“I love winter” I hear some of you professing. “Stop being such a wuss”. Well, good for you and your well-adjusted mental attitude. You possess a great gift you may not even truly appreciate.

For many of us, you see, Canadian winter is simply a time of endurance, lethargy and a matter of mild clinical depression to some degree or another. We have no choice about it. Whether it is deadly cold temperatures, uncommonly voluminous snowfalls or grey, dreary rain-filled days and nights, winter can really mess up your head if you don’t work on working through it.

What I’m talking about here are the blues or the blahs, in essence very mild clinical depression. Any serious clinical depression which causes you to cease functioning normally for prolonged periods of time should be viewed as potentially life threatening. You must seek appropriate medical attention immediately for it.

It has been my observation over the years that creative people are generally more prone to various types of depression than the average population. I would further posit that winter presents particularly unique difficulties for freelancers because of the nature of our work and work-related lifestyle. I’d like to explore that a bit more fully today and offer some of my coping strategies that enable me to keep working throughout the winter blues.

ISOLATION: YOU’RE NOT ALONE

One of the biggest contributing factors invoking the winter blues confronting most freelancers is simply our isolation.

Most of us work in home offices, on our own, while 9 to 5ers commute to work. Normally these are conditions we thrive in. But when winter hits, what is normally an invigorating work environment can become an oppressive prison.

TIP: Rearrange your immediate surroundings to make them more conducive to work.

* I find the absence of strong “summer time” natural light depressing. Consequently my productivity and creativity suffer. Being a freelancer I have total control over my immediate space so I arrange for more indoor lights in my work area during winter. When I can, I drag my work desk closer to a window to catch whatever natural lighting may be available.

If lack of sufficient natural light in winter continues to be an issue, you should investigate (with your doctor) the range of special lighting products available for combating SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). I know many SAD sufferers who use them with great success.

As freelancers it is particularly easy to slip into a SAD mood disorder in winter when we work so often in isolation. SAD-induced depression can run from the very mild to the extreme. At its worst it can become totally disruptive to both personal and professional lives. It can make any preexisting mental health conditions worse. Fortunately, today the syndrome is so well known that there are professional therapists specialized in treating the condition. They are able to offer a wide range of management techniques. You must seek a professional assessment if you believe you have SAD and cannot effectively alleviate it on your own.

* When I am cold I get the blahs and am much less productive. It may be impractical or simply not cost effective to elevate the temperature in your entire living space. So I use two small space heaters. One is a “ceramic” type. It’s useful for keeping cold feet warm and heating up small spaces fast. The other looks like one of those old fashioned steam radiators but is in fact electric and circulates oil. It radiates an even, gentle heat throughout a larger working area. But don’t forget obvious low tech low cost solutions too. An extra sweater, an extra layer of socks, even a toque worn indoors can bring body temperatures up. It may seem ridiculous wearing a hat indoors but you lose so much of your body heat through your head. Maybe those “old time” reporters who always wore a fedora knew this too.

TIP: Get out more.

* This is so beneficial but may seem counterintuitive. The natural tendency may be to “cocoon” – becoming a virtual hermit in winter. As freelancers we can certainly do this provided we still make our deadlines online! However, this is so bad for us. We are social creatures – yes, even the most asocial among us. I never really acknowledged this until I encountered a freelance colleague who worked in their basement apartment every day and rarely emerged in winter. He was slowly driving himself deeper and deeper into serious clinical depression although he thought he was coping just fine by always making his deadlines.

* I build in daily reasons to get out and about except on the very worst winter days. Whether it’s for groceries or to use the library or even to just pay a bill I have valid reasons to get out. I’ve written previously about the creative advantages of walking so you know I’m a big believer in its benefits. But just getting out for pleasure is hard when the weather sucks. Having a definite purpose seems to motivate me more successfully in winter. I create a tangible daily goal to reach even though the real benefit to me health-wise is probably the journey to achieve it.

* I try to get out for workshops and seminars even more frequently in winter. Check your local community college. Your local library may also be an amazing free resource. I go to events that don’t even directly impact my work. I have recently attended several local history group lectures at my public library. Not only did I feel better, it also gave me a greater appreciation for my own city. I took copious notes which should one day result in work. It also gave me the names of excellent local experts I have added to my list of potential interviewees.

TIP: Keep connected.

In addition to physical isolation, psychological isolation (which, of course, can grow directly out of it) can be debilitating during winter. So in addition to getting out on your own, it’s vitally important to keep connected. Our 9 to 5 friends and immediate family (usually our first choice) may not always be available when we want them. So make time for having a coffee with your fellow freelancers, as well as with others in your network. Don’t let your most interesting contacts drift away. Who knows what new developments have occurred in their lives that might be worth a followup report or story? It’s also good for our mental well-being to stay connected every opportunity we can.

But I do stay connected, you say. I have my cell phone and emails and Facebook and Twitter, etc. All are excellent, all are better than no contact at all. But IMHO nothing replaces face to face contact – especially during winter.

TIP: Organize a group lunch with current or ex-colleagues.

* I used to freelance with a small media organization until it was bought out years ago and fired most of its staff. A growing number of us have found each other (using social media) and a couple times a year meet for lunch. The midwinter session is always the most appreciated. It never takes more than a few hours. The cost is whatever we feel like eating/drinking. We meet at various locations that seem happy to get our business. While it is a bit of a grind organizing it and actually getting there – especially in winter – it is always a blast of positive uplifting energy. It is also a great networking opportunity.

FINALLY… DREAM BIG!

It’s important to remember how truly privileged we are to be freelancers, to do what we love to do and to do it within a lifestyle of our own choosing. Not everyone can do what we do. It’s even extra hard some days for those of us who suffer the winter blahs.

But we need to do more to survive winter than to just successfully get out of bed everyday. (Although that is always a good start!) I would therefore posit that this is also the right time to dream. To plan. To imagine the unimaginable.

What is your ideal next project? Where would you like to travel? Who would you like to interview? What is that great novel/screenplay you’ve been plotting in your head for years? Winter is the ideal time to dream big and look forward to the future.

There is so much you can do, will do, if only you dream big enough. Take the first step – a little one is often big enough – and define your dreams. Bring them into shape. Make them concrete. Start to research what it will take to make them real. Start sending out emails, letters or phone calls to get the ball rolling. There’s no rush, take your time but make a start. Do it today. Do it now. Being a freelancer means what we dream we can become. Using this “down time” for contemplation and to plan for your next “up time” will surely make the best use of the season and give you even more positive reasons to get through it.

 

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