As winter arrives, I’m taken back in my mind to last year… Last winter, I was really down and out at the start of 2019. I spent so much time in bed, engaging in unhealthy coping methods, and generally just feeling rotten about myself and my life. While I don’t know for sure if this was general depression or Season Affective Disorder (S.A.D.) — I should have sought professional help, but I didn’t — I do know that it was pretty terrible to feel that way.
Though I feel very differently now than I did then (not gonna lie — 2019 turned itself around and turned out to be one of the best years I’ve had in a long time!), when I think back on last winter, my mind starts racing and all I can think about is how to prevent myself from falling back into that darkness again this year. So, of course, I decided to do some research on S.A.D. and learn about how I could prevent it, or, if it happens to strike again this year, how I can cope with it.
Even if you don’t have S.A.D. or depression, you might find yourself facing the winter blues. With colder temps and darker, shorter days, it’s not surprising that many people struggle during this season. You can’t always avoid feeling sad (or S.A.D.) altogether, but here are some of the tips I’ve discovered that I think would really help if you’re struggling.
- GET A LIGHT BOXI’ve never tried one of these so I can’t vouch for their effectiveness, but from what I’ve read, it sounds like they can really help people who are suffering with S.A.D. Apparently there are many different types (as well as something called a “dawn simulator” that’s used to wake you up in the morning) so be sure to do your research and figure out which one would be best for you.
- VENTURE OUTDOORSThe lack of light and shorter days can make it tough to go outside (especially if, like me, you’re not an outdoorsy type to begin with), but if you’re feeling down, making the effort to spend time in the fresh air can really help. Even just a quick walk around the block can help! (Or get a pup so you’re forced to take them out and get some outdoor time in every day!)
- TRY THERAPY (CBT)While I can’t personally verify that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy works for S.A.D., I do know that it’s worked for me in the past to deal with other mental health issues and it’s the therapy type I saw recommended the most while looking up info on S.A.D. Seeking professional help is one of the best ways to find solutions for your specific needs, so I highly recommend it.
- MAKE SOME ARTArt therapy really does work, and I honestly don’t know if I would have survived last winter without making art. I know art isn’t everyone’s thing, but if you’re feeling down, give it a try. It doesn’t have to be traditional art either — try writing, pottery, drawing, painting, sewing. Anything creative that allows you to get in a flow for a bit can help.
- CONSIDER MEDSTo get through S.A.D. some people need the assistance of medication. If you’re having a difficult time, talk to your doctor about what you’re going through to see if there might be something that can work for you. (Whatever you do, don’t attempt to self-medicate. It never works out and often makes things way worse than they were.)
- PRACTICE YOGAYoga is another saving grace for me. I’m not particularly good at it and I generally do it for about 10-15 minutes every day, but even when I half-ass it and don’t feel up for it, making the time to do it always makes me feel a bit better. (My favorite is Yoga with Adriene on YouTube but there are tons of yogis online!) Exercising also works wonders if yoga isn’t your thing.
- SEEK SUNLIGHTOpen the blinds! Pull up the curtains! The lack of sunlight is one of the reasons for S.A.D. so the more of it you can allow into your home, the better. If you don’t have a desk near a window, as your boss if there’s somewhere else you can work temporarily to be near a sunny spot. Going outside isn’t always an option, but take advantage of sunny days indoors by allowing the light in.
- MAKE PLANS When I’m feeling down, the last thing I want to do is be around people. But I’ve discovered that it’s often what my mind needs when I’m sad. I don’t enjoy going out in the cold, but I’m planning to make an effort to make lots of plans this winter so that I’m busy and socializing. It won’t be easy, but I know it’s helpful for me.
- STICK TO A SCHEDULEWith the lack of daylight, it’s tempting to go to bed super early or sleep in (if you have the option), but I’ve read (and also believe) that sticking to a schedule is important for managing or preventing S.A.D. The body and mind love to be on schedules and it gives your life a sense of purpose that’s important when you’re feeling down. Your winter schedule can be different from your summer one, but just try to stick to it!
Of course, there are many other options to explore and if you’re really suffering during the winter, seeking professional help (whether in the form of therapy or from your doctor) is always a good idea. If you’re feeling down (especially after the holiday season passes and it feels like a swift change in pace), know that you’re not alone and that it’s perfectly normal to experience down days in the winter. Try to remember that, even when it doesn’t seem like it, the difficult darkness will pass. There will be a spring again (or something that makes it feel like spring to you).