Easing Winter Blues While Working From Home

I get a bit blue in winter. Working from home adds to those feelings, as while I like it, it means there's no one around to help lift my mood.

Last winter was particularly hard.

The temperature in Chicago often dropped well below zero with high winds. Many days featured nothing but gray skies. I struggled with feeling down and not very productive. I also seemed to catch every virus that crossed my path. (Not really, but it felt that way.)

This year I’m making a few changes.

If you work at home and sometimes get the winter blues, maybe these ideas will help you, too.

Your Writing Space

A few years back I finally was able to move into a place with a second bedroom that I use as a home office. As thrilled as I was to have a dedicated writing space, it took a while for it to feel right.

When I first began working from home I was more apt to write in my main living/dining room. There were more windows and I felt less like I’d been banished to a far corner all day.

Gradually, though, I’ve shifted to working mainly in my office.

The color of the walls is a warm apricot (see photo below). It helps me feel warmer on chilly days. And I discovered that if I shut the door, the room stays warmer than my main room because it has fewer windows and more inside walls. So it turns out that keeping the door closed, rather than making me feel cut off as I’d feared, makes me feel cozy.

Finally, I just bought the lamp you see in the picture.

I have another office lamp and had been using that and an overhead light that glared. While this new tulip lamp doesn't shed a lot of light, I love it.

Sunset occurs around 4:45 p.m. these days in Chicago. Turning on this spring-like lamp as the sky darkens in late afternoon helps me feel more cheerful.

It’s also great for the gloomy, gray days that are often a trademark of January, February, and March where I live.

Happily, the lamp, which I got through Home Depot, was only about $20 more than the plain banker's lamp I could have gotten.

Sleeping More

I’m trying something new this winter with sleep.

Normally I’m an early to bed early to rise person. Not shockingly early, but say 6:30 or 6:45 a.m. Usually I do my best thinking mornings, and I also like to do yoga first thing. Plus in summer I find it hard to sleep later than 6:30 anyway because the sun wakes me.

In winter, though, it’s dark at 6:30 a.m. I don’t want to get out of bed.

When I worked at my law firm, I fought that and got up anyway because I had morning commitments. I carried that approach over when I started working mainly at writing. But it often left me feeling draggy (not sure that’s a real word, but it’s how I felt).

Now instead if I feel exhausted when the alarm goes off I give myself another 30 minutes. Often after 15 or so I’m awake and out of bed, and I feel much better. I've also shifted the time when I go to sleep to 15-20 minutes later.

So far, that’s led to me feeling more relaxed, less stressed, and happier. I think it's because I’m not fighting what my body seems to want and need.

I’m hoping that will help me stay healthier this winter as well.

Exercising Outside

Despite disliking the cold (I know, I know, why do I live in Chicago? Because I love it all the same), I try to go outside every day and walk at least thirty minutes. Often that’s split between a walk to my business mailbox address and back or to a coffee shop and back.

It almost always helps my mood, and it helps me stay in shape.

Some days I don’t get out until late in the day, though, and those usually are the days I start feeling blue. Because of that, I now try to get out by 2 p.m. every day.

This new plan has an exception, though. Last year I went out each day despite that it was often below zero with a high windchill. This year if it’s zero or below and I’ve been out the day before, or will be out the next day, I plan to skip going outside if I don’t need to be anywhere.

Instead I’ll go down to the workout room.

There are large windows there, so I’ll be getting some light, and I can walk on the treadmill to get exercise. But I don’t need to push myself be out in the intense cold and wind that wears me down.

I’m hoping that change, too, will help me stay healthier and happier.

Seeing People In Person

Part of why I teach legal writing and research is because when the semester is in session I’m guaranteed to see people—my students and sometimes other professors—once or twice a week.

But that’s still not a lot of contact with people. Also, there are weeks when most of my work is grading papers, not meeting with students or teaching.

This year I’m trying to build in more times to get together with people in person. Last night I met with a new book group I belong to for dinner. And as I write this, I’m at a Barnes and Noble café with three other writers.

I took an L train here plus walked nearly mile in twenty-degree weather toting my laptop. From a purely time management standpoint it probably didn’t make sense. I could write as much or more at home. But it felt great to have some company. Especially because every other day this week I worked at home alone.

My other plan this year is to add one more coffee, lunch, or dinner date to my schedule that is purely social.

I already have one friend I have dinner with once a week. In the past I’ve certainly gotten together with other friends in winter but not as regularly as I want to. This year my goal is to make sure each week to see 1-3 friends whose company I enjoy.

If you have other ideas for a more cheerful winter, please let me know.

That's all for today. Until next Friday, when I'll talk about ways to overcome fears of failing as a writer

L.M. Lilly

2 thoughts on “Easing Winter Blues While Working From Home”

  1. Don’t forget to take vitamin D over the winter period. That was a game changer for me. Your serotonin levels get low if you lack vitamin D. That makes me SAD and irritable and erodes my self discipline. Vitamin B can also make a difference to your mood.
    In hindsight I realise that many of my relationships broke up around this time because I used to get so crazy in the winter. If you can also try to take a sunny break around the end of January or first two weeks of February. For Europeans, lots of places in the Mediterranean are dirt cheap this time of year as they just try to fill the beds in the off season. Cheap flight, carry on luggage, airbnb or basic studio and you are sorted. Drink your coffee on a nearly empty beach. You don’t need heat, you need sun. I’ve been to places like Tunisia, Malta, Majorca, Cyprus, Madeira around this time and temperatures are in the high teens centigrade, but pleasant and sunny. Still, now I take vitamin D I don’t need to go away so much- which is just as well with Covid.

    1. Thanks for commenting. These are great tips! I agree, sunlight makes so much difference. There aren’t many sunny, warm places that are easy or inexpensive to get to from Chicago where I live, but I’ve been doing my best to get more sunlight. I hadn’t thought about Vitamin D and mood but I may try increasing the amount I take, as I’m sure mine drops in the winter.

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