Many of us struggle when the nights grow long and the air gets cold. Sometimes it feels like I just finished lunch when 4:30 pm rolls around and it’s already time to start thinking about dinner. While it’s hard to let go of summer, there are some things I’m glad to see less of like mosquitos, crowds and “traffic” (traffic is relative to this So Cal mama).  It often feels easier to complain than to focus on gratitude. We complain when it’s too hot, too cold, too dry, too wet or too snowy. I recently stumbled on this interesting article about the benefits and detriments of complaining.

I love this quote from the late Carlos Castaneda, anthropologist and best-selling author:

“We can either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves happy. The amount of work is the same.”

— Carlos Castaneda

It got me thinking about how I want to spend my winter (and my life in general). Here are 3 things I do to focus on mental health and wellness during the winter season.

Chase light

The sunrises in Central Oregon are spectacular this time of year. When we moved here 15 years ago, I used to wake my husband up everyday to look at the sky. After a few weeks, he gently told me I didn’t need to do that EVERY morning ?. I still find that it’s a great way to start my day. If I can catch a glimpse of the sunrise, it helps me begin on a positive note. Then, I find myself chasing the sunlight throughout the day to get as much Vitamin D as I can before it gets dark. I’m like a cat. If there’s a patch of sun indoors, I’m there. In a conference room. At a coffee shop. In my house. Also, taking breaks from work and stepping outside makes a difference for me. When I have extra time, a walk or hike will do me good. We’re lucky to live in a place with a lot of sunshine…just be sure to bundle up.

Create light

My friends tease me about my obsession with little white lights and candles. I can’t get enough. Lighting a few candles and hanging a string of lights somewhere inside my house or outside of a window, transforms a long dark evening for me. My living spaces are really important and  making them welcoming and inviting helps me mind my mind.

Schedule evening activities

Scheduling a few evening activities — either at home or out in the community — helps break up the week and turns a long night into an event. Whether it’s meeting up with friends, going to a movie, listening to live music, working out, watching a favorite show,  or making dinner at home, putting something on the calendar gives me something to look forward to. Bundling up for an after-dinner stroll by the river at The Old Mill always gives me a lift (and makes my dog happy too).

There are a lot of cool things to do at night in Central Oregon. Our local news outlets are great about keeping current community calendars. Here are just a few:

Our local Chambers of Commerce are also good at keeping us up-to-date on local happenings:

A few more ideas…

Long nights and cold days can be challenging for many of us. Whatever we do to mind our minds during the winter season, it’s important that we are intentional about daily self-care. Everyone is different. My dad lives alone and doesn’t drive anymore. I worry about him feeling more isolated when it gets dark so early. During football season, he’s a happy camper. The other day I saw his mostly empty calendar dotted with football games and it made me smile.

What are you doing to fill these long nights with things that make you happy? Share your ideas with us!

Linda Quon is Vice President and Director of Communication at Quon Design and Communication. Linda is working to promote everyday mental health awareness in partnership with Deschutes County Health Services and Central Oregon Health Council — which includes providers and health advocates from Crook, Jefferson, and Deschutes Counties. Linda was born and raised in Southern California and moved to Central Oregon with her husband and two children in 2005. Her mother lived with Schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder and her oldest brother also experienced bi-polar disorder. With support from family, friends, therapists and primary care providers, Linda has been navigating the world of mental illness most of her life — including her own struggles with mild anxiety and depression. Linda is proud to work as an advocate for mental health and a  blogger for Mind Your Mind Central Oregon.