Beating the winter blues

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February 10, 2003 // UPDATED 4:26 pm - April 27, 2007
By: Stephanie Watson
Stephanie Watson

A couple weeks ago I woke up and looked at my outdoor thermometer -- it read 11 degrees below zero. I stood at the window, edged on the inside with fuzzy ice, and watched the androgynous bundles of fleece and down sprint from their cars to various Downtown building entrances. My eyes felt droopy and tired even though I had slept eight hours. I anticipated sitting in the cold of my car and starting the engine with the dread normally reserved for first-time skydivers. Denying that I would soon have to brave the cold and drive to a meeting, I sat down in the minuscule triangle of sun slanting in the window and tried to estimate the number of days until spring. I had felt winter's icy fingers on my neck for the past week or so, but now it was official: I had the winter blues.

This wasn't a big shock. I've felt a creeping insanity every Minnesota winter since I was 15. Over these years, though, I've developed an arsenal against my mild SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) that definitely takes the edge off it. February can be a bleak month.

If you feel the winter crazies coming on, you might want to try some of my tricks.

- Go swimming. Pretty much any hotel with a sunny pool area and hot tub will do, although there are some pretty swank Downtown hotels that let people use the pool for a day rate. I live across the street from the Marriott Courtyard Hotel, which has a whole water park complete with huge, colorful waterslides. They charge 20 bucks a day per person for access to the water park, which isn't bad considering you can come and go all day long.

- Explore aromatherapy. There's something very uplifting about those strong-smelling essential oils you can get at the health-food store. I've found tangerine oil mixed into a plain lotion to be an energizing treat for my dry hands and limp spirit. A few drops of eucalyptus or rosemary oil in my bath water can elevate my mood as well. If you want to, you can read a book about aromatherapy to find out which oils combat winter blues. But if you're lazy like me, try my selection method: smell all the little bottles and pick the ones you like.

- Eat summery fruits. Yeah, yeah, I normally veer from the pricey tropical fruit section at Cub too. But on your next trip to the supermarket, splurge in the name of winter cheer and buy a couple of mangoes, a star fruit, a watermelon, and a bunch of those tiny bananas. That first bite of mango might make you feel sunnier.

- Exercise. If it's not too cold I like to walk outside and get some sunlight while I'm moving around. But if it's too dang cold, I do a yoga or Pilates video in my living room. I don't spend any money on fancy videos; I just go to the library and check out a couple at a time.

- Host some flora in your home. There's nothing like bright flowers in the winter to cheer me up. But as buying bouquets from Lund's every week can get pricey, I'm going to try forcing branches this year. I've never done it before, but supposedly if you bring some branches of flowering deciduous shrubs and trees inside this time of year, you can force them to bloom or leaf out early. Good branches to cut and start forcing in February include hazelnut, elm, maple and plum.

- Put on fake tanning lotion. I admit it: When I'm missing the sun somethin' awful, I slather this stuff on. It does make you feel sunnier, but make sure you spread the lotion evenly or prepare yourself to sport weird orange drip marks for a couple of weeks.

- Spend your lunch hour in a sunny spot. When I worked at American Express Downtown, I would trek over to the IDS Crystal Court almost every winter day to eat my bag lunch in the sunny atrium. There are trees, the sound of water from the fountain, sun streaming in and people sans down jackets and mittens. If you sit still and close your eyes, you can feel the warmer months approaching.

The warmer months are coming. Soon I'll be able to walk with my husband to the farmer's market again, or hang out down by the river with a book. I'll rescue my bike from the garage corner where I junked it last October and ride over to Nicollet Island. I'll put my yellow hammock back up on the balcony and get sunburned taking a nap in it. In my dream, I'll laugh at the memory of winter.

Stephanie Watson is a freelance writer and Downtown renter. E-mail her at