Seasonal depression is real, y’all. While I am no medical professional, I do have some tips that have helped me cope with the ‘winter blues’ over the last few years. Some of these may be hard to do when you can barely pull yourself out of bed at 3 pm to pick up the kids from school, but realizing you are in a ‘funk’ is important. It is impossible to just ‘choose happiness’ and expect everything to be perfect when there is a chemical imbalance in your brain, you are grieving a loss, suffering from a traumatic event or have a mental illness. However, you can make an active choice to begin to heal and get a little bit of normalcy back into your daily routine. You can integrate as few or as many of these suggestions into your day as needed, but seeking advice from a healthcare professional is obviously the best option.
- Get outside. The weather gets colder, the days get shorter and it is dark by 5:30 p.m. I tend to stay inside where it is warm and cozy, and before long I haven’t seen daylight for days. We need Vitamin D to stay healthy and the sun is a great source. I often force myself to stay outside a little bit longer when I am coming or going. When I check the mail, return from taking my daughter to school, or need to let the dog out are perfect times to linger in the yard or take a short walk around the neighborhood. It is easy to crawl right back into bed, but making an active choice to go outside can change my entire day.
- Exercise. When you have zero motivation and even less energy, this is the hardest thing to do. Some years, I join a gym and other times, I work out in my living room to P90X. This year was neither of those, so I have to make active choices to get physically active with my family. I like to take long walks, because at this stage, I haven’t worked out enough in the past year to make it 300 yards at a slow jog. I know, I tried it last week when my husband asked me to run with him. But saying yes, did get me out of the house into the fresh air and sunshine and gave me some time to reflect upon the day. Some days, I ‘force’ myself to play volleyball or have a dance off with my daughter before bedtime. It isn’t that I don’t want to spend time with her, but I have no energy nor motivation. Making that choice to do it, really empowers me that I am in control of my actions even when I feel hopeless in my emotions.
- Eat your veggies. My first inclination for winter is to prepare my body for hibernation with a thick winter coat. By the time I realize that I am human, do not actually hibernate and only need a North Face jacket and not an actual extra 20 pounds, it is the holidays. Pie for breakfast, pie after dinner, pecan pie, pumpkin pie, chocolate pie, leftover pie. I can and do eat a lot of pie before pie officially turns me off. All the carbs make me feel even more tired. Then my body craves raw veggies like broccoli, celery and carrots to detox. I happily oblige with a side of ranch dip and I feel a lot better. Maybe don’t eat all the pie, before you try some vegetables though. Eating healthy can give you the extra energy that you need when you feel lethargic.
- Talk it out. Find someone that you trust and is a good listener and not a ‘fixer.’ Expressing yourself and talking about your feelings is a way to let go of what may be bothering you. I get offended when others offer too much advice, so it is important to talk with someone that is nonjudgmental and understands the magnitude of depression. Having someone offer an easy fix to something that feels overwhelming when you already feel hopeless is not what you need. It is okay to feel the way that you feel. You do not owe anyone an explanation or a timeline of when your depression will pass. You are not alone.
- Listen to music. Do you have more conversations in your head than you do in real life? Sometimes, our own thoughts are our own worst enemy. Long periods of alone or quiet time can lead to negative thoughts, self-doubt, or our mind reliving the past. Combat those thoughts with something more positive. Turn on your radio and play it loud. Hearing someone else sing or speak is a good distraction from the silence of our own thoughts. Sometimes, I will play something upbeat, but often times I prefer listening to a sermon by Steven Furtick or putting Natalie Grant’s King of the World on repeat.
- Embrace winter. Don’t let the idea of winter force you to stay in bed under the covers. For weeks, I let myself think that under the covers is the warmest, safest and coziest place to be. But really, it is where dreams go to sleep. You cannot make your dreams happen lying in bed all day. So, embrace this season! Get some warm fuzzies on and do all the winter things. Make a hot cocoa bar for the family. Bring the cozy wool throws into the family room to watch Frosty the Snowman. Play board games with the family around the fireplace.
- Socialize. If the idea of putting on real pants and doing your hair and makeup seems overwhelming at times, we can definitely be friends. There will be days that you don’t feel like getting dressed or being social and that’s perfectly okay. However, if you are cancelling plans often with friends and family, I encourage you to get up, get dressed and get out. It doesn’t have to be a big social gathering, but take some time to enjoy yourself, even if you have to fake it till you make it. Connecting with family, hanging out with good friends, and laughing out loud are good for your soul.
- Treat yourself. Again, you are worth it. Mental health is just as important as your physical health. Pamper yourself with a long bubble bath; light some candles, pour a glass of wine and play some ocean sounds to drone out the kids knocking on the door. Get a manicure, ask your spouse to pick up Starbucks on the way home, or buy some new fuzzy slippers to go with your favorite sweatpants that you have worn for the past three days. Hey, no judging from me. What do you think I am wearing…?
- Pray. I need Jesus to be happy, y’all. That may look different to each of us. It may mean joining a church or church group, attending a service more often, reading the bible, reciting your favorite scripture, listening to ‘Jesus’ music, writing in a journal, praying, speaking with fellow a Christian, or being in nature. It may not have to do with Jesus at all, because your religion is your choice, but whatever you believe, have faith in it.
- Get a hobby. Often times when we suffer from depression, we lose the joy in our daily lives and even in our favorite activities. Doing anything may seem too overwhelming or not worth the effort, but know that you are worthy of happiness. Take time to do what you love. Being idle for too long can only lead to more feelings of worry, self-doubt or guilt. Pursuing a hobby can help motivate you to be productive and is a step to feeling good about yourself.
Mental illness is real and a serious issue. I joke about it because that is how I deal with it. We are all different, suffer differently, feel differently and respond differently. My suggestions are meant to give you hope and a means to get through this season a little quicker than not, and in your own time. I spent most of the past month in bed, and I missed out on a lot. I still have some bad days, but the more choices that I make, the less that I miss with my family and the closer that I am to being happy.