I was born and raised in a small town in Ontario, Canada. I remember how the people were friendly and the changing seasons were beautiful. But what I remember most is just how harsh the winters were. Fall would quickly trail a beautifully sunny summer with late-night sunsets, and with the crisp autumn air came the incredibly bright leaves.
Then, just as quickly as autumn came, it would be swept away by the first snowfall. The first snowfall was always a treat! What a winter wonderland we live in! But then it would snow with the dreariness of a thousand winters, and month after month the winter wonderland would turn to dirty, dismal slush.
While some people love the winters, many others experience crippling mood changes that make the long winter months feel like an eternity. There are so many beautiful parts of winter, and while the blistering cold can be a deterrent for many, there are ways that we can anticipate the changing of seasons.
If you are someone who experiences mood changes with the winter, there are many ways you can avoid feeling blah this winter. I’d love to help you understand how SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), a type of depression that is related to the changing of seasons, is common and how you can prepare for the winter months and celebrate the arrival of it. With the winter months approaching and the current state of global stress we are experiencing, let’s dig into these tips I have for surviving the winter season with positive mental health habits.
Get Sun On Your Face
Seasonal Affective Disorder is the experience of depression symptoms as the winter days get shorter and shorter, and there is less sunlight. It is suggested that when there is less sun exposure, it causes a chemical imbalance in the brain. After a summer full of sun, you will have to be intentional about how you get outside and get a little sun on your face. It occurs more in women than men, and in those living farther up north. If you live up north and can’t get outside to see the sun, consider light therapy as an alternative. This study shows it can decrease your SAD symptoms with just 1 hour of light therapy treatment. So put on that parka, toss on some mittens and a hat, throw on your boots, look up to the sky and let it sink in. Your serotonin levels will thank you.
Enjoy What Winter Has To Offer
Many people find that their niche belongs solely in the winter. This gives them a sense of purpose and anticipation for the cold months. Ice fishing and snow shoeing are gentle outdoor activities to appreciate in the winter. Of course there is also skiing and snowboarding. Hitting the slopes and waiting for a fresh snowfall is one of my favorite parts of growing up in the snow. We would be on the slopes early Saturday morning, and snowboard until sunset. I have fond memories of eating poutine on our breaks and hanging out with friends and family all day. It was an incredible combination of quietly introverting the whole way down and hanging out with people the whole way up. I loved winter because of this! Snowmobiling, sledding, and ice skating are other winter activities you can try. Besides the outdoor activities, many people also find joy inside by redecorating their home and decorating for the holidays, or taking up something like baking or embroidery.
Find Your People
It can be so easy to isolate yourself and hibernate during the long winter months. This is something that you can choose to be proactive about. Find an indoor team sport, a mom group, a Meetup, or a community-based organization that you can attend on a regular basis. Even if this means grabbing coffee with the same friends every week, make it a point to keep something on the calendar. It may be difficult to leave the house, but connecting with community can be the highlight of your week, and keeping that consistent schedule is a healthy habit to practice throughout the winter months.
And thank Mother Earth for zoom, which has provided us with all of these activities with friends and family while in quarantine this year. Schedule a weekly zoom meeting with some friends and stick to it, especially in February when the winter is dragging on.
Embrace Being Introspective
When people in colder climates planted and tended to their crops all summer and then harvested in the fall, they settled in and rested for the winter. It was a time to relax and restore after a hard working summer. Consider this winter time to rest and restore. Not only is it great to connect with others during this time, but it is also life-giving to connect with yourself. Light a fire, pour a hot cuppa tea, wrap yourself in a cozy blanket by the fire and grab a journal. Go inward with your love and affection the way you usually go outward with it.
Find More Rest and Sleep
The days are shorter during the winter months. Allow your circadian rhythm to adjust to the time change. Lower your lights sooner at night, play relaxing music, and follow the rhythm of the sunset. Do something kind for yourself as a nightly bedtime routine, practice healthy sleep hygiene, connect with your partner, family members, children, or friends in a gentle way before calling it a day sooner than you would in the summer. Catch up on all the sleep you’ve missed, or settle into your warm bed and catch up on the reading you’ve been wanting to do.
As you incorporate these steady winter habits, remember to also prioritize your nutrition, hydration, and stress levels. Your body is a system working together to support you. Your mind and body are connected, so the more you can love and care for your body and mind in these ways, the more it will thank you as you hibernate for the winter.