Even after seven years of living in Schull, winter seems to creep up like an unwanted visitor on writer ER Murray, but she has found ways to beat the cold weather blues
PITCH-black skies at 5pm, frosty mornings, deserted streets and sea fog clinging to the land for days on end – the seasonal blues are upon us again.
Even after seven years of living in Schull, winter seems to creep up like an unwanted visitor. The dull skies and bitter winds lend a heavy air and the impact is visible all around. From the shuddering trees, to the people huddling into themselves as they rush from car to shop and back again, it seems that everyone is trying to escape the elements.
The proof is in the laneways. I walk the country roads for two to three hours every day and I’m lucky if I come across a couple of cars or people at this time of year. In some ways it’s liberating and allows lots of space for creative thought and productivity, but at the same time, the isolation can be overwhelming.
When I do get the chance to stop people for a chat, the same complaints are echoed year after year – loneliness, low moods, lack of motivation, and feeling down – and I completely understand. At times, I’ve certainly struggled.
We won’t feel the days lengthening for a good while yet and after the joviality of Christmas, many people slump even further into their winter melancholy. But back in the day, before electricity and central heating, people would embrace the season and use it as a time for rest and renewal. So how can we approach winter in the same positive way and make the most of what it has to offer? I’m no health guru, but, thankfully, I’ve found a few small but effective ways to escape the seasonal blues. And if they work for me, maybe they’ll work for you, too.
Embracing the landscape is certain to improve mood and melancholy
A brisk walk, alone, with your dog or with friends, does wonders for the body and mind, whatever the weather; it’s just a matter of being prepared. I’m a firm believer that there’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes. And although it’s commonly believed that getting wet will give you a cold, you’re actually more likely to catch a cold if you spend more time indoors because it’s a contagious virus picked up from others. So rain or shine, being outside is good for your health. Whether it’s a bracing hike or a meander along the shore, even half an hour of fresh air and movement will help lift your mood and spirit.
This is vitally important at this time of year, as we tend to lock ourselves away in the hours of darkness – but the more we isolate ourselves, the more that tendency grows. Although I adore country life, the most difficult obstacle for me is the lack of streetlights and, seeing as I don’t drive, I find this limits what I can do at night. And so, I’ve remedied this by sometimes working at night so I can socialise in the day. I’m opting for walks with friends, coffee and yoga, instead of pints, and I’m finding this really helpful. It means I’m out in daylight hours – which helps the body produce more vitamin D – and I feel less cut-off from the world. Working freelance around my books makes it relatively easy for me to swap my day around, and I know that’s not possible for everyone, but even one day a week will help.
This is vastly popular and another way to make the most of the gorgeous West Cork coastline; my asthma means my lungs can’t withstand the shock of cold, but even a quick paddle can be bracing and invigorating. It might sound insane, removing socks and shoes and stepping into the freezing Atlantic, but it is genuinely refreshing and gives your circulation a much-appreciated boost when you’re feeling sluggish. It’s also fun (try it and see)!
This is very conducive to good health – both physical and mental – at this time of year. I’m a lover of spicy and exotic food, but eating what the locality can provide will help strengthen your immune system. I was too busy for a winter vegetable garden this year – and I can’t say I miss the frost-bitten fingers much – but using locally grown produce helps local businesses thrive and provides the nourishment and nutrition your body needs. It’s also a good time of year for seashore foraging; winkles, mussels, and clams can all be picked in winter. It’s fun for all the family, provides sustenance, and gets you outdoors – what could be better?
Of course, everyone has different tastes, lifestyles and commitments, but when it comes to living in West Cork, whether you’re born here or have blown in, like me, I think we all have one thing in common – an appreciation for the natural beauty around us. And just like our ancestors and predecessors, we can make small, uncomplicated changes to improve our lifestyle and make the most of what our incredible part of the world has to offer.
• ER Murray is a children’s book author and lives in Schull. Her The Book of Learning – Nine Lives Trilogy 1 (Mercier Press) was chosen as the 2016 Dublin UNESCO Citywide Read for Children.