It’s been a minute since my last article. As is the cyclical nature of mental health, December brought a dip that zapped my motivation to write, but more accurately, a dip that made me feel too self-conscious and vulnerable to share with “the world”. Adding to the mental health conversation is normally a source of confidence for me, however, when I don’t have a firm grasp on my symptoms or a plan of attack, my voice falters. Which makes it all the more important to keep sharing when I’m able to again.
The winter blues, or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a special brand of depression that will often coincide with the change in seasons, particularly as it related to drops in serotonin levels (a mood regulating hormone) and melatonin levels (your sleep hormone) and decreased exposure to sunlight in the winter months. This can be a common, yearly condition for the average person, and an especially bitter cocktail of symptoms to add to someone with existing mental health diagnoses.
I’ve been tracking the symptoms since November. Maybe you’ve noticed them too – The chronic fatigue, the irritability, the mental fogginess, the scant motivation, the sudden cravings for potato-based foods…
I’ve compiled a list of things I’ve tried to combat the winter blues, and I continue to add to it as the winter continues to stretch out before me.
Leaning into Winter: Perhaps I’m more of an indoor girl when it comes down to it, but I have always been a staunch “winter denier”, never fully facing the reality of the temperature outside or being prepared with the appropriate attire and can-do attitude. Winter will prevail. Acquiring hats, scarves, boots etc that I like and will wear has reduced my discomfort and improved my attitude. Not revolutionary, I get it. But for someone who always used to claim that I “always lose my gloves”, I now utilize mittens-on-a-string.
A contributing reason to my disdain for cold temperatures was that it eliminated some of my favourite fair weather activities like walking, hiking, and general outdoor hang-abouts. Realizing that being prepared for the cold means I could still go for a walk and get that all-important regular physical activity.
Vitamins: Studies suggest that a lack of vitamin D could contribute to SAD symptoms, so, with a why-not disposition, I incorporated a Vitamin D spray into my morning and evening routine.
I’ve been educating myself on the practice of juicing, that is, pulverizing pounds of fruits and vegetables into green juice, which claims to deliver essential vitamins and minerals to your cells in the most efficient way possible. While juicing studies has its critics, I’m open to including more fruits and vegetables into my diet in a way that doesn’t require tucking into an entire head of red cabbage in a one sitting.
Light Therapy: My ever-woke best friend gifted me a HappyLight this Christmas, a light therapy box that claims to provide the natural spectrum light missing from our lives in the winter months. I’ve only just started using it at work and have been making my early observations about its effectiveness, and will report back. Another “why not try it” in the war against SAD.
Hobbying: I used consider hobbying as limited to something creative, such as crafting or knitting or building model airplanes. Things that required a certain amount of skill that I just didn’t have. I didn’t consider that I had plenty of hobbies, as in interests and activities outside of work that bring me pleasure or that I glean value or knowledge from. I’ve come to recognize my passion for mental health as a personal hobby, and I consistently look to increase my knowledge and add to the conversation around this subject matter. My reading habits, podcast interests, even my Netflix queue, very much speak to my desire to absorb and learn more about mental health. If cooking is your thing, educate yourself – read more about it, try new recipes, watch the videos, and talk about it with like-minded individuals. Take an interest in your own interests! It concerns me that social media and mindless television has become a pseudo-hobby of sorts – something we do a lot that seems to give us pleasure. But what and where is the value? A conversation for another day.
Make butterflies: Simply put, it helps to have something to look forward to. If life does not seem to be throwing exciting events and opportunities your way, find a way to create those feel-good “looking forward” butterflies for yourself. Even while on a budget, when trips to sunny destinations are all but off the table, I try to have one or two little things to look forward to – a weekend with girlfriends, a date, a new book, a day of sporting, trying a new recipe – things that evoke what my precious friend calls “excited stomach” – to keep me motivated.
If you are so inclined, let me know what SAD symptoms you’ve noticed in yourself, and things that you might add to this list.