You’re part of a community, even when it’s cold outside. Take advantage and beat the winter blues.
Chicago is cold. The sky is also blue, and water is also wet. But seriously: This time of year makes us Chicagoans want to hide in blankets clutching mugs of hot toddies (or hot tea, whatever) and binging Netflix until our eyes dry. But after 80 hours or so, cabin fever sets in.
We feel just as stifled as before (and the space heaters have evaporated all the moisture). We’ve avoided fresh air for days (because it hurts our faces). We’ve worn the the same sweater and leggings for a week (maybe two, because ugh, laundry means leaving the couch).
Luckily, the silver lining of the winter storm cloud is there’s still plenty to do during the frigid months to stay active in the community. Whether it’s the grander Chicago city community, your own community of friends, or just some well-earned time alone, here are four things you can do to nourish your snow-crushed soul during winter.
Enrich yourself in art, history, astronomy and culture
The Adler Planetarium, Art Institute, Chicago History Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art and Museum of Science and Industry—just to name a few—all offer free days for Illinois residents. Some museums are completely free every day (shout out to the National Museum of Mexican Art and Chicago Cultural Center)!
Of course, if it’s within your budget, consider a donation or even pay full admission so the museums can continue providing a valuable service to the community.
My favorite is the Chicago Cultural Center. The Tiffany Dome (yes, that Tiffany) is pure #weddinggoals. I love to wander in for a few minutes and take it in. On days when I have more time, I meander through the halls absorbing their art exhibits, which are usually locally focused and thought-provoking. Also, a StoryCorps recording booth lives on the bottom floor, taking in interviews between everyday folk to show that everyone’s story matter. Have a listen to some of these recorded conversations, but unless you feel comfortable crying in public, listen in a private space.
Take a break from screen time
You fall into a wormhole of Amazon Video. You get sucked into a black hole of Netflix. You tumble down a rabbit hole of HBO. TV is a hole (I love it, but it’s a hole). Get out of it and crack open a book. Even better, grab that book from your local branch of the Chicago Public Library. If you absolutely refuse to go outside, and you have an e-reader, you can sign up for a library card online and download e-books for free, instantly.
The website also offers a variety of book recommendations if you have some trouble choosing. Chicago started the One Book, One Chicago in 2001 to “engage and enlighten our residents and to foster a sense of community through reading.” Citywide book club? Yas, queen. Take it one step further: Call your friends up to start your own book club. How’s that for community?
Kick it with your ride-or-die friends
You know, the ones who love you at your worst. Crankiness due to cold and discomfort is a real thing. A vitamin D deficiency from lack of sunlight from staying inside too much is a real thing. Seasonal affective disorder is a real thing (about 6 percent of Americans suffer from it).
If you feel depressed or have a history of depression, check with your doctor for proper treatment. But if you’re just feeling really bummed out and need a jolt of energy and feel-good vibes, it’s time to pull in the best friend and fast.
Go to a coffee shop. Go to their house. Just go. Go and hang out. You don’t need science to tell you that a good heart-to-heart with a friend (and maybe a glass of wine and dark chocolate) can be good for your health—but here’s one anyway.
Get out to give back
Work can feel monotonous. Maybe you’re tired of going to the same restaurants right by your place. Venturing into the slush to explore a new neighborhood (like you would during the sunny, warm months) is unappealing. Make going outside worthwhile by finding a way to volunteer your time.
Giving back makes you richer spiritually and emotionally. It has numerous health benefits, such as reduced stress levels, and reduced risk of depression. And it’s just a good thing to do. Check out One Good Deed Chicago or Chicago Cares to find volunteer opportunities that resonate with you.
I volunteer with a program called iMentor, which connects high school students in low-income communities with mentors (like me!). The goal is to help them graduate high school and succeed in college. Sometimes, I don’t know if I’m doing it right, but the coordinators say that showing up is more helpful than not being there at all. And that makes me feel rewarded every day.