Winter can be rough. No matter where you are located (at least in the Northern Hemisphere) the days are shorter, they tend to be darker, its colder and we all tend to enter a bit of a hibernation. It’s funny as I never really thought of it that way- but, like many animals, we do tend to hibernate in the winter in some form. Whether that means that we just stay home more, stay inside, or if we actually struggle with a level of depression that tends to be present in those darkest months of Winter. And with that hibernation can come a level of…stagnation. There is so much “staying put” that it envelops us and tends to not only just affect what we do, but also how we think and feel. Seasonal Depression (technically called Seasonal Affective Disorder of SAD, but I’m shortening it for the purposes of this post) is a very real thing and a very common thing.
How we deal with Seasonal Depression is such a personal thing. For some it requires a level of medication, for others natural remedies, and for some a combination of different things. For me, I’ve found that making an intentional shift to my morning routines, to my outlook, to what I eat and do really helps.
I don’t know that I had ever dealt with Seasonal Depression prior to our move to Germany. And it wasn’t Germany’s fault that I got it- we just happened to get these super thick foggy weeks (yes weeks, not days) where you couldn’t see past your car hood, and it would just sit. Unmoving. I was driving home one day from playgroup with the boys and the direction my thoughts went was…unheard of for me. It crept up on me and, until my brain cycled through that, I didn’t realize that it was actually Seasonal Depression.
It wasn’t that I didn’t think I would ever deal with Seasonal Depression, it was that I was such a gloomy day kind of girl. I love a soft rainy day, overcast skies, cooler temps (and by cooler, I mean like 60’s- let’s not go crazy)- all of this spells the perfect day for me. HOWEVER, when you go weeks with this thick unending fog, gloomy gray taking over everything and everywhere…well let’s just say even the gloomiest of weather girl gets out of sorts. And boy, I got way out of sorts.
I learned a lot that year, about Seasonal Depression, about what works for me and what doesn’t, and then how to prepare and work through it for future years. I will say, I am very blessed in that I deal with this in a very mild way. Most of my issues just are general mood and sleep issues. I’ve found and learned and talked through intentional ways to “trick” myself (which we’ll get into) and make this work for me. However, if you are dealing with Seasonal Depression, it’s always a good idea to talk with a therapist and figure out what works best for you.
For me, there is a lot of intention that I put in for the winter months. I’m already a “make the mundane magical” kind of person, but this really amps up in the winter (though to be fair it’s really just amped up across the board since coming back to the States). It starts when I wake up in the morning…
One of those things I struggle with in the winter is sleep. I tend to oversleep or have very little energy to actually get up in the morning. As this goes on, I can fall into the trap of becoming a bit of a night recluse, though that tends to come later when the real overstimulation hits. A lot of my morning issues boil down to the fact that there is no light. When I wake up in the morning it’s dark, throughout the day it tends (in our area) to stay very gray, and then all of the sudden it’s dark again before dinner time. Very dark. I’ve been looking at a variety of sunrise alarm clocks, and while I still need to buy an actual one some point in the near future, this year I did get a small light that is movable that I was able to set up as a makeshift sunrise alarm clock. I picked up THIS little light and one of the settings you can program is a sunrise to go off when you’re alarm clock goes off. It’s not quite a sunrise alarm clock as those mimic the sunrise much better, typically over an hour or so, this one cycles through the brightness and colors in about a minute and a half, but it does the trick in a pinch!
In order to combat the overwhelming urge to just snuggle under and stay in bed, I will give myself 5 minutes post alarm (10 minutes if I’m sick/slept poorly/whatever), then I sit up, turn my actual lamp on, and turn my phone upside down. Since I’m already sitting up, a full light is on, I might as well just get out of bed and get going- mind tricks at their best. My body, my mind, and my soul truly appreciate the extra quiet time in the mornings to prep myself before the kids have to get up.
Another trick that I play on myself is to properly get ready for the day, even if I’m not going anywhere (this is absolutely not the first time I’ve shared about this phenomenon). This is a twofold situation- the first is that I always feel better when I’m at least a little put together, the second is that if you trick your body and mind into thinking something is happening, you’ll actually make things happen. For me personally, if I stay in sweats all day or pajama clothing, I tend to do very little and, as someone who NEEDS to be at least somewhat productive, this is a problem. So, I pick out an outfit that works for how I’m feeling and then I’ll figure out how to make it work for the weather (as sometimes I just cannot bring myself to wear jeans). Once I get clothes on, throw a little dash of makeup on and fiddle with my hair, I put some soft music on my phone.
I’m a big music person- it sets the mood, can change the mood, can alter my thoughts and feelings. Most mornings it’s a soft playlist (Romanticize Your Life), a mixture of classical, movie scores, and a couple of songs that just speak to my soul. I will play it through a Bluetooth speaker once I get downstairs and the soft melodies really drift through the downstairs and create a calm, cozy atmosphere.
But, honestly, the most important thing I do for myself in the winter is work on feeling like those little moments, the first cup in the morning, watching yet another snowfall from my backdoor, spending way too much time inside my house, are actually the most magical moments. Really just marveling at what winter DOES offer, rather than what I’m losing when it’s gray for days on end and I can’t always step outside for a long walk in the woods (which I technically could still do, but most of the walking paths aren’t maintained in the winter, so it requires snowshoes and full gear).
Even though I can’t necessarily go for the walks and fun things that I normally will do with friends when the weather is nice, I try to do other things. I’ll do a brunch charcuterie with a friend, or a reading date, things along those lines (I’m not a big gym go-er so I don’t “go workout” or walk the treadmill- though I have done that).
I will tell you what I don’t do, or rather what I try to do less…spend time on electronics. I try to limit (as much as I can) my time on social media, my time on shopping websites (which tends to get bad in the winter), and my time watching tv/movies/YouTube. During winter I’ll fall into rabbit holes very quickly and will find myself spending hours rewatching, scrolling, whatever. Then I end up feeling worse than I did before (I know psychologically I am dissociating and all the rest of that, but I really just want to do less psycho analysis this year my goodness). I try to put my phone up at distances while I am doing other things, or just ignore it all together as much as I can. Again, not perfect (as my screen time would confirm), but it is something I tend to try to be more aware of in winter.
You’ll notice I haven’t said anything about moving my body. It’s true that I’m a big exercise that doesn’t feel like exercise person- think hikes, walks, bike rides, and such, with a little yoga on the side. During winter outdoor walks are…difficult until they end up becoming impossible without fifty million layers. It’s also true that I’m a big believer that moving your body in some way is essential to your mental health (and your physical but you already know that). I try to move my body in some way 3 times a week. Typically, that ends up being yoga, but sometimes I try to throw a little cardio dance workout in there just to get my heartbeat going and the blood truly pumping. But I also don’t push it too much- if it happens then it’s great, if not there is another day to try. I’m always outside walking to and from the bus stop twice a day so there is something every day.
I’ve written about romanticizing your life HERE and this is just a much bigger expansion of that. Our winter season here tends to be really bad in the January/February/a little of March time period- though I can fake it with March, pretending like Spring is coming (though it doesn’t here until late May), so I really focus on myself, my mood, and the little things during those times. It doesn’t always work, I still have rough days, but I find that it HELPS. And honestly, I’ll take any help I can get.