As the vibrant colors of autumn make way for the crisp winds and shorter days of winter, many of us find ourselves anticipating the arrival of the "winter blues." Especially for anyone living in the Great Lake state of Michigan, this transition can often feel challenging and overwhelming. However, I'm here to assure you that while it's natural to be concerned, seasonal affective disorder is not the end of your story. Keep reading, as we will explore coping skills, including the power of mindfulness, to help you navigate the winter season with resilience and hope.
But first, let’s talk about what “Seasonal Affective Disorder” or “SAD” really is. SAD is a disorder that mostly affects people who live in climates that get less sunlight during certain times of the year. In case you didn’t know, sunlight helps our bodies create vitamin D. Vitamin D helps our bodies activate and create serotonin. Serotonin is our body's happy chemical. It helps us regulate our moods and feel a sense of happiness and contentment. Symptoms of low vitamin D can be mood changes, hopelessness, sadness, low desire for social activities, fatigue and more. SAD is a type of depression. If you have similar symptoms that last longer than 6 months and occur during the high sunlight months, you may be dealing with major depressive disorder. If this is the case, there is hope for you too. You can learn more about yourself and treatment through professional counseling. You can find tips on how to find the right therapist for you in my recent blog post here.
Now let’s get into how to take care of ourselves when SAD starts to make us feel sad.
Step one, Acknowledge Seasonal Changes:
The first step in coping with the winter blues is acknowledging the impact of seasonal changes on our mental well-being. Take a mindful moment each day to recognize that we are affected by the shift in light and temperature. This allows us to better understand and validate our emotions.
Your mindful moment can look like this:
Set an alarm for 5 minutes after you wake up
Sit in a comfortable position and close your eyes
Take a deep breath in to the count of 5
Breathe out to the count of 8
Remind yourself the time of year
Tell yourself, “I acknowledge and recognize how the sunlight is affecting me”
“I acknowledge and recognize how the cold weather is affecting me”
“I recognize that I feel low energy and sad because of this”
“I am doing my best” and “I give myself permission to let my emotions and needs fluctuate”
“I give myself permission to rest when I need it” and “I do not need to push myself past the point of exhaustion”
Remember, you are not alone in experiencing this seasonal transition.
Step two, Embrace Mindfulness:
Can you tell I really believe in mindfulness? One of the most powerful coping skills is the practice of mindfulness. I know we just briefly touched on this in the last step, but by intentionally grounding ourselves in the present moment, we can cultivate self-awareness and develop a compassionate understanding of our emotions. Engaging in mindfulness exercises, such as deep breathing, body scans, or guided meditations, can help reduce anxiety and improve mood.
Here’s another mindful moment you can practice:
Find a cozy and comfortable space
Light a warm candle and cover yourself with the best blanket you have
Take a deep breath in to the count of 5
Hold this breath for the count of 5
Exhale to the count of 8
Continue this breathwork as many times as needed
As you breathe in, focus on the cooling sensation of your breath
Notice the feeling of the air as it enter your nose and lungs
Feel the temperature change as your shift your breath to exhale
Notice the warm sensation of your breath
Notice the feeling of the air as it leaves your body
As your feel the warm air leave your body, notice the warmth your body gives into the blanket
Notice the warmth and the cozy smell of your winter candle
Embrace the seasons changing as it allows you to enjoy these little moments
End your mindful moment with an affirmation of gratitude for your day, family, job, or anything else
Step three, Light Therapy:
During the winter months, the limited exposure to sunlight can disrupt our circadian rhythm, leading to feelings of fatigue and low mood. Light therapy can be an effective tool in combating SAD and the winter blues. Consider investing in a light therapy lamp, which can provide the artificial sunlight your body craves and help boost your overall mood. I know this seems like a hoax, but the difference I noticed in my days after I started using my light therapy lamp was enough to encourage me to share this information. Taking a few moments to sit in front of your lamp while you drink your coffee, get ready for the day, or take on your first few emails will create an incredible shift in your mood. You could even combine this with your mindful moment for double the self love!
If you’re interested, the lamp I use can be found here.
Step four, Stay Connected:
Isolation can intensify feelings of sadness and loneliness during the winter months. It is vital to prioritize connections and maintain relationships with friends and loved ones. As much as it feels like you don’t want to socialize and as much effort it takes, consider reaching out to trusted friends for support, schedule virtual gatherings, or consider joining social groups or online communities that align with your interests. You don’t have to face the winter blues alone. I promise you people around you are probably feeling the same thing.
Step five, Engage in Enjoyable or Distracting Activities:
Make a conscious effort to engage in activities that bring you joy and lift your spirits. It's also okay to enjoy an activity that distracts you from the world outside. Distractions aren't always bad! Carve out time for hobbies, exercise, creative pursuits, or simply unwind with a good book or favorite movie. This would be a great time to really embrace winter activities or create a cozy and warm space in your home. Prioritizing self-care activities not only nurtures your mental well-being but also replenishes your energy and resilience.
It is essential to remember that the arrival of winter does not signify the end of happiness or the onset of depression. By utilizing coping skills such as mindfulness, staying connected, embracing light therapy, and engaging in pleasurable activities, you can navigate this seasonal transition with grace and resilience. Know that you are capable of not only enduring the winter blues but also emerging stronger on the other side. Seek support from a mental health therapist who can guide you through this journey and offer tailored strategies to meet your unique needs. Feel free to contact me if you want to learn more on how I can help you through these cold and snowy months. You can connect with me by filling out the form on my website here.
As the seasons change, embrace the opportunity for growth and self-discovery. Winter can be a time for introspection, healing, and appreciating the beauty that lies within. Remember, you possess the strength and resilience to weather any storm that comes your way. Together, let's anticipate the winter season with hope and the certainty that a brighter, more fulfilling future awaits. You’ve got this.