The day I dig my knee-length down jacket out of the closet is always a sad one for me. I put it off as long as I possibly can, clinging to the final days of fall like the crinkly brown leaves on the alder trees in our yard.
This year, that fateful day fell on Thanksgiving and unlike other years, my jacket brought with it a life-shifting realization: I struggle with depression. Not the clinical kind, but a kind that has an impact on my everyday life nonetheless.
I’m talking about seasonal depression, or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Growing up in the Minnesota tundra, you learn about SAD early in life. I remember discussing it in my middle school health class, but I never gave it a second thought. I was a normal, active, well-adjusted teenager after all. How could I be depressed?
But a recent conversation with my roommate and bestie, Anna, made me change my mind.
She and I were on our way home from a Bikram yoga class and were discussing how grateful we were to have something like hot yoga to get us through the dark winter months. I mentioned that the weeks since Thanksgiving had been tough on me, mentally and physically, and that I could feel myself slipping into an emotionally dark place but didn’t know why.
“No wonder! That’s when winter happened.”
She’s a wise one, that Anna. As the days get darker and the wind blows harder, lots of the little things I do to relieve stress and feel vibrant (reading in the park, earthing, sunbathing, biking to work, running around the lake, letting my skin show, sleeping with the window open) are suddenly off limits.
To add insult to injury, the environmental assaults on our bodies this time of year are only piling up: bitter wind, frequent rain, constant darkness, dry air, withering greenery, less fresh produce. No wonder I’ve been feeling off.
Before talking to Anna, my reaction to those early feelings of depression was shame and disappointment – like I’d let my health routine slip and was therefore responsible for feeling so out of it.
But now I realize that it’s not my fault at all. I’m not doing anything differently. My environment is what’s changed – and dramatically, too. Can you relate?
But don’t despair! We don’t have to let winter get the best of us this year. It’s not too late to fight back!
Supporting our mental/emotional health is important every day of the year, but if you’re a summer gal like me, it’s especially crucial to be mindful of your energy levels once the weather turns cold.
Rather than waking up in January ready to pull your hair out with cabin fever, let’s turn this negative into a positive and use winter as an opportunity to practice proactive self-care.
Now, by “proactive self-care” I don’t mean going on meditation retreats or getting weekly massages. I just mean being mindful of our self-care routines and making sure we’ve got enough tools at our disposal to keep our energy in a good place. (I’ll be writing more about my personal self-care tactics next week!)
Need some ideas? Try this:
- Make a list of the stress-relief and self-love practices you regularly follow. (Get creative here! This can be anything from practicing yoga to calling your mom to taking the long way home.)
- Identify which items are off limits now that the weather’s turned cold.
- For each practice you cross of the list, come up with a replacement that you can adopt for the next 3-4 months.*
- Optional: Take it one step further and pencil a few practices into your schedule.
*Keep in mind that your replacements don’t need to be direct substitutes. For example, you could replace going to the beach with doing a puzzle. The objective here is simply to fill your toolkit with just as many self-love practices now as you would any other time of year.
Hopefully this exercise will help you stay mindful about giving yourself what you need. If we can be intentional about protecting ourselves against winter’s assaults, we can nip SAD in the bud before it begins!
So, what am I doing to stay happy and healthy this winter? Stay tuned for my personal self-love action list later this week!
What about you?
I’d love to hear about how you handle the winter blues. Share your tactics in the comments!
Be well (even in the winter),