For a lot of people, winter’s not the best time of year. They’ll be rolling along just fine … and then BAM, winter hits them like a sledgehammer and it’s all they can do not to spend the next three months curled up in a lethargic ball in the corner.
Other people are more or less melancholy all year round, so winter isn’t so much a sledgehammer as an especially prolonged dip in the already hilly road.
Personally, I have the most success getting through winter when I view it as a military campaign. Not that I’ve ever been in the military, but I took a History of WWII class once and I’ve read The Things They Carried, so I have a sketchy idea of what it’s like. Work with me here. If you ask too many questions, the metaphor falls apart.
So here are my beating-winter priorities:
- Have a mascot. It can be super relaxing to spend some time with something that’s always happy to see you. I’m lucky enough to live with three snuggle-happy cats, but if you’re in a pet-free zone, try visiting an animal shelter every few weeks. If you’re still in college, many student wellness centers will bring in therapy dogs or a clowder of shelter cats for students to pet.
- Tune out the press. We all have those Facebook friends for whom absolutely everything appears to be going well. They’re forever posting about their killer workouts; their stellar grades; their fun, meaningful, high-paying job; their amazing significant other; the gourmet dinner they just hosted for 25 people; the coffee/quote/friend/salad that makes them #soblessed. If this makes you feel as inferior and frustrated as I do, consider unfollowing those people for a while. Better yet, take a break from the social media rat race altogether — it might help you regain perspective and re-realize that we all have our struggles and weaknesses.
- Don’t dismiss the band. Put together a playlist that helps you rise above the blues. Some of my favourites are Two Steps from Hell’s “Cassandra“, Ingrid Michaelson’s “One Night Town“, and — yes, I’ll admit it — Hank Green’s “Shake-a-Booty“.
- Find a good drill sergeant. I’ve tried to follow Jillian Michaels’ 30-Day Shred several times now, and I’ve never been able to make it a permanent part of my life. Then I discovered Jessica Smith TV, and I realized what was missing: encouragement. Her workouts can be seriously tough (second-position demi-pointe plié squats, anyone?), but she always projects kindness and the understanding that not everyone will be 100% up to the task right away. If this is what you need in a workout leader, don’t give up until you find one who works for you. It can make a huge difference in your motivation to work out — which in turn means you’ll be more likely to get the myriad physical and chemical benefits that exercise brings.
- Stay well-provisioned. Nothing brings me down faster than the realization that I have nothing in the cupboard except some stale bread and a couple of tablespoons of peanut butter. Cooking tasty, nutritious meals takes time and energy, I know — but it doesn’t have to take much.
- Find some buddies. You’re not alone in feeling down. In fact, the longer I listen to my Pandora comedy station, the more I realize that a lot of my favourite comedians have dealt with depression on a regular basis. This was a helpful realization on two levels: First, that human beings can turn those kinds of harrowing experiences into such beautiful art; second, that I can trust them to offer helpful advice. Here’s something Patton Oswalt posted recently that I found especially helpful:
- Don’t be afraid to admit when you’re in over your head. Calling my school’s counseling center to ask for an appointment was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I’m so glad I did it. It was really helpful to talk through various issues, face questions I’d been avoiding, and get some tools for managing my mental health more efficiently. Plus, I knew that I was in the hands of professionals who were uniquely qualified to evaluate whether I needed medication or more in-depth therapy. It was wonderful to hand that responsibility over to them, instead of trying to sort through conflicting advice from friends, family, and the Internet.
On the topic of provisions, I just made this casserole yesterday, and I can already tell that it’s going to become a standard this winter. It’s pretty easy to throw together, it’s fairly cheap, it’s filling, it’s got fantastically vibrant flavours, and it packs a nutritious punch. Perhaps best of all, one batch will feed one person for a week, and it freezes beautifully for the days you don’t feel like cooking.
Sweet potato–black bean enchilada casserole
- 4 medium sweet potatoes, diced
- 1 tsp. honey
- 1 tsp. salt (divided)
- 1 tsp. cumin (divided)
- 1/2 tsp. chili powder
- 1/2 tsp. paprika
- 1/4 tsp. onion powder
- 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
- 1/4 tsp. black pepper
- 1 c. corn
- 1 c. dry black beans, cooked until tender (or 1 can, drained)
- 6 large flour tortillas
- 1 small can of your favourite enchilada sauce, divided (I used 8 oz. of Chi-Chi’s mild taco sauce)
- 3/4 c. of your favourite salsa, divided (I used medium-hot Pace Picante salsa)
- 3/4 c. grated cheese, divided (your choice — I used pepper jack)
- Bring medium pot of water to a boil. Add sweet potatoes and cook until tender (~20 minutes).
- Drain sweet potatoes, reserving ~ 3 T. hot water. Add honey, 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. cumin, and rest of spices. Mash until smooth.
- Add 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. cumin to black beans. Set aside.
- Spread half of the enchilada sauce evenly in large casserole dish. Add 2 tortillas to cover bottom of dish.
- Spoon half of the sweet potato mix, half of the corn, half of the beans, half of the salsa, and a third of the cheese over tortillas.
- Add 2 more tortillas and repeat step 5.
- Add last 2 tortillas and spread last half of the enchilada sauce and third of the cheese over the top.
- Cover in foil and bake at 375°F for 20 minutes. Remove foil and cook for 5 minutes longer, or until cheese is golden-brown and bubbling.
- Serve warm with green salad. Keep leftovers refrigerated for up to 5 days.
- Replace sweet potato with 1 medium butternut squash (cubed and roasted), or with 2 c. roasted or stewed pumpkin.
- Chop 3 c. spinach and add half to each layer.
- Garnish with sliced avocado, cilantro, and/or sour cream.
- Replace Pace Picante salsa with any of these delicious homemade options: pico de gallo, green tomatillo salsa, chipotle salsa, or cilantro–lime salsa.
Photo credits: Mother and baby from PublicDomainPictures on Pixabay.