The feeling in her heart was dread. It was that time of the year again. The days were growing shorter. She could feel her anxiety levels rising as the sun lowered in the sky. Her mind was cycling around her inability to make sense of her world post depression. The effect of these dark days had on her tender mind, starkly illuminated her failings.
When you are battling the Winter Blues, also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), it can feel like the mind is turning in on itself.
I have depression, a condition that worsens as the days grow shorter and darker. Trepidation sets in, as I think about those endless duvet days, punctuated by forced survival errands.
I’ve put together a little list of comforting self-care tips, it’s made up of little things I’ve found helpful for coping with the dark days.
Understanding the Winter Blues
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?
According to the National Health Service, Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD is a condition where you may experience any of the following conditions:
- a persistent low mood
- a loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities
- feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness
- feeling lethargic (lacking in energy) and sleepy during the day
- sleeping for longer than normal and finding it hard to get up in the morning
- craving carbohydrates and gaining weight
According to the Mayo Clinic the specific cause of Seasonal Affective Disorder remains unknown. However some factors that may come into play include:
- Your biological clock (circadian rhythm). The reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter may cause winter-onset SAD. This decrease in sunlight may disrupt your body’s internal clock and lead to feelings of depression.
- Serotonin levels. A drop in serotonin, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that affects mood, might play a role in SAD. Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin that may trigger depression.
- Melatonin levels. The change in season can disrupt the balance of the body’s level of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.
This concerning data tells us this a complex condition, which can get worse if left untreated. That’s why it’s vitally important to take the signs and symptoms of SAD seriously, especially if you experience one or more of the following:
- Social withdrawal
- School or work problems
- Substance abuse
- Other mental health disorders such as anxiety or eating disorders
- Suicidal thoughts or behavior
Your Mental Health Matters
Your mental matters very much and if you are experiencing any of the signs and symptoms listed above, I urge you to seek immediate medical care.
Talk to your doctor about any concerns or questions you have about your symptoms. If your symptoms are severe, you may benefit from antidepressant medication.
If you are already taking medication for depression, it’s also a good idea to talk to your doctor about possibly changing the dose and or course of medication (bearing in mind it can take several weeks to experience the full benefits of antidepressant medication).
And now, as promised, here are my go-to comforting self-care tips for getting through the dark days.
#1 Get Plenty of Natural Light
It can be challenging during the winter months, however, exposure to natural sunlight has been shown to initiate a change in those brain chemicals linked to mood. Try to let in as much light as you can, and where possible, spend a little time outdoors.
#2 Keep Hydrated
With colder days we are less likely to drink adequate amounts of water. Have a glass of water by your bed and make it your first action of the day to get a glass of water. Remember warm drinks and soups are also a good source of hydration. Aim to drink 6-8 glasses of water a day.
#3 Juice it Up!
This self-care tip has made such a tremendous difference to my energy levels. Green Juice is not necessarily delicious but the benefits are worth it. The greener the better! Blend your own from leafy green vegetables mixed with apple, or pear juice.
Alternatively you can buy ready-made cold-pressed green juice (available M&S, Pret, various independent Juice Bars). The powdered sachets (Wheatgrass, Spirulina etc) are also handy when you haven’t the energy to make your own.
#4 Chase the Sun
Grab a soft, warm blanket and get yourself outside as soon, and as much as you can. Exposure to natural sunlight is amazingly effective and uplifting when you have SAD. Even if you have the best light set up, try to still get outside for a few moments in the morning. I know, it’s cold. But it is so worth it for the difference it makes. That brings us to our next point.
#5 Move Your Body
The best way to get your daily dose of sunlight is to go for a short walk or take a burst of exercise outside. This has the added benefit of awakening your body. Your exercise therapy for SAD can be as simple as a brisk walk in Nature, a gentle yoga sequence or a burst of cardio. Remember to make this part of your daily routine fun, don’t put too much pressure on yourself.
#6 Light Up Your Space
Light up your environment, the aim is to let in as much natural sunlight as possible. Open your blinds and pull the curtains back, and light up your space with extra lamps. Put up a string of indoor fairy lights for an instant pick-me-up
#7 Nourish Your Body
Eat to nourish and sustain your body’s energy levels. When you have SAD you tend to crave sweets and carbohydrate-rich foods because they provide short-term feelings of euphoria. But the high is short-lived and these foods are thought to increase feelings of anxiety and depression.
Some foods are known to help boost your mood and relieve anxiety, including whole grains, leafy greens, salmon, avocado, eggs, dark chocolate, walnuts, brazil nuts
#8 Breathe into Your Brave
Place your hands on your heart and bring your awareness into the present moment. Inhale slowly and deeply (feel your chest gently expanding). Exhale deeply and fully (feel as though you are dropping into your body). Stay with your breath and allow the soft, silent sound to envelop you. I call this breathing into your brave.
#9 Relax Your Mind
Mayo Clinic has researched and found that when it comes to SAD, there is a mind-body connection. According to their website, some commended techniques which help relax the mind include relaxation techniques (eg. yoga, tai chi), meditation, guided imagery, and music or art therapy.
#10 Be Kind to Your Mind
Gently coax your mind to take small steps each and every day to take care of yourself. Encourage yourself to get outside and socialize a little. Give yourself a daily dose of kindness. Surround yourself with little love notes and inspiring quotes.
#11 Keep a Journal
Intrusive thoughts can add to the overwhelm of S.A.D. Keep a journal and immediately mind dump any intrusive thoughts, frustrations or things that keep cycling in your mind. There’s something about writing it out that gets you out of your head.
Notice and appreciate the little things, and share those little flashes of beauty in your journal. Record your daily triumphs, no matter how small they seem to be.
Writing in your journal will give you a natural burst of positive emotions and help you feel more connected with the world.
#12 Be Patient with Yourself
The temptation when you are feeling frustrated with your symptoms is to take drastic, sweeping action. Focus on finding small ways to gently balance your activity levels.
Respect your limits without succumbing to the overwhelming urge to self-isolate. Cuddling up and having a duvet day is the ultimate form of self comfort. But when duvet days turn into weeks of self-isolation, it’s a sure sign you’ve got the winter blues.
Have you got the Winter Blues?
If you are prone to feeling more than just a little down over winter, you may have seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Please take care of yourself. If you are trying your best to feel better and nothing seems to be helping, please seek immediate medical care.
Always remember: depression does not define you. You are stronger than you think you are and every step you take in this journey reflects your true strength.
IMPORTANT PLEASE READ: While I share my personal experiences with depression, I am not a therapist or health professional. Bravely She Blogs is not intended as medical or therapeutic advice. For immediate help please call one of the support lines below.
Depression Support Lines
Mind infoline on 0300 123 3393 (9am to 6pm, Monday to Friday)
Samaritans on 116 123 (UK), 116 123 (ROI) for confidential support
If you are based in the US, you can call the Crisis Call Center at 1-800-273-8255 at any time of the day