This blog was originally written for Unbridled Changes.
Winter can be tough. Many people struggle with seasonal affective disorder, meaning they begin experiencing depressive symptoms in the winter. If this winter you are finding yourself feeling less motivated, crying more easily, feeling numb or just have lost interest in things you used to enjoy then you may be experiencing seasonal affective disorder, also known appropriately as SAD.
While this is not intended for medical advice, here are some tips for self-care to combat SAD:
1. Get enough sleep. Set a specific bedtime and wake up time and stick to it. If you are finding it hard to go to sleep at night, try putting your phone or other electronics away 1-2 hours before bedtime to allow your body to adjust. Blue light from devices inhibits melatonin production that can lead to disrupted circadian rhythms or insomnia.
2. Connect to other people. Winter can be hard when we are all staying at home, especially in the past year. Research shows that having emotionally vulnerable conversations with people we care about can increase oxytocin in the brain and improve moods. Schedule a facetime with a close friend or find a coffee shop to meet at. You’ll be glad you did.
3. Create a gratitude list. When we are feeling overwhelmed or depressed, it can be easy to overlook the things we have going well. Spend 15 minutes a day writing a gratitude list of everything you can think of and see how your mood changes. We can’t make the cold go away, but we can choose what we want to put our focus on.
4. Exercise. In the spring and summer, we may exercise more naturally, but when it’s cold and grey, the inclination is to stay under the covers. Exercising for 15-30 minutes a day can boost serotonin in the brain and help get your blood flowing. Look for an online workout video, take advantage of that gym membership or maximize your time and ask a friend to go for a winter walk.
5. Meet with a therapist. Scheduling a counseling appointment can feel daunting when you feel unmotivated to do much, but having someone designated to talk to can help process your experience and get you back on the road to feeling like yourself again.
6. Identify 3-5 things that make you feel filled up. And do them. This can look like engaging in religious activities such as prayer or worship. This could be taking a bath while listening to an audio book. This could look like finding a new recipe to try in the kitchen. Schedule a massage or get dressed up and go out to eat.
7. Be kind to yourself. Often when experiencing SAD symptoms, our self-talk can become brutal. Give yourself space to not feel 100%. In the winter, we were meant to slow down and rest more. If you need extra naps, it’s ok. If you need to just drink hot tea under a blanket, it’s also ok. This season will pass too, spring is just around the corner.