We are halfway through January and I feel it in my bones. The angst of January. Can you feel it? Cold, bitter wind, dreary skies, and dreams of a brand new me dying with every passing day. New years are always hard for me, and this year feels doubly so. The winter doldrums can really throw us off our game and keep us from reaching our goals. Those of us who live overseas, away from our support systems, can really feel the brunt of it and find ourselves in dangerous territory. Even those who live in warmer climates might struggle during the rainy season when the sun is hidden for weeks at a time and you feel trapped inside by the weather. The dreariness and isolation of these months can be debilitating.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. If you’re suffering from the winter blues, here are a few tried and true tricks for helping you find your way through.
A daily dose of sunlight is a proven strategy against depression and is especially effective for those of us who struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder. But even if your area doesn’t have much sun to speak of in the winter months, a bit of fresh air and activity will help you feel better. Exercise alone is a powerful tool in fighting depression as it helps your body release seratonin. The act of getting yourself up and moving each day can empower you to keep the energy going, allowing you to tackle the next item on your to-do list and prevent you from falling into the pit of despair. My husband and I go on walks together through the forest near our home to help us get moving. It gives us time to talk and sometimes offers an opportunity to minister to others as we pass friends and neighbors along the way. So, whether it’s a stroll through the neighborhood, or a trip to the gym, get yourself out of the house and start your day with a new perspective.
Visit a Friend
Need a bit more motivation to get outside? Why not plan a visit with friends? In our little village in France, a walk up the street to share a cup of tea with my friend Leia is a special treat. A widow with a special talent for making Alsacian cookies, she welcomes me with a delighted smile to sit beside her fireplace for a few hours and chat. I don’t speak French very well and she doesn’t speak English at all, but that doesn’t stop us from enjoying our teatime visits together, and I always leave feeling uplifted. Who can you visit this week that might lift your mood and remind you of your purpose?
Eat More Color
Our diets can greatly affect our mood, especially during the winter when we are deprived of sunlight. Eating foods rich in vitamins B and D can help you feel energized again and even improve your mood. Look for fruits and vegetables with bright colors to add to your meals. Eating them raw gives you the maximum benefits as the heat of cooking will diminish their effectiveness. If you can’t enjoy vegetables raw, then adding them to your favorite foods will still increase your vitamin intake. Carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin or squashes, and brightly colored peppers can be pureed and added to casseroles, soups, and sauces. Fruits make healthy snacks and some like citrus fruits can even help you fight off illness during cold and flu season. Adding colorful fruits and vegetables to your diet is like eating a mouthful of sunshine when the sun refuses to show its face.
Turn Up the Lights
Winter blues are enabled by the lack of direct sunlight we are receiving this time of year. When you are trapped indoors by the bad weather, make sure you have plenty of light. Open the curtains to let in the sun. We can easily be thrown off balance by the lack of light during the day and confuse our body’s clock. Turn on the lights in the room you are working in, especially during the day, to keep your mind focused and your body on track. If you are used to having softer light, consider switching to brighter bulbs for a few months. Small changes can have a big impact and your winter blues may seem a little less terrible in the bright light of day.
Plan for Fun
When the winter days stretch on and on, you might be surprised how powerful it is to have something fun to look forward to each month. Plan for fun. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Take a day off and explore your area like a tourist.
- Set up a family or community game night.
- Invite other expats over for a dinner party or a night out.
- Go on a date with your spouse.
- Try a new hobby by taking a class, or buying supplies to get started.
- Take the kids on a little adventure, hike, swim, or play at the playground.
Living abroad is particularly challenging and one thing we do each winter is plan an “American Day” to cheer us up. It started when we complained to a friend that we missed going to the movie theater. She mentioned a theater an hour away in the closest big city that shows movies in their original language. So, a few days later, tired of all the grumbling and pouty faces in our home, we packed up the car and headed out for a day of fun in the big city. You should have heard our shouts of excitement when we discovered a brand new Five Guys in the center of town. We had real milkshakes and seasoned fries for the first time in years. What a treat! Then, we walked across town to visit the theater to watch a big blockbuster movie we knew our friends back home had already seen. We were the only ones in the theater who laughed at the jokes since the French subtitles didn’t really do them justice. We ended our American Day with a quick trip to the shopping mall and dinner at Pizza Hut. It wasn’t exactly the same as eating in America, but it was close enough. And just like that, we were cured of homesickness. We went home to our tiny village happier than ever, and ready to embrace the sweet little life we had there in the quiet village with our neighbors. What a difference a day makes.
If you’re from another country, find a few things you miss from home and indulge yourself. It will be a day your family looks forward to every year. I promise.
Find Good Counsel
The isolation of winter is one of the more dangerous things about the winter doldrums. For those who live abroad, it is especially difficult to stay connected to their support system. If you struggle with loneliness, depression, or anxiety during the winter, please make an action plan to protect yourself. My mother and I have a standing appointment to talk each Tuesday. It’s written on my calendar and we never miss it. With technology the way it is today, there is less standing between us than ever before. We use Facebook Messenger to video chat and it’s amazing how comforting it is to see her face. Call, video, text, write letters, record your voice message, do whatever it takes to stay connected with those who love you and lift you up. Share your burdens with them, and ask them to pray for you. It’s powerful.
Sometimes what we really need is someone we can confide in that isn’t directly involved in our lives. Everyone has struggles and feelings that are difficult to work through sometimes. That’s when it is helpful to have a counselor. A counselor or family therapist can listen impartially, help you find truth amid all of the conflicting messages in your head, and show you how to move forward in times of struggle. A Christian counselor helps you do that through the lens of God’s word and with the power of prayer behind you. If you are a missionary in need of good counsel or an impartial listening ear, our licensed Christian counselors are especially equipped to work with those in ministry living with challenges abroad, and our services are free.
Plan an Escape
Are you really feeling overwhelmed? Defeated? Exhausted? Sad for no reason at all? Why not run away for a few days? Hear me out. Sometimes all we really need is a change of scenery. Like our first tip, getting outside for a bit of sun, planning a getaway for a few days can have a powerful effect on your heart and mind. In our work with missionaries, it has been heartbreaking to find how seldom they give themselves freedom to take a break. They work hard, pouring their heart and soul into other people until there is little left behind. Then, they get up and do it all again year after year. This can have devastating affects on their heart, mind, body, and soul. It damages their marriages and families when they don’t take time to invest in that relationship, especially if they don’t have the kind of support from their sending organization or church that encourages them to spend time (and yes, money) to protect their marriage. Regular date nights are hard for a missionary family on a budget, much less a family vacation. But time away from work, even ministry, is important for their health, and the health of their family. It is also important to take time away to be with the Lord. Jesus himself shows us this many times in the gospel accounts of the new testament. We must follow his example when ministry pulls at us, draining our energy, and slip away to a quiet place where we can be restored. That is the purpose of our Chateau Clairefontaine. There, in a quiet village far from the distractions of the world, missionaries can rest, pray, and spend time together as a family without the burdens of their daily life. It is a place of rest and restoration. All meals are prepared and provided for them, a counselor is available each day for private counseling, and this is all provided for no cost to those who are spending themselves for the kingdom of God thanks to generous donors who believe missionaries should be honored for the work they do. Our donors want you to feel loved, cherished, and protected at Clairefontaine. So, give your family hope this winter and reserve a stay in the quiet French countryside at Chateau Clairefontaine with R&R Ministries.
Want to Help Missionaries in Need?
Help us serve more families on mission through Restored & Renewed Ministry by donating today. You can be the one who provides a safe place for them to land during a difficult time, or the counseling they need to get them through crisis. Don’t let another family suffer and turn away from their calling when it can be prevented with a little help from someone who cares.