Let’s face it – Maine in winter can be tough. Even for those of us who love cold weather and snow, the short days and limited sunshine can be hard. The white tundra of January through April can go on forever. For many of us, the desire to hibernate is strong. Do you ever feel like you can’t motivate yourself to do much or feel “down in the dumps?” Eating a lot of carbs, staying indoors, and having little energy are some of the signs of the winter blues. They usually start as the days get shorter and stick around until the days start getting longer. Unfortunately in Maine, that’s a big chunk of the year. So, what can you do?

A few weeks ago, I started talking with our volunteers and staff about the winter blues, if they experienced them, and what they did to get them at bay or minimize their effects. I figured since I work in a medical clinic with both healthcare experts and people who are interested in good health, they would have good ideas that might help other people. And they did! Here’s what I learned.

Move your body more. Preferably outside.

Almost everyone I talked to said that the most important thing they did to beat the winter blues was to move their body. Exercise classes or going to the gym is great, but don’t let the lack of a gym membership stop you. There are plenty of ways for you to move your body that don’t cost anything. Brett Jensen, the treasurer for our Board of Directors, said that he walks his dog every day, which gets him outside and on the move. Laura Labbe, one of our nursing volunteers, agrees. You can find Laura walking her dogs right down the street from our clinic every morning, and she says it’s the perfect way to lift her mood and start the day.

Connie Jones, who often writes our Giving Voice articles, says she forces herself outdoors, even when, “It looks yucky outside.” For my part, I always park farther away at the grocery store. Bottom line: When you get up and move around, you are circulating more oxygen to your brain and gets your heart pumping, both which can make you feel better. Do something every day, even if it is only five minutes.

Keep busy with things you enjoy.

Kim, one our team members, fights off the winter blues by getting involved in activities she enjoys. She volunteers with youth-focused community activities in the evenings, which keeps her busy, gives her purpose and is a lot of fun. Plus it keeps her connected to her community, all things that make you feel good, especially during the winter when you might be feeling down. Our volunteer, Connie, said that she likes having a plan and having something to look forward to. She gets together with friends for coffee, visits her new granddaughter or will take a road trip up the coast to visit a different town for the day.

Do something creative.

Because summer is so nice, we often try to cram as much as possible into the short window of beautiful weather. Winter is a great time to try something new. Maybe you’ve always wanted to

learn how to knit. Perhaps you’ve wanted to try your hand at French cooking. This is the perfect time to take up a new hobby. The classes through the Merrymeeting Adult Education are a perfect place to start.

Rebecca, our clinical director, makes time to work at her pottery wheel. She has also been cooking up a storm, saying “Last weekend, we made a huge meal – way too much food – but the house smelled amazing, and we cooked dishes we had been wanting to try for a while.” Our volunteer, Kathleen, uses winter to develop a new skill. This year, she made beautiful knit pillows for holiday presents – something she hadn’t done before. She has started to look at the seed catalogs, dreaming of what she will plant in the next few months. What better way to beat the winter blues than watching seeds grow before your eyes?

If you’re feeling blue this winter, and the feelings get worse and don’t go away as the days get longer, talk to your health care provider. Otherwise, take this winter to try something new to beat the winter blues.

Anita Rufff is the executive director of Oasis Free Clinics, which provides free medical, dental and prescription assistance to low income, uninsured adults living in Freeport, Durham, Harpswell and Brunswick. For more information, call 721-9277 or visit www.OasisFreeClinics.org. Giving Voice is a weekly collaboration among four local non-profit service agencies to share information and stories about their work in the community. 

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