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Melissa Schmalenberger, Published January 26 2014

Ms. Simplicity: Tips for getting through the long, cold winter

Too many cold days. Too many snow days.

Let’s face it: We are all going a little stir crazy. We start to hate our Facebook friends who post pictures from warm and sunny destinations. We start to salivate over pictures of comfort food, pictures full of carbs and sugar. We drive to the gym then circle the parking lot to find a close parking spot only to give up and go home because we don’t want to walk from the car to the gym because of the cold (true story.)

I have lived in the Upper Midwest for most of my life, and I know cold. I can tolerate the cold. The wind, however, is not my friend. Living in the Red River Valley, we are a giant wind tunnel from the polar vortex I call Canada. But now I just want to be in denial.

But denial isn’t very productive. We need to survive this in order to hear birds chirping from trees. Right now the birds are even wearing little tiny scarves that someone knitted for them. But instead of closing my eyes and counting down the days to spring, I am doing something else. I am trying to find beauty in the cold. I am keeping myself busy with doing things that keep both my mind and body busy.

Here are some ideas to get you going in the right direction in keeping your mind and body busy for the next couple of weeks:

  • Find a physical challenge at your gym and join it. Don’t belong to a gym? Find a group of friends who also want to be active and hold each other accountable. A pedometer is a great way to count your steps to make sure that you get to 10,000 per day. The mall is full of people walking and getting their steps in. Go and join them.

  • Update your legal papers. When was the last time your will was updated? How about that power of attorney over your financial affairs and your health care directive or a living will? If you don’t even have these, this is your time to get one. Just knowing that you have your legal papers in order brings comfort.

  • Get your vitamin D levels checked. Once I started taking larger doses of vitamin D, I saw a huge spike in my happiness level. Let’s face it, the sun isn’t going to give us the levels we need, so get yours checked and see if you are deficient in vitamin D.

  • Do a random act of kindness for a stranger. And I don’t mean buy the person behind you a cup of coffee. Take it further and call your local women’s shelter or homeless shelter and see what they are in need of. Perhaps they need size 2 toddler clothes and you just happen to have a box of them from your child who has outgrown them. Doing something kind will make you feel great. Share what you did with your close friends. Challenge your friends to do the same and create a random act of kindness chain reaction.

  • Do something “just because.” This is kind of like a random act of kindness, but with someone you know and love. I had flowers delivered to my mom, and the card read, “Just because, to remind you that you are loved and appreciated by all of us.” I think that it felt as good to send the flowers as it did for her to receive them.

  • Invite a friend that you haven’t seen in a while out for coffee. Sometimes giving an ear to someone is all they need to make their day brighter. Once you see the positive changes in their spirit, you will want to keep going out for coffee all the time.

  • Write five thank-you notes. Not for gifts received but for a friend that helped you through a hard time or was there for you with support. Remind them that you are thankful to them. Let me tell you, a thank-you note and a smile can go a long way.

  • Take a class that pushes your boundaries. For me, it was swing-dancing lessons with strangers. Great fun, and now I can dance just a wee bit better. I also took aerial yoga classes. Yes, that was outside my comfort zone but oh so good for me.

  • Download a book that you want to read but have not had time and listen to it in your car while driving. You will be amazed at how much time you spend in the car and how many books you can “read” by doing this.

  • Change the desktop background on your computer and your phone to a picture that brings you joy. I just changed mine this morning to a beautiful picture that I took over two years ago of the sun being playful in some maple leaves. Surrounding yourself with beautiful images will help take the focus off of the cold.

  • Stop talking about the weather. What would happen if we all agreed to stop talking about it? Start having new conversations. Ask questions like, what brought you joy today? Or, what can I do to help your day go better? I guarantee that if you start asking those types of questions, magical things will start to happen in your life.

    No matter what, start doing things that are productive and make you feel better. The long winter will soon be over and the season of the mosquito will be upon us. But the good news is that I heard the mosquito numbers are going to be down this summer because of our cold. See, a silver lining! Now go and find some more silver linings.

    Ms. Simplicity, also known as Melissa Schmalenberger, operates her business as I Did It With Ms. Simplicity. She is a professional organizer based out of Fargo. Email her at melissa@mssimplicity.com.