Winter is coming, and the holiday season with it.
Often, the holidays are a time to reflect and remember what's important. Sometimes they really do feel like the most wonderful time of the year — but not always, and that's okay.
It's cliche to say that 2020 has been unprecedented, but it's true. An overwhelming and truly seismic year is coming to a close with a winter season that looks to be equally challenging.
As the pandemic continues to rage, those of us who struggle with seasonal depression may find winter even more taxing than usual. That's okay, too. Here are some easy steps you can take to cope with the winter blues.
DISCLAIMER: The following is intended as an information resource only; we are not a medical organization and we cannot give medical advice. If you are experiencing a life-threatening situation, seek medical help or dial 911.
Seasonal Affective Disorder
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is pretty common during this time of the year. It can make you feel moodier and more temperamental than normal, often presenting as an overall drain on your energy. Additional symptoms include difficulty sleeping, trouble concentrating on the task at hand, and other signs of depression.
Medical experts are unsure what actually causes SAD. The onset of symptoms could be due to fluctuations in melatonin or serotonin; both are connected to your brain chemistry and sleep pattern. Reduced sunlight and shorter days can also disrupt your circadian rhythm — also known as your internal biological clock.
Either way, lack of a single cause means that there is no surefire way to treat SAD, though the tips listed below can help manage symptoms. As always, be sure to consult a professional, especially if you think you're dealing with feelings of depression that aren't season specific.
Tips for Beating the Winter Blues
Exercise is key to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, but it's easy to neglect in the winter. It's hard to be outside in the cold, and there's plenty of opportunity to indulge indoors. Staying healthy and active doesn't mean you can't enjoy those indulgences; it just means paying attention to your body and keeping a healthy balance.
Most experts suggest at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week, which works out to just half an hour per day, not including weekends. This is easier to accomplish in the winter than you might think.
Consider breaking up your work day with short exercise breaks, like going for a walk. The physical activity will keep your body healthy and well-regulated, and it has the added benefit of clearing your mind. You can also find at-home exercise routines on YouTube.
Create a Routine
You may want to consider extending that routine-making habit to other aspects of your life. SAD disrupts your body's natural routines, which can leave you feeling out of sorts. Routines help build a sense of stability. They have been proven to promote health and reduce stress, especially during difficult times.
One of the best things you can do is simply to maintain your usual routine. If you feel your regular routines starting to slip, try to direct more attention to them. In particular, make sure that you sleep, wake, and eat on a regular schedule. Developing regular practices around your bedtime and when you wake up can help regulate your body's internal rhythms.
Experts have long held that gloomy winter conditions — specifically a lack of sunlight — contribute to the onset of SAD. Your body needs light to help regulate its cycles and stimulate the natural processes that keep you healthy. It can be hard to accomplish this in the wintertime due to shorter days and less natural light.
You can use light therapy methods to help with this. Light therapy is a means of making up for the lack of natural light through artificial means: Many people turn to light therapy lamps, which mimic the full spectrum of natural light, to compensate for dark winter days. You can also practice light therapy by making it a point to get outside during the day.
Lean Into Your Hobbies
What do you gravitate toward in your free time? What piques your curiosity or provides you with a sense of fulfillment? Winter is a great time to cultivate your interests, and some studies have shown that leisure activities can help fight SAD.
If you love listening to music, the end of the year is a great time to take a closer look at your tastes. For instance, Spotify's "2020 Wrapped" function creates playlists based on your listening habits and recommends new tracks you may have overlooked. Many outlets are also starting to publish their "best of" lists for the year. If you love reading, places like the New York Times offer similar lists for books.
Or Pick Up New Hobbies
Picking up a new hobby or learning a new skill structures your time and helps you cope with stress. It can also make you a more well-rounded person with a broader set of skills to rely on in the future. Virtual volunteering is a great way to get started: You can make a difference and expand your horizons all at the same time.
If you feel stuck, take stock of your interests and go from there. Don't limit yourself to what you already know or what feels comfortable. Think outside the box and try something new, especially if you're facing a lot of time spent alone. Will this be the year you learn how to play a new instrument or develop better culinary skills? Maybe you will take on drawing, painting, or photography. The possibilities are endless.
The winter season always feels longer than it actually is, so it's important to remember that it won't last forever. Soon, the bitter cold will turn to spring, and the winter blues will melt away like sidewalk snow.
In the meantime, stay proactive and pay attention to how you're feeling. Seek help if you need it, and use our tips to reduce stress and find new, creative ways to stay engaged.
Header Image Credit: Nastasic | Getty Images