To help you survive the winter months, I’m sharing how I manage seasonal depression. Keep your mood from getting gloomy, too!
First off, I want to say I feel pretty stupid talking about seasonal depression,.
To think that my mental and emotional health is influenced by the weather is a strange and somewhat embarrassing concept. Nonetheless, I can’t help but notice there might be some truth to all those SAD articles out there. So this is me, facing the music and accepting gloomy weather has a tendency to make me gloomy as well. After noticing this in myself more and more the last few years, I went into winter this year determined to stay ahead of seasonal depression in hopes of nipping it in the bud altogether.
Over the weekend, I got a real understanding of just how much sunshine makes a difference for me. We had a bitter cold front here in Cincinnati with temperatures dropping below zero. But even amidst the frigid cold temps, two days of constant sunshine helped keep my spirits up – to the point where I even enjoyed taking a walk in the freezing cold. (Something that would feel like absolute torture on a standard gray winter day.)
But let’s face it: while sunny days do spring up in the wintertime, they’re few and far between. Most days, I’m left muddling through the cold winter temperatures with endless gray skies during the day and darkness that begins at 6 o’clock.
Day after day of gloomy weather can take its toll on your frame of mind, making seasonal depression something many understandable experience.
Tips to Manage Seasonal Depression
Good news? I’ve found that by putting in a little effort to manage seasonal depression, I notice a dramatic difference. And so today, I wanted to share what I’ve been doing for the last couple months to help myself from slipping into a winter depression. (After all, we’re not bears adn can’t just hibernate our way through the winter…as nice as that may sound.)
Obviously, we’re all going to still have “bad days” now and then – seasonal depression aside. Life’s stresses, hormones and a multitude of other things make that pretty much a guarantee. But, at the very least, we can all make wintertime a bit less miserable by taking a few relatively easy steps.
Yes, to keep seasonal depression at bay you’re going to have to consciously put in a little work…but nothing too over the top or tricky. To learn about all the ways I’m working to better managing my mood this winter, keep reading below!
Aha there, the most obvious tip that I guarantee you saw coming a mile away. Manage seasonal depression by maintaining an exercise routine. Genius idea, right?
Truth is, my seasonal depression can make going to the gym feel like a nightmare. Some days, my ENTIRE drive there is me toying with the idea of turning around to head straight back home. Once I hit the parking lot, I’m pretty much okay but I tell ya – it can be DIFFICULT to get there. At the gym I keep myself from getting bored by mixing up my routines. Some days I do the elliptical and weight machines, other days I’ll do water aerobics and I’ve even taking to enjoying a weekly Pilates class every Saturday. Whatever form of exercise I choose to do that day – I notice my mood start to improve within ten minutes of exercise.
If you don’t have a gym membership, you might be thinking you’re screwed but you’re not. And no, I’m not going to recommend you freeze your arse off exercising outdoors either.
All you have to do is get on YouTube and look up some at-home exercise routines. High-intensity interval training in particular is a great thing to do at home and uses minimal equipment. Most of the time all you’ll need are some free weights – which if you don’t already have, you really should.
Meditation with the Calm App
I feel like I talk about the Calm app so much I practically work there – except I totally don’t and they don’t pay me at all. (Although, they totally should!)
What I love about the Calm app is how it takes meditation much further than a basic breathing exercise. No matter what mood you’re in, there’s a guided meditation for you that essentially is like talk therapy. Whether you’re feeling anxious, sad, stressed, agitated with someone, angry or otherwise – there will be a guided session tailored to help you work through whatever’s on your mind.
Are you motivated by seeing your progress? The app also conveniently tracks how frequently and long you use the app. It’s super inspiring to watch your “mindful minutes” count grow and grow.
Similar to exercising to manage seasonal depression, meditation and the Calm app will require work on your part. Turning on a session simply isn’t enough. You have to be present and pay attention to get the rewards from your practice – which isn’t always easy.
When my mind won’t shut up (which happens about 50% of the time), I literally FORCE myself to silence my thoughts. To do so, I mentally
yell sing to myself “Free your mind and the rest will follow!” I then continue on by breathing in for four counts, holding four counts and exhaling four counts. As cheesy as it sounds, leaning on En Vogue’s classic and the triangle breathing technique really does help cut through the constant noise of my thoughts.
P.S. If you’re in an EMERGENCY state and really need help shutting your mind up, the Calm app has a “Breathe” section that features an inflating/deflating circle that you can watching while breathing to visually get on track.
Find Joy in the Winter Weather
In discussing ways to manage seasonal depression, it goes without saying that finding ways to actually enjoy winter can help.
Obviously no one likes being cold and staring at a gray sky all day. Realistically, I don’t think I’d ever be able to change your mind on that…and I don’t want to. But, there are things about winter you CAN enjoy to help fend off seasonal depression.
One example of this for me is my attitude about snow. Honestly, I used to dread snow so much I got anxiety just at the thought of it. Now? I’ve changed my attitude and find myself almost looking forward to snow like a kid on Christmas morning. (Okay, that might be a bit of a stretch but I really am trying to enjoy it more.)
To shift my mindset, I’ve started to look on the bright side. Yes, it’s going to be cold and gray in the wintertime – but snow can only help the situation by giving me something pretty to look at. No longer do I *cringe* at the four-letter word when it springs up in the weekly forecast. Instead, I start thinking of how much more beautiful everything will look with fresh snow on the ground. When the snow arrives, I try my best to enjoy it. That doesn’t mean you have to go so far as to build a snowman, but taking a “winter’s walk” in the snow or even playing in it with your dog can go a long way.
Embracing the Darkness
No question, the fact that it gets dark so dang early in the wintertime is what gets to me the most. Even though yes, days are still 24 hours long – I can’t help but feel short-changed on time because it’s dark already when I leave for work. I find myself longing for those long summer days where it doesn’t get dark until 9 pm and I feel like I have way more time to myself. Sure, it’s all an optical illusion but it really makes a difference to me.
To get around the “dark factor” of winter, I turn to candles and fairy lights ALL season long. White twinkly lights don’t just have to be reserved for Christmastime, y’know? In fact, I salute using them all year-round – but especially in the months of January, February and March. When you embrace the darkness and cozy up to dim lighting and candles, somehow the fact that it’s pitch black at 7 pm doesn’t feel as depressing.
Get More Vitamin D
It goes without saying that less sunlight in the wintertime means you’ll be receiving less natural Vitamin D. As such, your seasonal depression might actually stem from a Vitamin D deficiency. To get more, you can start by taking full advantage of whatever daylight there is by getting outside as much as you can when the sun is out. If that’s not a realistic option because of work or other reasons, you can also look into adding a Vitamin D supplement to your diet.
If you’re taking an everyday multi vitamin, that probably has you covered. But either way, definitely check in with your doctor by scheduling an appointment or sending them a message via MyChart. Your doctor will be able to determine the best plan for you.
Plan Things to Look Forward To
In today’s insta society, instant gratification is rampant. So much so, that I feel we as a society rarely have something we’re looking forward to.
One of the ways I manage seasonal depression is by giving myself something to look forward to that will lift my spirits. That can be anything from booking a vacation to treating myself to a massage to seeing a movie that looks entertaining or indulging in a favorite snack. As a rule of thumb, I think it’s good to have at least one thing on the calendar each week you’re looking forward to – big or small.
A word of caution, though, on not totally blowing your budget! It’s easy to get sucked into treating yourself to this, that and everything to make yourself feel better…but that can get expensive. Stay within a realistic budget and take time to actually really LOOK FORWARD to something instead of filling your time with things you want and don’t need at every second.
Cut Back on Alcohol
This might not be the most popular item to include for everyone, but I really do find that limiting your alcohol intake helps dramatically in keeping your spirits up. It’s seriously no joke when they say alcohol is a “depressive” so when looking for ways to manage seasonal depression, it’s pretty much a no-brainer to give it up altogether or really limit yourself.
I know, I know. Sometimes the thought of curling up with a glass of wine at the end of a long day can be quite appealing. But that same glass of wine can upset your sleep pattern and lower your mood. Instead? Try reaching for a mug of peppermint tea or even better: hot chocolate with copious marshmallows. (Psst: Trader Joe’s are gelatin-free!)
Hit the Kitchen
On thing I enjoy more so in the wintertime than in the summer? Cooking! Come July and August, it’s far too hot and humid for me to be bothered to do anything other than taking a trip to the nearest salad bar. When it’s freezing in the winter time? The thought of standing over a hot stove is much more appealing.
Soups in particular are go-to favorites in the winter months but recently I’ve also had fun experimenting with curry dishes and even Polenta! If you’re looking for a good recipe to get you started…my Spiced Vegetable Lentil soup is quite uplifting (and tasty). Feel free to share your favorites below as well!
Thank you so much for reading! I hope by sharing how I manage seasonal depression you’re able to come up with an idea or two to help you through the bitter cold months. If you have any suggestions on ways to keep SAD at bay this winter, please share those as well! I’m sure there are dozens of ideas I haven’t thought of yet and I’d love to hear your thoughts.
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