Smile Politely

A few suggestions for dealing with the winter blues

Heritage Park pond. In the foreground, yellow-green brush. Across the pond, late fall trees with leaves of gold, red, and gray. The sky is very blue with few wispy clouds.
Julie McClure

Earlier this week, daylight savings time ended, and we all set our clocks back one hour. Now, if you wake up at 6:30 a.m., it won’t be as dark, but daylight hours will get shorter and shorter until December 21st. For many of us, these literal dark times, coupled with the stress of the end of the calendar year, can encourage and enhance winter blues and in some cases, a form of depression known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). 

When looking at recommended non-medical interventions for what we’ll call the winter blues, we wanted to take stock of what is available in Champaign-Urbana. What resources are available locally (aside from ordering a light therapy lamp) to help mitigate some of the feelings of loneliness, isolation, and general malaise that comes with colder weather and shorter daylight hours?

Please note: We are not mental health professionals. If you feel that you are suffering from SAD or depression, or otherwise struggling with your mental health, please contact your doctors. If you, or someone you know, is having a mental health crisis, you can call 988. Recommendations in this article are not intended to dismiss depression and other mental health diagnoses as “curable” or “preventable,” or replace consultation and care by licensed medical and mental health professionals. 

Moving the body

There’s plenty of data to support movement as something that can help with mental health. If you don’t mind the cold, visiting Champaign County’s (or nearby counties’) myriad parks is always a wonderful time. Bring your kids or dogs on a walk in one of C-U’s parks; or make a short drive to any of these trails. Nature might be a little gray and colorless, but it offers a different kind of beauty. 

There are a lot of options for joining a gym (consider the Cyber Monday sales with Champaign Park District for discounted annual memberships). Leonhard Rec Center and the Martens Center have indoor tracks that are free for members to use. Of course you can easily find some sort of exercise instruction on YouTube — we’re all fans of Yoga with Adriene. Urbana Boulders is indoors and available, no matter the weather. Louise tried bouldering for the first time earlier this year; read about her experience for a sense of what to expect. She also recently went to a stretching session at Living Legacy Pilates, which might be just what you need.  

Intellectual stimulation

In addition to tending to your body, you have to tend to your mind. The Urbana Free Library has crafting and other interesting activities, as well as a lot of resources for looking into ancestry and genealogy. Champaign Public Library and The Literary offer a variety of book clubs; you don’t have to commit to more than the month or the book you’d like to read. 

New hobbies are a rewarding (and sometimes enjoyably frustrating) way to spend some time. The Champaign and Urbana Park Districts offer all sorts of programs in arts and exercise and sports. Maybe now is the time to learn pottery, or take up swimming, or learn a new language. University of Illinois Extension offers events and online resources in topics like local government and plants and gardening. Parkland College’s Community Education offers one time, low cost programs like armchair travel, to a multi-session sushi series. Picking a new sport, like those offered at Defy Gravity, will introduce you to new people and new skills, working both your brain and your muscles. 

There are plenty of free opportunities to be exposed to new ideas on the U of I campus through programs at the Spurlock and Krannert Art Museums, as well as countless lectures hosted by every single department on campus. Nearly all of them are free and open to the public. 

See friends

Being motivated to go outside when it’s cold and dark is difficult, and we recommend using the buddy system. At SP, we like to make dinner plans at restaurants with friends. Meeting up with friends over a good meal is a bright spot during a usually very dreary part of winter. We know you readers love our Food & Drink section — pick a place we’ve featured and meet your friends there. 

While it’s fun and exciting to meet a friend and do something surprising, like ice or roller skating, it’s also comforting to invite a friend or two over for a low-key sweatpants-and-snacks get together. Taste tests of popular food items are always interesting (pad Thai taste test, croissant taste test — you get the idea) and relatively low cost if you’re sharing the expenses. 

Short road trips

Hop in the car, alone or with others, and drive somewhere else. Peruse the Travel tag on our website for some ideas and events. Change up the scenery. Sometimes, you just need to look at the fallow cornfields in another county. 

The Editorial Board is Jessica Hammie, Julie McClure, Patrick Singer, and Serenity Stanton Orengo.

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