What can I do to keep my depression from getting more intense during the winter?
First of all, let me say, it’s very wise for you to be thinking ahead to plan your self-care. It’s not easy for anyone to do, and it’s even harder with the weight of depression holding you down.
Maybe this is your first winter with depression, or maybe you’ve experienced this before, and you don’t want to have the same low mood take over this year. Whichever it is, I’d have to agree with you that there are some things about winter that do add to the challenge of resisting depression.
The short days, and cold temperatures make it difficult to get outside and soak up Vitamin D and fresh air. We know that moderate exercise is the strongest antidepressant, but who wants to go for a walk in the rain or cold? And then we cocoon inside, watching Netflix and eating the Christmas baking, instead of connecting with people. Work or school can seem more of a drudgery that usual, with the new September projects finishing, and co-workers off on holidays, or a Christmas rush to get through. There are high expectations of wonderful social occasions that are never quite as wonderful as we had hoped. It all adds up to a recipe for unhappiness. So what to do instead?
Here’s a few ideas. Some of them will matter more in your particular case. And, you’ve probably already tried them before, but it might be important to do them consistently, as part of a self-care routine.
1. Daylight: it’s rare and precious in winter. Try to soak it in whenever it appears. Take a lesson from a cat and drop everything to just sit in a patch of sunlight.
2. Nutrition: Ask Alex, and she’ll tell you that just because its winter is no excuse to stop eating fruit and veggies. Those trace elements can make a real difference to your mood.
3. Input: Consider your media diet, too. There are a lot of dark shows on Netflix, and the News is even worse. Winter is a great time for escaping into a big fat book, especially if you can find one that makes you laugh, or believe in great possibilities. Anyone want to suggest books or shows that lift the mood?
4. Connection: Yes, your friends are busy, and so are you. But a good conversation with someone who understands is still a necessity of life. It might take creative scheduling, but it’s worth it.
5. Motion: Every day. Period. It doesn’t have to be much. But a run up a flight of stairs or a walk in the mall, or even a few reps lifting a big can of tomatoes, is better than a day spent feeling sluggish. It’s all about remembering that you are alive and real, and that you have a strong valuable body.
6. Expectations: Yes, things can be tough in the winter, and Christmas is not always Merry. But that doesn’t surprise us. So we aren’t really disappointed. Unless we were expecting more. It makes sense to keep the bar very low, and define your own idea of the minimum needed to make a happy season.
I have one more thought in response to your question. If you were my client, and we were sitting together in my office, I would offer a few questions about your question, and especially about the way you are asking it. I really don’t want to make you feel bad about this. It’s a very helpful question. But I believe that language has great power, and the way we talk can reveal some unconscious beliefs.
So I would answer your question with a few questions of my own. They may not even make sense to you, or be useful, but I would be curious to know these things, and I hope that considering them might help open some new paths to freedom.
First, are you sure that depression will still be with you this winter? It might. But it also might not. You might actually beat it before the season ends.
Secondly, what does it mean to you to refer to it as “my depression”? In what way does it belong to you? Does it have to? Or is there another way to define how you relate to it?
And, finally, I would ask, are you sure that winter will make it worse, or are there ways it could make you feel better?
Instead of thinking of winter as something you must protect against, I would like to encourage you to think of it as a time to focus on self-care and building resiliency. After all, nature uses this season to rest and rebuild, and you, too, might be preparing for a beautiful new beginning.
Disclaimer: This column is meant to serve as a safe place to ask questions and get opinions from educated professionals; but please always consult your own team before making any changes to your medication, activities, or recovery process. Although our Experts are certified professionals in their area, their advice may not be suitable for your situation, and thus is not to be taken in place of that given by your recovery team and/or family doctor or personal therapist. Please use your own good judgment, and consult a licensed mental health practitioner for specific treatment. In case of a crisis, please do not rely on this column, as answers may take several weeks to be published, and not all questions will be addressed. Please contact one of the Helplines listed in our Resources section if you feel you are a harm to yourself or in need of emergency support.
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