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Coming from a much milder climate, the winter months in Chicago (and by winter months in Chicago I mean basically October-April) were an adjustment, to say the least. The sun sets before 5pm, so most of the day is dark. And even during daylight hours, it’s pretty consistently grey and gloomy. It’s freezing, it’s windy, all the free outdoor concerts and sports events of the summer and fall have ended, and it seems like there is nothing to do. No wonder Seasonal Affective Disorder is a thing!

Even if you don’t meet the criteria for the official SAD diagnosis, there’s a good chance the long winters (specifically of Chicago) take a toll on you. We need sunlight, we need activity, and we need social interaction- all of which become much more difficult to obtain during the winter. How does one continue to take care of themselves in the midst of those gloomy months? As I personally came to terms with the reality of winter in Chicago, I had to get creative. So, I thought I’d write this post to share some ideas of how we can live in cold climates and still find ways to take care of ourselves and connect with people.

Winter Activities!

One bright side of winter is that it does offer some uniquely cold-weather fun! A quick google search can offer plenty of locations throughout Chicago or nearby areas for sledding, cross-country skiing, tubing, and even trying out the luge (though that might require a road trip)! Chicago has several lovely ice skating rinks/tracks set up during the winter, and some Chicago hotspots offer special events or activities like snowshoeing at Morton Arboretum, Zoo Lights at Lincoln Park Zoo, and Winter Wonderfest at Navy Pier. While you may not be able to watch the Cubs/White Sox or the Red Stars/Fire in the winter, don’t forget about our winter sports teams! The Bulls and the Blackhawks are both in season during the colder months, offering plenty of outings you can’t make during the summers.

Getting “outside.”

Lots of the activities mentioned above can get you outdoors during the winter. The snowy cold can offer a unique perspective on nature and provide some fun and beautiful pastimes. Even just walking along the frozen river or viewing the frozen waves of the lake can offer some fresh air and a nice break from the stuffy indoors. But if you just aren’t feeling up for braving the freeze and being truly outdoors, there are some loopholes. Luckily for us, there are several conservatories and indoor gardens that can be perfect spots to get some time in nature, surrounded by some greenery, light and warmth. Check out Garfield Park or Lincoln Park Conservatories, Chicago Botanic Garden, Kilbourn Park Organic Greenhouse, or Navy Pier’s Crystal Gardens.

Always options.

If all else fails, don’t forget about the year-round activities Chicago has to offer. There are so many museums to visit (the Art Institute, Shedd, Adler, MSI, the Field Museum, and plenty of lesser-known unique Chicago attractions), and if you look for “free days,” you might even be able to avoid the fees. There are concerts and plays, musicals and ballets, operas and comedy shows. Of course, there are also endless opportunities for trying out new restaurants or bars, or exploring new shops. It can be easy to hibernate and forget about these options in the winter, but sometimes taking advantage of some of what Chicago has to offer is worth the effort, even in the cold.

Winter is tough, and it’s easy to see why depressive and anxious symptoms often seem to spike during this part of the year. It’s harder to get outside and go to social events, and it seems like there are way less opportunities to do so. However, it’s important to acknowledge that your needs don’t necessarily change with the weather- we still need light, friends, movement, and fun. Hopefully this post has given you some ideas and encouragement to take some of these steps towards wellness these next few months, making an effort to take care of yourself- even when it’s cold!

If you’re struggling with the winter or with general symptoms of consistent sadness, low motivation, lack of enjoyment, etc., don’t hesitate to reach out. We would love to hear from you and to walk with you through this season as we figure out what wellness can look like for you.

Written by therapist Clair Miller

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