Everyone feels it. How can you not? Even the Dutch feel it and you'd think they'd be used to it. This time of year can be especially difficult for expats who may already be experiencing feelings of disconnection and loneliness. I suppose we could all be thankful that we don't live in Antarctica or even Iceland. But those kinds of "happy thoughts" don't do much when you're experiencing sun-separation anxiety.
Here are some things you can do to help make this period of darkness and gloom just that much more bearable.
13 ways to beat the blues
- Treat yourself. Spend a few minutes every day doing something for you: a facemask, manicure or pedicure, massage, go shopping. Reader Brenda B. opts for bright summer colors to adorn her nails for an added boost. It doesn't matter what you do, just take some time to pamper yourself and allow yourself to feel "worth it." Because you are!
- Spend time with people. Spending time alone when you're already feeling down is the worst thing you can do for yourself. Monique, author of the blog Ms. Wooden Shoes makes it a point to meet up with her girlfriends regularly for drinks. Make time for people you care about who care about you. Ask your Dutch language classmates out for a cup of coffee, invite some of the other mums in your playgroup over, take co-workers out for a happy hour at the end of the work day, make a date night each week with your significant other. You can join a club full of like-minded people and exciting regular events. Just get out there, have fun and talk. With that in mind, also check in regularly with friends and family back in your country of origin. You'll stay in the loop and still feel connected. They know and love you and sometimes it's so conforting to hear a friendly and familiar voice.
- Brighten things up. Vibrant colors can do wonders to push out the gloom. Wear bright colored clothing, dress the bed in summer colors, give your drab furniture a colorful make-over during those long winter months. This time of year there's not much light, so be sure to take advantage of what light there is by keeping the curtains open and heading outside the second that the sun pokes it's head out. Facebook community member Susan McK. drops everything if she can to go out and soak up whatever rays she can find the moment the sun dares to show itself. If there is no natural light to chase away the blues, use artificial ones. Don't keep yourself in the dark!
- Learn something new. Have you ever wanted to learn another language? During your college days did Basket Weaving 101 actually sound interesting to you? Ever thought about taking up some sort of craft? Well now's your chance. There are tons of workshops and classes available in the Netherlands. In English too! Some of the workshops I've seen recently are jewelry making, writing, chocolate making, cooking, voice, acting, and knitting. Gyms offer all kinds of classes or you can enroll at a dance studio. Check out the Open University, Webster University, Vrije Universiteit or your local Volksuniversiteit or ROC to see what classes they are offering in English.
- Volunteer. There is nothing more rewarding or uplifting than donating your time to help others in need. A great place to start if you're interested in volunteering is the expat group ACCESS. Likewise, see if your child's school would be willing to have you come in and help with making copies, grading papers, preparing activities, providing snacks, or whatever else they might like some help with. Ask around and see what organizations are looking for volunteers and what you might be able to do to help.
- Get moving. Exercise is a great way to release endorphins (those euphoria inducing, pain reducing neurotransmitters released in the brain)! It can be as involved as a spinning class or as light as gardening. Fitness DVDs are also a great resource and some television channels have a workout segment during their daily programming. Or go online and find workout videos and podcasts. The important thing is to get moving!
- Be productive. More often than not, feeling productive is feeling good. Make a list of things to do during the week. Include daily chores, appointments, meetings, events, exercise, your pamper time, classes, groceries, cooking, packing the kids' lunch, whatever it is you want to accomplish. As you complete each activity, cross it off your list. Seeing all those crosses gives you visual proof of all that you've done. Even better - write things down as you do them. The more you accomplish, the longer your list will be. Read through the list before you go to bed and feel proud of how productive you were today.
- Write in a journal. Take some time every day to simply write your thoughts and feelings down in a journal. If you're feeling great, write about it. If you're feeling down, write about that too. Write down your wishes, concerns, dreams, thoughts, accomplishments, questions. Once you've poured everything out into your journal, read back through what you've just written. Sometimes this self reflection is all you need to be able to get out of a funk.
- Take care of yourself. Eat right. Make sure you get in all the essential vitamins and eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Drink lots of water. And, of course, make sure you get enough sleep. Seven to eight hours is the recommended time you should be sleeping each night. If your body feels great, your mind and spirit will follow suit.
- Relax. Take some time each day to just relax. Fill the tub up with soapy water and lie in the warm bubbles for a spell. If you're feeling really generous, bring a glass of champagne or wine or a cup of tea along. Watch a movie. Put in your favorite CD. Find some time to sit down with a book or a word puzzle. Wrap up nice and warm and gaze out the window with a mug of warm chocolate in hand and watch the cold, wet passersby.
- Laugh. Laughter increases your level of serotonin (the neurotransmitter that sends messages from one part of the brain to another). The first thing expat coach Nicola McCall does is pop in a comedy movie or watch a funny TV show. Listen to or tell a joke. Read Invading Holland or something else that makes you giggle. Sometimes laughter really is the best medicine.
- Have a piece of chocolate. Seriously. Particularly dark chocolate. The cocoa in chocolate has seratonin increasing powers. Plus it just tastes good!
- Pet something fuzzy. Animals - especially furry ones - are often used at hospitals, psychiatric wards, and hospices as a form of therapy. The act of petting in itself is extremely therapeutic. Pets also offer companionship and loyalty. Put aside some time to spend with your pet or someone else's. It's almost as though they know when you're feeling down and exactly what to do to lift you back up.
How about you? What do you do to chase away the blues this time of year?