It’s that time of year. The holidays are over and our dreams of summer seem far off. For those of us who relish in hitting the slopes or in spending long nights with a book by the fire, we are in our element right now. Others of us may be experiencing a different story. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, if any of the following applies to you, you might be experiencing what is commonly known as “The Winter Blues”:
– Sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings
– Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
– Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
– Irritability or restlessness
– Loss of interest or pleasure in activities you usually enjoy
– Fatigue and decreased energy
– Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, making decisions
– Difficulty sleeping or oversleeping
– Changes in weight
What causes “The Winter Blues”? Also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, this is a seasonal form of mild depression that many of us in the northern latitudes experience in the winter. A recent study by researchers at The University of Copenhagen showed that the decreased light in winter months disrupts our bodily clock, causing Serotonin levels in our brain to drop.* Seasonal Affective Disorder can range from mild to severe- if you are experiencing the symptoms above and they are significantly interfering with your ability to function, please seek help from a mental health professional.
So, if you are feeling sad, “blah,” having difficulty getting out of bed, and are wondering what is wrong with you as your winter loving friends are jubilantly rejoicing about the cold and the snow, you are not alone! Here’s the good news: there are things you can do that will help. If you find yourself struggling this season, here are a few tips:
1. GET MOVING AND GET OUTSIDE.
Exercise improves our mood and helps regulate the chemicals in the brain. Try to exercise at least 30 minutes a day, most days, unless your doctor has told you otherwise. Additionally, because Vitamin D deficiency has been linked with seasonal depression, try to spend time in the sunshine on those warmer winter days. If you think Vitamin D deficiency is a possibility, talk to your doctor about a Vitamin D supplement.
2. SPEND TIME WITH SOMEONE YOU LOVE.
One of the risk factors for depression, regardless of the time of year, is social isolation. During the long winter months it sometimes seems harder than usual to spend time with our friends and family. Sometimes the length of winter can make us feel empty. We can dwell in this emptiness and longingly wait for warmer days. We also can choose to embrace this emptiness and use it to foster deeper relationships. When you are feeling that emptiness, as yourself: “Who is in my world that I haven’t connected with recently?” Deep winter is the perfect time to call our friends, make new friends, and deepen our relationships with each other.
As Booker T. Washington said, “If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else.” I love this quote because it speaks to the way volunteering seems to lift our spirits. When we help others, we inject hope and strength into the world, which in turn strengthens us. And, like I mentioned above, volunteerism helps minimize the feelings of “I’m alone in the world” that are all too common during the long winter months. So, if you are feeling low, pick up the phone and check out your local homeless shelter, humane society, library, nursing home, non-profit, etc. and see what they need help with. If you are in my area, message me if you need some ideas. I would love to collaborate with you!
4. EXPAND YOURSELF.
Try downhill skiing, cross country skiing, snowshoeing. Learn to write haiku. Study another culture. If you are in Fort Collins, I recommend checking out the great arts in our community at the CSU University Center for the Arts, The Lincoln Center, MidTown Arts Center, or Bas Bleu Theater (to name a few!), or heading down to Avo’s on an open mic night to hear some great local musicians like Corey Wright or Ben Sailors (I had to give you a shout out my friends!). If you are into something more cerebral, try attending one of the guest lectures at CSU or through Poudre River Public Libraries (more local suggestions are welcome!!). Pick up a book at the library about a country you want to visit. Even if it seems unattainable- pick up the book and look at it. Let your heart dream as you study each picture and think about each place. Use this time to dream about places you’ve never been and things you haven’t done yet. Write a bucket list and see what you can check off. Try a new recipe. Try a new sport. Take an art class. The point is, try something new. You never know when you might find yourself enthralled in a new passion!
5. SELF CARE.
Many of us are over worked and over tired. One of winter’s gifts to us is a reminder that it is okay to rest. Be gentle with ourselves. Just be. Pour yourself a cup of tea and pick up your favorite novel. And yes, it’s okay if you’ve read it three times. I’ve read most of my favorite books at least that many times. Take a bath. Find your favorite blanket and curl up with your favorite fur creature, if you have one. Watch your favorite movie. Let yourself rest. It’s okay to love yourself.
This winter, no matter where you are, I hope you find new ways to love and nourish yourself. May the light inside your soul illuminate your path and radiate to those around you.
*Mc Mahon et al., (2014). Seasonal difference in brain serotonin transporter binding predicts symptom severity in patients with seasonal affective disorder. Retrieved from http://www.ecnp-congress.eu/presentationpdfs/7/P.1.i.037.pdf.