How to move through the winter blues
Winter can be beautiful and fun.
But it can also be hard.
A few years back, I went through a rough patch midway through the season.
I’d wake to a sinking feeling in my chest and my cup of coffee did nothing to excite me (what? Impossible!).
Instead of rubbing my eyes and grabbing my favorite mug from the shelf, I stayed in bed ruminating about all that could go wrong in my day.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that every year around the same time, I'd develop some kind of mystery ailment. Like the time:
I had abdominal cramps and was convinced I had Crohn’s disease.
I saw spots and thought for sure it was MS.
I spent hours googling the difference between the flu and a cold at the slightest hint of a sore throat or a cough.
Seasonal Affect Disorder (SAD) is a real thing. It’s a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons and typically begins in the fall and goes through the end of April.
If you live in an area where there is a reduced level of sunlight, you may have experienced some form of SAD. I live on the east coast, where seeing the sunlight during the day is cause for a major celebration!
Decreased levels of sunlight may disrupt your body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm) and create a drop in serotonin (a brain chemical that affects mood). Additionally, changes in seasons can disrupt the balance of melatonin, affecting your sleep patterns and mood.
Symptoms of SAD include:
Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
Tiredness or low energy
Anxiety/Mildly depressed mood
Feeling sluggish or agitated
Having difficulty concentrating
EIGHT WAYS I COPED WITH SEASONAL AFFECT DISORDER
Once I realized that I was having bouts of SAD, I made a decision to shift my mindset. Instead of going into the first of November commenting on the weather with, “It’s cold” or “I haven’t seen the sun in days,” I focused on what I could control. This helped build my mindset muscle. Hint: Get that gratitude jorunal out.
Evidence has been mixed on the effect of Vitamin D on SAD, but Dr. Mark Hyman states that Vitamin D is critical to our emotional and physical health. He recommends that people get tested for over 25 OH vitamin D.
Real sunlight works wonders but when that’s not possible, light box therapy is known to offer effective treatment for SAD. Dr. Weil goes into great detail about the benefits here.
GET UP AND OUT
When your alarm goes off, get on up. After much experience, I’ve learned that nothing good comes from lying in bed after I wake. As Mel Robbins suggests, count backward 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and then stand and keep going.
Moving your body releases serotonin and endorphins (feel-good chemicals). Establishing a regular, structured routine helps you stay consistent. It doesn’t matter what type of activity it is, but try and aim for thirty minutes, 4 days per week.
EXPLORE YOUR PURPOSE
When I began to work towards what I really wanted in life and began to do things that made me happy, I had a greater sense of purpose. Shake up your regular routine and branch out by trying a new activity or setting up a date with a friend. Have you been wanting to book that vacation? It’s to for a date with Google.
HYGGE, PRONOUNCED HOO-GA
A Danish concept referring to a feeling of cozy contentment and well-being. In other words, savor the moments of snuggling under your blanket, taking that sip of steaming hot cocoa, or finishing the book you’ve had by your bedside for months.
For me, SAD typically came after the holidays. I was so busy putting out fires and operating in a state of reaction from November through January, that when February hit, my mind was like a train that had run out of tracks.
What I learned was that by slowing down and practicing better self-care during the busy months, I could train my brain to be more mindful and disciplined. When the months of February through April came, I was not left with the displaced mental energy and was able to redirect my thoughts.
If you’re struggling with shifts in the seasons, rather than aiming for a quick fix, commit to creating a practice that combines some of the ways above. I’d love to know if you struggle with changes in the weather! Comment below and let me know what works.