I’m writing this on Winter Solstice, the shortest day and longest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. For those of us with Seasonal Affective Disorder, and even those of us without, this is the turning point, when the sun begins to stay with us a little longer every day. The dark days are not over yet, but at least the light will begin to lengthen and night begin to shorten. With how long that slog can take before there is daylight at the beginnings and ends of our days, it’s no wonder this time of year remains challenging for so many. Even with the holidays aside, the depression is real and can be difficult to manage. Everyone is different, but here are a few things to consider trying if you’re suffering the winter doldrums too:
Turn on the lights. Daylight bulbs or SAD lamps are increasingly affordable and only need to be on for half an hour every morning to make a difference (I use a version of this (affiliate link), and leave it on most of the morning). More is not better, so you won’t want to leave them on all day, and you will still benefit from turning your regular lights on and keeping the shades open for whatever natural sunlight there is to make its way inside. Either way, take advantage of the blue light filter / night shift settings on your electronic devices. While they won’t strictly provide the wavelengths that help wake you up and lift your mood, blocking blue light will help keep your circadian rhythm regulated so that you’ll sleep more and better, which will contribute to your ability to get up and take advantage of the sun we do get, and to make that shift to being awake instead of being stuck half-between all the time.
Get warm. I don’t know about you, but it seems to feel even colder than it should for winter because of how dark it is all the time. The sun may not always warm in actuality, but it sure seems to help. Combat that chill by turning up the heat, bundling up into that cozy hoodie, piling on the fuzzy blankets, and eating and drinking hot foods and liquids. Being cold all the time is miserable and depressing, but you can control that piece of your comfort. Even with utilities getting expensive, you can put on lots of layers or add a lap throw over your legs or shoulders. You can also make the effort to eat real meals and heat up that cup of tea or even just hot water. They don’t have to be fancy; they just have to be warm, to help get your core temperature up and your body more comfortable overall.
Go outside. I know, I just told you to do everything you can to get and stay warm, and it’s cold out there. There’s a good reason to make you repeat all of that work, though, and that’s because nature is so very good for your psychological health. It doesn’t particularly matter where you go or what you do out there, though I’m partial to sitting somewhere with water and wild and the sun coming up. For you, it might be a local park or your tiny pocket of a balcony or backyard. As long as there’s fresh air, plants, and perhaps some sun, your body, brain, and soul will be able to soak up some of what you need. A few minutes regularly will do, but you might be surprised at how healing and refreshing it is to be outside for longer if you are properly dressed for the weather. Then get back inside, and enjoy the coziness of warming up.
Move around, indoors or out. A little light exercise will get your blood moving and improve your mood. I know it might not feel like it, and you might curse me every moment, but physical activity does things to your brain chemicals that can’t be avoided. Even if all it does is keep you on an even keel or keep you from deeper depression, that’s better than the dive that can happen without any exercise at all. A hard enough workout also functions as a bit of an escape and that’s no bad thing. You don’t have to work up a huge sweat and lots of soreness though. A short, light session is good too, perhaps a little bit of yoga or a walk around the block.
Treat yo’self. Start some trashy, comfort reading or a marathon of your favorite movies. Pick up some hobby supplies. Brighten up your space with new, colorful decorations. Surround yourself with things that make you smile, that can distract you from the dreary darkness that seems to still be looming over each day. It’s a standard of self-care, for good reason, and one that is worthwhile for the moods that come with this time of year. None of it needs to be high culture or massively talented. It just needs to be something you want around you, because you like seeing it or reading it or watching it or doing it.
And finally, folks, seek professional help if you need it. Winter blues are not uncommon, but that doesn’t mean you have to self-care and self-help your way through them. Do these things, and anything else you find helpful, then ask for help if you are still overwhelmed. You may need a more structured set of strategies, medication, therapy, or a combination of them. There’s no weakness or shame in that, when your brain chemicals betray you, and you might find that your life will improve more than you imagined could be possible. It’s a scary step, and if and when you take it you may need every shred of courage you can scrape together. You might have to try more than once for help that is effective. That’s okay. It’s still worth it. You’re still worth it.