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Kentucky by Heart: We all fight the ‘winter doldrums’ at times; Kyians share their tips to lift their spirits

It’s the time of dreary weather, with cold temperatures, sometimes difficult traveling conditions, and a “stay in” mentality. And because of it, we all are prone to an intrusive condition, commonly called “winter doldrums.”

I’m not talking about the much more serious medical condition, seasonal affective disorder (SAD). I’ll leave that to medical experts and not make light of it. Rather, I mean the common uneasiness — the “downcast” feeling — experienced because of the items mentioned in the first sentence.

(Sketch contributed by Suzanne Isaacs)

I sometimes fight the doldrums, too, and with at least some success. Here are a few strategies I use to stay more “perked up” during this season.

First, knowing from my research that the lack of light contributes to the doldrums, I do what I can to mitigate the issue. The sun rises with a good view at our kitchen table, so I park myself there often while I read. Even a small amount of sun helps. I love working in the yard, so when it gets warm enough and even a smidgeon of sunniness appears, I slip outside for a few minutes of reprieve and pick up fallen branches, trim dead plantings, or do other quick snatches of activity. It gives me a quick burst of energy as I inhale the brisk air; I gather a small sense of productivity. And, the practice cuts down on some of the later early springtime yard work.

Walking almost always boosts my mood, in part because I know it is a healthy activity. Sometimes, I bundle up in warm clothing and walk around the neighborhood. That, or I drive to the local recreation center and walk inside around an oval track. Fortunately, the upstairs track there has a large window, allowing for sunlight to shine through on one side, at least. For extra walking motivation, I wear a pedometer and try daily to accumulate at least seven thousand steps.

Doing creative, or “newish” things help me, too. I’m learning the Spanish language, or at least, how to read it. It taxes my mind and generates a practical skill I can use. My wife and I recently took a day trip to Warsaw, Kentucky, to eat at a recommended restaurant called Jewells on Main. We met new people, saw new terrain, and enjoyed the “new” food. Upbeat time, indeed—no doldrums on this day, and more trips are planned.

I try to use the winter season to connect with old friends. Phone calls, messages, and even visits are usually win-win, hopefully, good for the recipients and good for my mood, too. Sometimes we forget how important those interactions are.

Some fellow Kentuckians told me about how THEY handle the threat of potential winter blues. “Plant or have bulb flowers inside for a bit of spring,” suggested Stephanie Brown, of Webster County. “Look at gardening catalogs to dream of flowers and gardens to be planted in the spring.”

Rita Setness (Photo provided)

I mentioned that walking works for me, and others agreed about it in their lives. Rae King, of Lakeside Park, said: “A walk on a cold day is amazing. It’s usually pretty quiet, you warm up for ten minutes or so, and your body and mind feel great when you are done. Then hit the library for a stack of books.” For Rita Setness, Nicholasville, “walking with a purpose helps me beat the winter doldrums.” She started out for reasons of personal health and set goals. In time, she started collecting pledges for her miles and now gives the money she gathers to a group called International Rescue Committee, buying “newborn kits.” She concluded by saying: “It gets me out on dreary days when I would say ‘the heck with it’ if left up to me alone.”

Jill Snyder, of Wilmore, offered a service endeavor that summons a deep passion of hers—helping victims of sex trafficking. It’s called the “Refuge for Women Give Back Project,” where backpacks for the homeless are put together—a gesture to help others by a group that is BEING helped. She characterized it as “a key piece for the women and helps transition their mindsets from being victims to helpers.” If interested in helping and/or learning more about Refugeforwomen.org, email Jill at jill.snyder@refugeforwomen.org.

Lexington resident and Green Bay Packer fan Steve Schmoker suggested that we should simply embrace the winter weather for getting in a good mood. “Go skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, sledding, or snow tubing,” he said. “Build a snowman or a snow fort. Have a snowball fight. Make snow angels. Of course, these mostly depend on having enough snow.”

Steve Flairty is a teacher, public speaker and an author of seven books: a biography of Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and six in the Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes series, including a kids’ version. Steve’s “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes #5,” was released in 2019. Steve is a senior correspondent for Kentucky Monthly, a weekly NKyTribune columnist and a former member of the Kentucky Humanities Council Speakers Bureau. Contact him at sflairty2001@yahoo.com or visit his Facebook page, “Kentucky in Common: Word Sketches in Tribute.” (Steve’s photo by Ernie Stamper)

Creativity is crucial, and Louisville author Kevin Gibson has several ideas to counteract winter blahs. “Do what you love to do or always wanted to do when stuck indoors,” he explained. “Write that book. Start learning an instrument. Paint. Cook new recipes. Get into a groove that spring hopefully won’t break.”

For those who are handy around the house, former school superintendent Jim Palm avoids the seasonal doldrums by catching up on do-it-yourself projects. Jim is currently renovating two bedrooms and bedroom furniture in his house in Claryville, and he frequently does jobs for his family members outside his home.

In Woodford County, Sheri Wood encourages people to engage with people out in public, and her favorite way is to be a part of the local Midway Toastmasters, where the members learn to speak before groups and, she said, to “challenge yourself” by learning new skills. Reverend Griffin Ryan, of the First Presbyterian Church, in London, noted two ways she handles winter emotional challenges. One is to enjoy her newborn child and the other is to use the time to make copious and detailed plans for the upcoming year. She added that these measures have also helped her deal with the recent loss of her brother.

Here are more tips Kentuckians gave to turn back winter doldrums:

• Do yoga and meditate
• Play a banjo (suggested by folk singer Michael Johnathon)
• Get your mind off self
• If the kids are gone, stay inside with “your guy”
• Hot bath with Epsom salt
• Declutter the house
• Go to Florida or find a beach anywhere
• Hang out at the barn
• Enjoy the backyard bird feeding station
• Learn a new language
• Find a nursing home and visit
• Start a ministry “where your feet are planted”
• Adopt a pet from a shelter

I might add that one can also take time to read archived Kentucky by Heart stories by yours truly (tsk, tsk.)

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One Comment

  1. Rae says:

    Thanks for the positive piece to help bring some peace to us! I like positive stuff!

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