Light allows the brain to create the neurotransmitters that keep your energy and happiness levels up. So it’s not surprising that the Winter blues creep up as the days wane.
The Winter blues are real, and really hard to beat. Just like bodies require food to function, brains require light to stay healthy.
Almost everybody will feel a form of the Winter blues at some point, and this year, the experience may be more likely. Feelings of isolation compound seasonal depression–going into our third Winter of COVID-19, you may not be able to see loved ones face-to-face, yet again.
The Winter blues vs Seasonal Affective Disorder
Even without a SAD diagnosis, we all live in human bodies which are impacted by physical cues like light just as much as they are by cold or by food.
First, what is SAD? SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder is a mental health condition characterized by a seasonal pattern of mood disturbance. Often, this occurs in the form of depressive episodes that manifest when the Winter months start to set in. The American Psychological Association dictionary definition of Seasonal Affective Disorder is “a mood disorder in which there is a predictable occurrence of major depressive episodes, manic episodes, or both at particular times of the year. The typical pattern is the occurrence of major depressive episodes during the fall or winter months. Also called seasonal mood disorder.”
There are a number of treatments that can help those living with SAD, which include but aren’t limited to talk therapy and light lamps or light therapy.
Even if you don’t meet the criteria for SAD, you might still face the aptly named and aforementioned “Winter blues.” Unlike SAD, this is not a diagnosis or mental health condition.
The Winter blues are exactly what they sound like: a Winter-induced dip in mood. SAD or not, this dip is equally real. Luckily, anyone experiencing the Winter blues can take immediate action to counteract the effects.
Whatever kind of Winter blues you experience, find ideas for feeling better below.
How to lift your spirits when you have the Winter blues
If you need a way to lift your spirits, consider the following options that are perfectly possible during the cold and dark of Winter.
1. Make a list of what you do like about Winter.
If you’re anything like this Twitter user with the Winter blues, you might be feeling hopeless about the good things that go away during this season. Rest assured, there are still things to look forward to during the colder, darker months of the year. Here are some ideas:
- Light festivals, holiday markets, and other local community events.
- Baking or cooking special holiday foods
- Winter or holiday-themed decorations
- Winter or holiday-themed movies
- Winter or holiday-related smells
- Winter clothes
- Seasonal fruits and vegetables
- Pumpkin patches, apple farms, etc.
- Holiday music
3. Send a friend a card.
Maybe you can’t see your friends or family in person. Of course you can video chat (technology that we’re all extra grateful for with the last few years in mind), but when was the last time you mailed a card or letter via snail mail?
It seems simple, but a physical card can make someone’s day. If you feel down or miss those closest to you, it’s a great way to connect and share that you’re thinking about them in a meaningful way.
4. Do something you usually reserve for Summer.
Let’s say that you’re stuck indoors. Whether that’s due to social distancing or Winter weather, it’s time to bring your favorite Summer activities inside. For example, if you enjoy camping in the summer, you might make a fort inside and make s’mores. Alternatively, you could watch your favorite Summer movie or listen to your favorite Summer playlist.
5. Embrace holiday traditions (yours or someone else’s).
Not all of us have positive affiliations with holidays. For some, holiday triggers can make the Winter blues even more challenging. Building new traditions that are supportive, possible, and healthy for you is a great way to navigate this while boosting your mood.
6. Try something new in general.
It doesn’t necessarily need to relate to holiday or Winter activities. Trying something new is a great way to break your routine and boost your mood, especially if you feel stuck in the daily mundane or as though all of your days blend together. It could be that you make a new recipe, or it could be that you go rock climbing for the first time. Maybe, you can follow a tutorial online and learn a new dance or a new skill, add some extra self-care to your morning or nighttime routine, or something else. No matter how big or small, do something that sets today apart from the rest.
7. Get creative.
Art can be cathartic for those living with depression. Research indicates that art can support memory, reduce symptoms of depression, lower anxiety, and more. Art doesn’t have to be expensive; you can use the tools you have at home or head to the dollar store for inexpensive paints, paper, pencils, beads, and more. It also doesn’t have to be perfect; whether you make paper snowflakes and paint pinecones or create a masterpiece, what matters is that you have a good time and get the potential relief that art can bring.
Often, during the Winter months, there’s an increased need for volunteers. Studies show that those who volunteer are happier with fewer depressive symptoms and better physical health. Of course, with the pandemic underway, not everyone is able to volunteer as they’d like to. For example, you may not be able to volunteer at a local pantry or in a food service setting if you aren’t able to be around a high volume of people due to the pandemic. What you might be able to do is donate clothes, food, books, or toiletries to someone who needs them. If you can’t volunteer on an ongoing basis, you might be able to do it for a day every now and again. It’s not a cure for depression, but if it’s something that’s accessible for you, it can seriously boost your mood and help your community.
Struggling to allow yourself good feelings, with the Winter blues?
It’s common to withhold things from yourself that bring you joy, when you are going through a depressive episode. Although this isn’t true for everyone, it’s true for many.
Sometimes, we deprive ourselves not due to mental health, but due to hustle culture. It can feel hard to justify things that exist simply for joy instead of productivity.
Whether that’s holiday baking and other Winter activities, playing a game that makes you smile, reading, or something else, you deserve to do what makes you happy. If this is something you struggle with–here’s your permission slip to do something for the sake of enjoyment and nothing else.
And something that always helps the Winter blues: find community however you can
Spending time with friends and family is a great way to relieve depressive symptoms, even if it’s a temporary or supplemental fix. Whether you involve loved ones in some of the activities above, talk on the phone, or send them a text to check in and let them know they’re in your thoughts, community connection matters when it comes to mental and physical health alike.
If you live with depression or think that you might be, you don’t have to hold it inside. Finding things to look forward to can help, but it’s important to talk to someone about what you’re going through. Whether that’s a medical or mental health professional, a friend, a support group, or a peer support network like Supportiv, know that you have people who are on your side this Winter season.
Depression can be challenging to live with. If you’re in need of immediate assistance, please go to the nearest emergency room or contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or go to https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ to chat.