There are many wonderful things about winter—the crisp cool air, the beauty of falling snow, the feeling of frost on your cheeks —but for people with seasonal affective issues, the arrival of the chilly, darker season is heralded with fear and anxiety.
For those who are sensitive to the transition from one season to the next, nature’s preparation for slumber triggers a lessening of physical energy, feelings of melancholy, and even episodes of deep depression. At the same time, isolation as a result of extreme temperatures (in colder climates) cuts people off from recreational activities and places a greater demand on their already diminished resources.
Seldom do people who are struggling with seasonal affective issues pause to understand this process and cut themselves some slack—indeed, it’s typical for people to place higher expectations on themselves during the cooler months, particularly as the holidays approach and they become more and more aware of the desire to “impress” friends and family, the need to stretch their finances to buy gifts, etc. Topping it all off, many then engage in the tradition of making New Year’s resolutions—a ritual which, in essence, merely highlights all the things they feel they have hitherto failed to accomplish in life.
Ergo, some of us find ourselves (on what is often the coldest and darkest day of the year) feeling overstressed, pushed beyond our means financially, burdened with the judgements of others, possibly experiencing sad memories triggered by the holidays, and ruminating on all we need to do to be “better” over the course of the following year. It’s little wonder that people succumb to the blues.
This period of sadness is not, however, an inevitability; through remaining aware of our emotions, what we are feeling and how it is affecting our actions, goals, and outlook, we can combat the demands of the colder months and come out on top, refreshed and recharged for another year.
According to clinical psychologist Dr. David Metzner, “the emotions have an incredible amount of power; they determine where we place our attention, how we manage situations, what we remember, how we respond to others, etc. They form the basis of our thoughts, and our thoughts are largely responsible for creating our total state of being.”
As such, before heading into the autumn and winter months, it’s a good idea to have a plan in place to acknowledge and deal with your emotions. This way, when you feel yourself beginning to “slip” into a negative frame of mind, you can quickly pull yourself back before it gets out of hand. The tips below provide an excellent place to start creating a foolproof strategy for staying positive:
- Give yourself an “emotional interview” as soon as you notice yourself experiencing a negative emotion. This should include questions like, “What am I feeling?”, “What’s going on that makes me feel this way?”, “Does that situation always make me feel this badly or have something changed?”, “How does this feeling usually affect my behaviour, and is there anything I can do to change that?” (Be sure to take the time to actively visualize any solutions you come up with.)
- Keep a list of healthy activities at the ready. As the weather turns colder, many of us give up the healthy activities we enjoyed during the summer months (biking, trips to the beach, picnics, etc.), and fail to replace them with viable alternatives. This, of course, leaves us more prone to stress buildup and feelings of stagnation.As such, you should make a list of activities that you know have a relaxing and rejuvenating influence on you, and which you can easily do even during the worst of the winter months. If you like to be physically active, look into winter sports in your area, for example; if you enjoy gardening, take up the care of indoor plants or try plant-related crafts, such as making herbal teas, potpourri, etc.
Likewise, be aware of potentially self-destructive activities that you may wind up turning to in place of healthy ones, such as shopping to excess or eating for comfort (people tend to be more prone to such behaviours in winter).
- Meditate and engage in introspection. One of the most positive things about the colder months is how they tend to encourage soul-searching and reflection; make sure you create time to benefit from this, and keep your introspection sessions as positive as possible (e.g. focusing on meaningful goals and affirmations).
- Put on some happy tunes. Positive, energetic music triggers our brain to release endorphins, making it an easy, attainable “quick fix” for a low mood. Listen to your favourite music for at least 10-12 minutes when you feel the blues coming on. For added benefit, choose songs which are also tied to happy memories.
- Exercise. You don’t have to commit to hour-long sessions at the gym each night to reap the rewards of exercise—indeed, over-extending yourself in such a way should generally be avoided during the (already stressful) winter months. Instead, find ways to make exercise accessible (such as walking up and down the stairs a couple of times per day at work, or dancing briefly at home), and try to combine it with your 10-minute music breaks.
- Help others who suffer from seasonal affective disorder. This has two potential benefits: One, tapping into your empathy and making a difference in someone else’s life is a surefire way to lift your own mood, and two, the discussion process may yield useful strategies you can use to combat your own seasonal blues.
- Spend time with your support system. Not only is social interaction necessary to combating depression, making sure you are “charged” with positive energy prior to engaging in stressful situations can make a big difference in how well you manage them. Too, our loved ones help to provide a sense of stability—no matter what changes the season brings, their care and compassion is a reliable constant.