Winter sucks. I don’t care how pretty the first snow is or how cozy it is to cuddle around a fireplace with hot cocoa; as a season I give winter 0 out of 5 stars. If winter were a person, I would throw my drink in its cold, shitty face. If winter were a country, I would advocate war against it.
Ok, maybe that one’s a bit extreme, but I’m trying to prove a point here.
Living in Houston, TX, for the first 18 years of my life, I didn’t really know what winter was. Sure, it got colder towards the end of the year and all that, but we never got snow, and I certainly never had to wear long underwear. It wasn’t until I moved to Chicago for college that I really learned about the depths of winter. It wasn’t until that afternoon when, waiting for a bus, I was so cold and miserable that I started to cry, and then the tears immediately froze to my face.
I only spent two winters in Chicago, and I’m glad I got out before the third. I’m not sure I could have gotten through it.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t until after I left Chicago that I even heard about Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It wasn’t until after I left Chicago that I started reading about the importance of self-care and of understanding one’s own natural rhythms and preferences. Now that I’m once more living in a cold part of the country, I’m having to draw on all my knowledge and resources to steel myself for the season that, for me and for many others, is a truly hard time to get through. In the spirit of giving, I figured I’d share some of my coping mechanisms with you.
1. Beginning to see the light
If you’ve done any reading on the topic of Seasonal Affective Disorder, the first kind of treatment you’ve likely come across is light therapy, or phototherapy. You can now find some pretty inexpensive phototherapy lamps out there, which are really fantastic if you’re living in a place where the sun simply goes away during the winter. That being said, it’s always better to actually get outside into some real sunlight if you’ve got it. Taking a brisk walk at midday is a good way to get some sun on you, and it’ll warm you up, too.
2. Follow your instincts (sometimes)
It’s good to listen to your moods and what your body is craving, and it’s good to care for yourself in the way that feels right in the moment. However, your instincts may not always be on your side in the winter if you suffer from SAD. Many people with SAD have trouble getting out of bed in the morning, eating the right kinds of foods, getting enough exercise—all the things that, chemically speaking, are proven to make us feel better. This is the season that you’ve got to try extra-hard to stick to whatever exercise regimen or activity you know makes you feel good. However, another important part of self-care is not beating yourself up when you indulge in some comfort food or skip yoga class because you’re just not feeling it. Don’t fret the days that you “mess up”—just try to get back on track the next time.
Note: I am currently writing this article from my bed, where I have been all day, wearing my sweatpants and slowly drinking a whole gallon of orange juice. And look at how I’m not beating myself up about it!
3. Get outta here!
The hardest thing for me to do in the winter, or anytime I’m feeling depressed, is to get out of the house and see people. I can get a little paranoid about how big and scary the outside world is, and how wonderfully safe and predictable the inside of my house is.
But a night out with good friends, I’ve found, can provide an anodyne for most emotional and mental turmoil. It sounds trite and sappy, I know, but good friends will be sympathetic to the way you’re feeling (if you tell them how you’re feeling, and don’t be afraid to), and won’t fault you for being down or ‘not your usual self.’
4. Move (or take a vacation)
This is a highly effective coping method that I can’t recommend highly enough. If you find yourself miserable every winter and are endlessly seeking way to just make it through the season, why not go some place there’s no actual winter? Southern California is lovely at any time of year, and I’ve heard that Tennessee and Louisiana are great places to live (and pretty cheap, too).
Of course, this advice is reductive and simply not possible for many, but if it is within your means, I highly suggest finding a place that’s more amenable to your brain chemistry. It’s not cowardly and it’s not running away from your problems—it’s taking care of yourself. If permanent relocation is out of the question, a tropical vacation, a weekend getaway, or a day at the hot springs are all good options, too.
Everyone is wired differently, and you should never be afraid to take the time and space necessary to learn about and care for your own particular needs. Knowing when your seasonal depression is likely to hit, what exacerbates and what alleviates it, and how to make it through the winter is crucial information.
Take care of yourselves, and remember that spring is on the way.