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How 'Wintering' has changed my perspective and improved my mental health
Photo by Mara Ket on Unsplash
person holding heart-shaped snow

Winter has always been a bit of a struggle for me. A long slog that must be endured. As soon as October comes around, my mental health takes a dip. I get a rebound in December with its cozy holiday vibes, but once the calendar flips to January, my mental health takes a major hit. I find myself counting down the days until March, wishing time away.

But lately, I’ve realized just how problematic this is for me. Not only does my mental health suffer, but as a result of my winter 'blahs,' my relationships also suffer. I’m shorter with my family. My motivation wanes, which in turn leads to feelings of shame and guilt, which decreases motivation even more. Rinse and repeat.



woman in gray hoodie sitting on brown wooden boat on lake during daytimePhoto by Boxed Water Is Better on Unsplash

For the past few years, I’ve been making more of a concerted effort to tend to my mental health during these seasonal changes. An introvert at heart, hygge is my jam. Snuggling under a blanket with a hot cuppa something? Yes, please.

What has really transformed my outlook on winter and helped my mental health in the process, however, has been the concept of wintering. Popularized by Katherine May in her book by the same nameWintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times – wintering has not only changed the way I look at this season on the calendar, but also similar seasons of life.

Central to May’s book and the concept of wintering is adjusting our perspective of winter – whether the literal or metaphorical variety – from one of bleakness to one of renewal. Winters, after all, are essential to regrowth.

“Wintering brings about some of the most profound and insightful moments of our human experience, and wisdom resides in those who have wintered,” May writes.

Just reading these words last year – in the depths of a pandemic winter in the Upper Midwest, where cold isn’t just cold but downright frigid – brought comfort in this otherwise painful season. Instead of something to endure and wish away, winter started to feel almost honorable. And my newfound acceptance of it started to feel radical and rebellious. Instead of feeling like there was something wrong with me for feeling a bit sluggish, anxiety-ridden, and despairing, I felt an almost giddy ease, like I was in on a secret that these feelings were not only okay, but necessary.

body of water and snow-covered mountains during daytimePhoto by Tim Stief on Unsplash

At its core, wintering – to me, at least – is about changing my perspective and paying attention. “When you start tuning in to winter, you realize that we live through a thousand winters in our lives – some big, some small,” May writes. While this might seem like a pessimistic approach, there is comfort in knowing that we’ve made it through lean, hard, lonely times before, and we can do it again.

These winters of our life don’t need to be feared or avoided, but held with care and compassion. The past couple of years have felt like a never-ending winter for many of us, I suspect. Even when things seem reasonably “fine,” there’s a subliminal heaviness to my psyche. I feel stuck and confused, lethargic and antsy all at the same time. I want to heal.

Don’t get me wrong, wintering didn’t magically “fix” anything, but it did cause a subtle shift in me that snowballed (pardon the winter pun) into something more comfortable. Or at least less brutal.

So what does wintering look like for me, and how does it help my mental health?

person in orange jacket standing on snow covered groundPhoto by Boxed Water Is Better on Unsplash

Well, here are a few things I’ve tried to incorporate into my life during winter – whether they come in the months of December through February or some other time of the year:

Trust my intuition, and feel the feels. Once I accepted winters as a necessary, and perhaps even helpful part of life, I was able to accept them more easily. If I’m feeling sad or lonely, I let myself feel sad and lonely. Same thing with joy and comfort. We don’t need to ignore our sadness, or pretend it isn’t there; nor do we need to tamper our joy and contentment. We only need to trust ourselves. “Wintering,” May writes, “ is a moment of intuition, our true needs felt keenly as a knife.”

Give myself permission to rest – like, really, rest. Lying on the couch while my mind races with all the things I “should” be doing isn’t really resting. Nor is it resting if I feel guilty about how or when you rest. Wintering gives us permission to rest when and how we need. No questions asked. That means more sleep too. With darkness enveloping our home earlier, we might feel an almost circadian urge to sleep more. This is normal and good.

Get physical with wintering. In her book, May tells the story of cold water swimming (and by cold, I mean 37 degrees Fahrenheit cold). I was nearly shivering just reading about it, but there was something exhilarating about it too.

“Immersion in cold water has been shown to increase levels of dopamine, the neurotransmitter that stimulates the brain’s reward and pleasure centers, by 250 percent,” May notes in the book. “A recent study found that regular winter swimming significantly decreased tension and fatigue, as well as negative states associated with memory and mood, and improved swimmers’ sense of general wellbeing.”

person holding white ceramic mugPhoto by Alex Padurariu on Unsplash

I’m not going to start swimming in Lake Michigan in the middle of January, but this concept has changed my perspective. I’m more likely to blast the cold water at the end of a shower, and I was more eager to walk out into a cold mountain lake on vacation this summer, instead of sitting on the rocky shore as I would have done in the past. I feel energized and peaceful all at the same time, while also sensing a clarity that I can’t quite pinpoint. Bottom line: it feels good even if it feels uncomfortable.

Don’t be ashamed or embarrassed of the dark and difficult times. As May writes, “Everybody winters at one time or another; some winter over and over again.” In our glossy and edited social media culture, it can be easy to think that we are alone in our struggles, mental health challenges, and difficult times. But that just isn’t true.

Our inability to accept, hold space for, and even nurture our pain doesn’t come from a personality flaw or weakness, but simply because we weren’t given the tools to do otherwise. As May writes, “We’re not raised to recognize wintering or to acknowledge its inevitability. Instead, we tend to see it as a humiliation, something that should be hidden from view lest we shock the world too greatly.”

I’ve been open about my mental health challenges, but the concept of wintering has helped me be more open about these challenges in real time. I’m far more likely to say, “I am struggling” or “I’m dealing with a touch of depression right now,” than waiting until I “feel better.” And this distinction has been critical in getting the help and support so that I can actually feel better.

Wintering isn’t just cozy socks, glowing candles, and knitting while tucked under a quilt. Though it can certainly be those things too. Mostly it’s about seeing winter, and any hard or dark times in our life, for what they are – essential. Wintering is about shutting off the constant busyness and go-go-going of our lives that we sometimes use to mask our pain or anxiety or sadness so that we can recover, heal, and grow.

Christine is a writer who lives in the Chicago area with her husband, two sons, and rescue dog. You can find her on Facebook and Instagram.

Photo courtesy of Girls at Work

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This article originally appeared on 02.25.21


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All images provided by Adewole Adamson

It begins with more inclusive conversations at a patient level

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Adewole Adamson, MD, of the University of Texas, Austin, aims to create more equity in health care by gathering data from more diverse populations by using artificial intelligence (AI), a type of machine learning. Dr. Adamson’s work is funded by the American Cancer Society (ACS), an organization committed to advancing health equity through research priorities, programs and services for groups who have been marginalized.

Melanoma became a particular focus for Dr. Adamson after meeting Avery Smith, who lost his wife—a Black woman—to the deadly disease.

melanoma,  melanoma for dark skin Avery Smith (left) and Adamson (sidenote)

This personal encounter, coupled with multiple conversations with Black dermatology patients, drove Dr. Adamson to a concerning discovery: as advanced as AI is at detecting possible skin cancers, it is heavily biased.

To understand this bias, it helps to first know how AI works in the early detection of skin cancer, which Dr. Adamson explains in his paper for the New England Journal of Medicine (paywall). The process uses computers that rely on sets of accumulated data to learn what healthy or unhealthy skin looks like and then create an algorithm to predict diagnoses based on those data sets.

This process, known as supervised learning, could lead to huge benefits in preventive care.

After all, early detection is key to better outcomes. The problem is that the data sets don’t include enough information about darker skin tones. As Adamson put it, “everything is viewed through a ‘white lens.’”

“If you don’t teach the algorithm with a diverse set of images, then that algorithm won’t work out in the public that is diverse,” writes Adamson in a study he co-wrote with Smith (according to a story in The Atlantic). “So there’s risk, then, for people with skin of color to fall through the cracks.”

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“At the end of the day, what matters most is how we help patients at the patient level,” Adamson told Upworthy. “And how can you do that without knowing exactly what barriers they face?”

american cancer society, skin cacner treatment"What matters most is how we help patients at the patient level."https://www.kellydavidsonstudio.com/

The American Cancer Society believes everyone deserves a fair and just opportunity to prevent, find, treat, and survive cancer—regardless of how much money they make, the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, gender identity, their disability status, or where they live. Inclusive tools and resources on the Health Equity section of their website can be found here. For more information about skin cancer, visit cancer.org/skincancer.

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Pop Culture

'90s kids share movies that will 'take you back to a better time'

It was a magical time when animals played sports and yet somehow things were just simpler.

YouTube/Upworthy photo illustration

Honey, I shrunk the kid named Matilda while jamming in space!

Everyone knows that '90s movies just hit different. From sports movies to rom-coms to even horror, there was an undeniable innocence, without being overly simplistic or juvenile. They didn’t have nearly the amount of money going into production as they do today, but somehow managed to transport us to magical places.

Movies of the '90s are so iconic that there have been several attempts to reboot beloved titles. Which, let’s face it, tends to be a fool's errand at a cash grab. These movies are so timeless that simply viewing the original is more than fine.

Not sure which movie to start with? You’re in luck—a Reddit user by the name of YouBrokeMyTV asked ’90s kids to share movies that took them “back to a better time,” and because the internet can be a wonderful place, tons of people responded with some beloved classics.

These answers certainly don’t make a definitive list (there are just so, so many gems) but they're a fun glimpse into what made '90s cinema so special. A nostalgic romp through memory lane, if you will.

Enjoy these 14 titles that just might leave you jonesing for a rewatch:

1. "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids"

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A perfect example of how '90s movies were silly, but smart at the same time. And oh so wholesome.

2. "The Sandlot"

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It taught us nothing about baseball, but everything about friendship, rooting for the underdog and (most important) how to make s’mores.

3. "Drop Dead Fred"

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Critics might have run this cult classic through the mud during its inception, but audiences fell in love with the bizarre charm of this story about a mischievous little girl and her anarchist imaginary friend. So take that, snotfaces!

4. "The Goonies"

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Everyone just wanted to set off an epic quest with their friends for pirate treasure after seeing this movie.

5. Tim Burton's "Batman"

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Before the superhero genre was the behemoth it is today, a quirky director and the dude who was best known for playing the creepy demon in "Beetlejuice" breathed new life into comic-book movies. Marvel might be the leader on creating stories with adult themes that are digestible for kids nowadays, but this DC film was the first of its kind. Plus, that soundtrack … forget about it.

6. "Hook"

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Pretty much any '90s film starring Robin Williams was an absolute gem, but this one in particular is timeless. His gift of balancing childlike humor with emotional gravitas lent itself so well to playing the now grown and cynical Peter Pan, who must learn to reclaim his joy (relatable, millennials?). It was a bang-a-rang-er, no question.

7. "Space Jam"

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It had Looney Tunes, it had aliens and it had Michael Jordan. That’s a winning combination.

8. "Matilda"

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I don’t think I’m out of line when I say that this movie helped a lot of kids make their way through difficult childhoods.

9. "The Parent Trap"

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Even '90s reboots were awesome. And how fun it is to see that Lisa Ann Walker—the actress who played Chessy the housekeeper—is not only yet again gracing the screens in NBC’s “Abbott Elementary,” but is also being revered as a style icon on TikTok for her ultra casual looks in the film. We all knew she was onto something with long button downs and shorts.

10. "The Land Before Time"

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No cartoon, not even “The Lion King,” was a better depiction of childhood grief. And yet, despite encapsulating tragedy, director Don Bluth still left viewers hopeful. The subsequent 14 (yes 14) sequels definitely pale in comparison to the original, but "The Land Before Time" continues to stand the test of time nonetheless.

11. "Richie Rich"

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The scene where they play tag on four-wheelers is simply iconic.

12. "Dunston Checks In"

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Man, the '90s were the golden age of animal-centered films. And not just monkeys either—we got sports playing golden retrievers and not one, but two movies starring talking pigs. What a time to be alive. These films were made before CGI had reached the levels it’s at today, and the authentic interactions between humans and creatures reached right through the screen.

13. "George of the Jungle"
george of the jungle, brendan faser

Watch out for the tree!!!

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Have I seen this movie at least 20 times? Probably. It doesn’t get any better than this in terms of silly action films with bird puppets. It’s crazy to think that this role would eventually lead Brendan Fraser to "The Mummy" franchise, turning him into a household name. Though his career has had some tragic ups and downs, we are all grateful for the glorious comeback he’s been having.

14. Anything involving Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen
mary kate and ashley

Yes, they were professional detectives.

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Whether vacationing in London, Paris or Rome, whether playing magical witches or making a huge billboard so their father could find love … Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen offered zany, whimsical entertainment while wearing fun outfits. Sometimes, that’s all you need.