come, and although grief or caregiver woes won’t magically disappear, Seasonal Affective Disorder and the cold will recede. Longer days and warmer temperatures promise renewal, hope, and positive energy. It won’t be long.