I have a friend who loves winter. I mean, loves it. She’s all about the snow and the cold, and she gets outside as much as she possibly can. I like these things for about 5 minutes, and then I’m like, “Can we move onto Spring already? Please?”
The one thing that makes winter bearable for me is my bathtub and my fireplace. If you need to find me during the winter months, look in one of those two places, because I tend to go into hermit mode and all I want is either a warm fire or a warm bath. There is something very natural about withdrawing a bit during this season. It’s a time of year where people very intuitively want to slow down, stay inside and stick to themselves.
However, if you’re anything like me, winter can bring a sense of dread because the happy-go-lucky person I am in summer is sometimes replaced by a sad, irritable and unmotivated person in the winter.
I moved to Los Angeles when I was 5 and left for Washington DC when I was 17. Within a year of living on the East Coast, I started struggling during the winter. At 18, I went to a psychiatrist and described how I felt sad, unmotivated, generally despondent and lacked energy during the winter, but when summer rolled around, I was the upbeat, energized and happy person that I love being. He immediately told me he suspected Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a condition where a person exhibits depressive behavior during the winter months. A milder condition is known as “Winter Blues” and mimics SAD, but with less severe symptoms. I highly recommend reading the book, Winter Blues, by Dr. Normal Rosenthal to get more information and to find out how you can start helping yourself to feel better during the winter months.
Before I get to the natural tips on handling Winter Blues or Seasonal Affective Disorder, my advice is to See Someone. It’s really important to see a psychiatrist if you are experiencing depression or anxiety. Personally, I have mine on speed-dial if I need him. Many people who struggle with SAD require taking anti-depressants and I’ve taken them in the past. Every winter seems to hit me differently, so I look out for the signs if I sense things are going downhill. There is no shame in getting help.
If you suspect you might suffer from either Winter Blues or SAD, here are some tips that might make winter a bit easier for you:
- Use a Light Box: “Light Box Therapy” is the number one thing that helped me make it through the winter. A light box is literally a box of bright light. I keep mine on my desk and use it first thing in the morning. One of the reasons we suspect certain people suffer from SAD is the lack of natural light during the months of September to April. The light box acts as a supplement and provides added light when we need it most. Everyone responds to using it for different lengths of time so I recommend working with your psychiatrist as you find your “sweet spot.” Personally, I start using mine in the first week of October for about 20 minutes in the morning. As the fall progresses and becomes winter, I increase the length of time I use it. Last winter, I used it every morning for 45 minutes and if the day was particularly gray, I used it again in the afternoon for a “quickie” – 15 minutes or so.
- Exercise: This is so, so important. Exercise has been shown to be at least as effective as anti-depressants. I look at this as a non-negotiable item for me. I treat it like medication that must be taken at least 5 times a week. Aerobic activity has been shown to release serotonin. It’s also very important to pick a type of exercise that you truly enjoy. If you feel forced to exercise, it can have the opposite effect and your “happy” chemicals may not be released. Personally, tennis and dancing do the trick for me. So ask yourself what makes you feel really good, and then go do it!
- Switch to a Whole Foods Diet: Digestive health has been shown to have a very strong connection to depression. Some people believe that depression is the result of chronic inflammation of the gut. Regardless of whether or not this is true, improving your diet is essential to stabilize your mood. Clean eating can also reduce inflammation in your body. I’ve personally noticed a huge improvement in my depressive tendencies since I’ve cleaned up my diet.
- Get a Routine: None of the above work very well without a routine. For years, I “dabbled” with the light box, healthy eating and exercise. I never committed. Part of the reason I wasn’t able to actually establish these as a habit was that I didn’t take it seriously enough to establish a routine. As soon as I realized they were going to be my version of medicine, I committed. I wanted to feel better and I was willing to do whatever it took to prioritize myself. So I found a morning routine that worked for me – and I stuck to it. That last part is important! Consistency is what will get you the results.
- Repeat This Mantra: Spring is almost here! I know this one may sound bananas, but it works. Mindset is incredibly important when it comes to our internal dialog about winter. I used bitch and complain about winter, both in my head and out loud to anyone who would listen. All that was doing was reinforcing how awful I felt, so I was perpetuating the feeling every time I either opened my mouth or thought my negative thoughts. So last winter, I did an experiment: I decided to make friends with winter. I decided I would stop bad-mouth it behind it’s back. I would look for the things I actually enjoyed about it, and I would stop giving it negative energy. And guess what? It worked. Every time I wanted to complain, I thought instead: Spring is almost here! It reminded me that the seasons are temporary, time moves on, and I didn’t have to perpetuate my suffering by complaining if I didn’t want to.
Not everyday is hunky-dory, but I’ve come a very long way on my journey to make friends with winter. The tools above have helped me tremendously, and I hope they help you, too.
With so much love,