4 Steps to Easing the Winter Blues
Now that the elections are over we can begin to focus on something else that is present during this time. This time of year brings over 10 million Americans and experience of getting the fall and winter blues. When there’s a lack of sunlight combined with the presence of gray skies our minds can start going down a dark corridor to depressing thoughts, lethargic bodies, and uncomfortable emotions. What can we do about it?
If you have a propensity to experience the winter blues, remember, you're not alone and there are skills you can gain to sustain you during this time.
The first thing to do is look for the cycle of thoughts, feelings and emotions that’s associated with feeling down. For example, when you wake up in the morning and you're tired and it's cold, pulling off the covers and exposing your body to the cold might lead to some physical discomfort. The thought may arise, "oh, what I would give to just stay in bed, this is torture". That may lead to the emotions of frustration and resentment, which makes the body feel agitated and tense. Your partner turns to you and sluggishly says "good morning" in which you reply "whatever". While in the shower all you can think about is how miserable this day is going to be. The cycle continues throughout the day as you try to isolate and avoid people, finding yourself stuck, stewing in negative thoughts, uncomfortable sensations and emotions, and reactive behavior.
Any of these can be seen as relapse signs into the winter blues.
So how do we recognize when this is occurring and what can we do to intervene so we don't let our minds get the best of us and spiral down into depression?
Here are 4 steps:
- Turn the blues cycle into an early alert system - Become aware of the cycle that was previously mentioned. Use your body as a physical barometer to notice when you're feeling uncomfortable. When you start to feel depressed or anxious, where do you feel it in your body? Often times what will happen is there will be some physical discomfort that we are unaware of (e.g., tiredness in the body, tension in the shoulders, a pit in the stomach) and we react to it with a negative thought, which ignites an uncomfortable emotion which only reinforces the uncomfortable physical sensation. Notice when this reaction is happen and like shining a flashlight inside a dark cave, see if you can bring your attention to the physical sensation and just be aware of it. For example, in the morning when feeling sleepy and maybe cold, notice how quick you are to jump to a negative thought as a reaction to that discomfort. See if you can just bring awareness to the actual sensations for a few moments just taking stock of them without judging or analyzing them. Approaching the discomfort instead of avoiding or judging it by going up into our heads can break the "stewing" cycle. After becoming present to the sensations, you may want to then ask yourself, what is good or Ok about this moment? What are some things that could go well today?
- Tune into your body - Look to how you're treating your body in relation to diet and exercise. Yes, we all have heard this before, but we've heard it because it is very true. How we treat our bodies during this time of the year can have a significant effect on our ability to stave off depression. If we exercise a bit during the week and feed ourselves healthy foods, not only does that make us feel better physically, but it sends the message internally that we care about our bodies, which makes us feel better about ourselves mentally and emotionally.
- Find a buddy – If you know of anyone else who struggles during the winter time, try and get together encouraging each other to maintain healthy supportive activities that are nourishing.
- Light Therapy - The last thing I will suggest is that if you know the light is a major factor in your relapse, it may be helpful to look into Light Therapy. For many, light is simply essential for their day to day functioning, so purchasing a light therapy device can be helpful.
You may have other thoughts of what works for you, listen to the wisdom within.
As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.