Pressing Pause Podcast episode 32 When the dark and cold months feel difficult to deal with

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Welcome to Pressing Pause, the podcast for overthinkers.

I’m Gabrielle Treanor and I’m here to share with you ideas, inspiration and actions to empower you to spend less time overthinking and worrying and more time enjoying your life.


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Welcome to episode 32. Hallowe’en and Bonfire Night are over and while Christmas is on the horizon there’s also several months of short days, long nights and chilly temperatures stretching ahead of us too. When you’re the overthinking, worrying kind these dark and cold months can be a real challenge. It can be hard to feel hopeful, optimistic or positive and the world can feel a more unkind, scary, darker and colder place when the weather is like that too. 


So what we’re going to talk about in this episode is how we can deal with these months as we move from Autumn into Winter and while Spring feels like a distant dream. 


Now, it makes sense to turn to people who deal with more hours of darkness and lower temperatures than us in the UK for inspiration for how to cope, the Scandinavians. I’m pretty sure most people have heard of hygge and there may be some eye-rolling as you think I’m going to suggest that all you need to do is buy a fancy blanket and light some candles to make everything okay. I’m not, but if you want to do those things and they’ll help you feel better then, please, go right ahead! 


This episode is not a guide to hygge. But, there is a point to looking at what the Danes and other Scandinavian countries do to make the dark and cold months work for them because a) they have it darker and colder for longer than us and b) four of the top five countries in the 2018 World Happiness Report are Scandinavian – Finland, Norway, Denmark and Iceland, to be exact. The US and the UK are in 18th and 19th position respectively, in case you wondered.


What I think is essential to how well our Scandi cousins deal with the winter months is that they don’t fight it. They don’t get cross at the weather, they don’t wish it didn’t get dark so early, they don’t complain about the season, they accept it. That doesn’t mean that they give in to misery and unhappiness because they hate this time of year, it means that they accept that this is how things are, there’s nothing that can be done about what time the sun rises or sets, or how low the thermometer drops, and so instead of resisting it they work with it. 


Within their culture and way of life they have created a way of going about life that embraces the season. Instead of wishing it wasn’t dark and cold they accept that it is and use it as an opportunity to have cosy nights in, to cook delicious and comforting food, to spend time chatting, laughing and relaxing with friends. 


So what can we learn from the Scandinavians to make the dark and cold months work for us?


Well, it may sound super simple or like something your grandmother would tell you but dress for the season. The Swedes and Norwegians have a saying that there’s no such thing as bad weather just bad clothes and they have a point. When you’re cold, and especially when you’re cold and wet, it’s really hard to not feel miserable so do yourself a kindness and match your wardrobe to the weather. Thick coat, hat, scarf, gloves, boots, umbrella – whatever is needed to keep you warm and dry will also help your mood as all your attention isn’t on your hunched shoulders and damp feet. Better you’re over wrapped up and can stuff unneeded items into pockets or a bag than to be underdressed, freezing and miserable.


Okay, you’ve heard me say it before and you’ll hear me say it plenty more times to come – drop the should. Telling yourself that you shouldn’t feel fed up with the weather, that you should go out when you don’t feel like it, that you should be able to cope because other people have it harder than you, that you shouldn’t moan so much doesn’t help you. It just makes you feel worse because you’re shaming yourself for how you feel. 


First of all, how you feel is how you feel, there’s no should about it. If you’re finding the dark and cold hard to deal with recognise that it’s okay to feel this way and give yourself a break.


Then think for a moment about what you really need, what would help you feel better in this moment in time. It may be that pulling on your wellies, wrapping yourself up in waterproofs and going out for a long walk is what you need to bring you out of a bleak mood. Perhaps it’s not going straight home from work but meeting a friend for a drink in a cosy pub, or getting sweaty in a boxercise class or hot yoga session that will help you feel better.


And maybe it’s the opposite. Maybe, when you really think about it, what you need is to drop any feelings of obligation and stay home, curl up with a steaming mug of something yummy and a good book or an old movie. Or perhaps it’s inviting a couple of friends round for an evening of comfort food and conversation. 


The reason that we associate hygge with blankets, candles and hot chocolate isn’t because they’re magic ingredients in a spell to banish the dark and cold. It’s because of how they can make us feel. Imagine it’s pitch black and the rain is lashing down outside. Inside your home you’re sitting in a room with soft lighting from lamps and candles, perhaps there’s a fire burning, you’re snuggled under a blanket, perhaps a hot water bottle on your feet and your hands wrapped round a mug of hot chocolate or a bowl of soup. You’re warm, you’re dry, you’re safe and you can relax. It doesn’t matter what’s going on with the weather outside because you’re cosied up indoors. 


It’s not like we can stay inside for the next few months, there’s the small matter of getting on with life and it wouldn’t be that great for us anyway. But knowing that we can come home to our own little haven of cosiness that we create with whatever we have to hand (no special hygge candles required) can give us comfort and hope while we’re out in whatever weather the season is throwing at us.  


As at any time of year, spending time with people we like, connecting with others, is important for our wellbeing. Just because you want to hibernate until Spring doesn’t mean that you have to do it alone. Invite friends to your home, go to theirs or you could even venture outdoors to then find a corner of a welcoming venue to settle in for a few hours of conversation and laughter.


I’m not saying that any of this is a cure for seasonal affective disorder just that it could help those of us who dislike the dark and cold months to feel better about this time of year. From my personal experience, since I stopped railing against the dark mornings and early sunsets, since I stopped focusing on how much I hated the dark and wished life was different (and I did that for a long time), since I decided to accept what I couldn’t change and instead go into full on cosy mode (whether I’m indoors or out), I feel more positive and hopeful, I don’t wish time away, and I enjoy these months much more than I used to. Which means I’m probably a more cheery person for others to be around too. 


So, now it’s over to you. What can you do to help yourself through the dark and cold months? How can you make them work for you to ease your worrying and boost your wellbeing? I’d love to know, I’m @gabrielletreanor on Instagram if you want to comment on my posts there or you can email me gabrielle@gabrielletreanor.com


If you’re feeling the stress of everything that needs to be done for Christmas, keeping everyone else happy, juggling diaries, writing to do lists, buying presents, making it the perfect Christmas then take a look at my Coping with Christmas course. We’re going to navigate the festive season together with practical actions and lots of support so you don’t have to manage it all on your own. Not only can you cope with Christmas, you can feel less stress and overwhelm and feel more relaxed and enjoy it more too. 


Go to gabrielletreanor.com/courses to find out more about Coping with Christmas and the special early bird offer or you can also find a link in this episode’s show notes at gabrielletreanor.com/podcast.


Thanks for listening, until next time, lovely people.


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