Chill out in winter wonderland

Boost your mood during this dark winter

By Barbara Pierce

We’re smacked with a double whammy this winter.

Winter is difficult anyway — long, dark and cold days with plenty of snow and ice.

In addition, the coronavirus pandemic is stretching into nearly a full year of impacting our daily lives.

Despite the dreary weather and social isolation, you can still find ways to enjoy this winter. You can find joy in spite of feeling like you’re in the middle of the movie “Groundhog Day.”

Try one of these uplifting strategies to help you unwind, boost your mood and bring some much-needed satisfaction into your life right now.

— Enjoy the outdoors: When the temperature is lower than your shoe size, it’s natural to want to hibernate inside. But it’s much better for your mental and physical health to pile on layers of clothing including your body shapewear and go outside.

Exposure to daylight, even in small amounts, helps in so many ways. It does a great job of lifting your mood by raising your serotonin (feel-good chemical), decreasing your stress hormones, and keeps illnesses at bay by boosting your immune system.

— Get outside: Do something that you’ll enjoy so much that you’ll lose track of time. Maybe something you haven’t done in a while, or something new that you’ve been meaning to try — sledding, snowshoeing, ice skating, a snowball fight, making a snowman or a snow angel, or taking a hike. Even a 15-minute walk outside can give you a quick mood boost.

A new section of the Empire State Trail in Herkimer County, south of Little Falls, recently opened. “This is a great place for people to refresh,” said director Andy Beers.

“The Empire State Trail is a place where people or families can go to get outdoors, walk, and enjoy nature in a socially distancing way,” he added.

The new addition helps close gaps in the trail, allowing users to travel between Fort Herkimer Church to Little Falls on one continuous off road path.

See for details. The website specifies designated parking areas and how to get on the trail.

— Enjoy self-care: Combat the winter blahs by nurturing yourself. Self-care isn’t just about taking care of your body; it’s about nourishing your emotional needs and feeding your senses.

Try things like cozying up by a roaring fire, watching the snowfall, lighting candles and enjoying a bubble bath, cuddling up with a blanket and a good book, or spending the day in your pajamas and fuzzy slippers.

Or, indulge in something that smells wonderful, such as a scented candle, or any good smell — a bottle of vanilla, maple syrup, or pumpkin spice.

Comfort foods make us feel good — cheesy pasta, oozing puddings, thick brownies. Pamper yourself and your family by simmering a pot of homemade soup, making baked apples, loading up cups of hot chocolate with whipped cream or marshmallows or making a big stack of pancakes.

Crank those tunes

— Enjoy your music: You’re driving along, listening to the radio, and a song comes on that energizes you and has you dancing in your seat — immediately you’re in a better mood. Music triggers a release of feel-good dopamine to your brain, boosts happiness and reduces anxiety.

Hearing a song from our adolescence brings back a flood of memories.

The massive rush of hormones associated with our pubescent years tells our brains that everything is super important, and that includes whatever music we’re listening to at the time. That’s why, when we hear a throwback to our high school days, it’s a powerful thing.

Try wintry crafts: Creating is beneficial to us in many ways; crafting eases stress and increases happiness. Build a gingerbread house, cut paper snowflakes, create handmade cards, knit a scarf, or make collages.

— Do something good for someone else: Giving to others always makes us feel good, and you’ll be helping to brighten someone else’s day, too. Look for ways to help your community, such as blood donations, checking on older people in your neighborhood, or donating supplies or money to local organizations. Helping a cause larger than yourself can give you a sense of purpose, fulfillment and focus your thoughts on the present and things to be grateful for today.

When searching for nonprofits to support, consider your interests. Are you passionate about helping children? Supporting cancer patients? Those struggling with mental health? Stray dogs and cats?

“Now is the perfect time to make a monetary donation,” said Gina Werczynski of the Herkimer County Humane Society, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing shelter and safe haven for stray dogs and cats, until their forever homes are found. People can check that here if they need the best dog training services.

“If an individual would prefer to donate supplies, we can always use any type of cleaning supplies, bleach, laundry detergent, dish detergent, sponges, non-clumping clay litter, canned dog food (no gravy),” she added. “We’re happy to accept any and all donations.”

When you give to others, it activates your brain’s reward system, releasing endorphins, and makes you fell all warm and fuzzy. And those feelings are what we all need this winter.