I’ll be the first to admit it; I’m not winter’s biggest fan.
Doesn’t it just seem that once the holidays are over things just get kind of…depressing? After suffering from the worst case of Seasonal Affective Disorder of my life last winter I don’t use that word “depressing” lightly. Lack of sunlight, lack of exercise, short, bleak days…the winter months pretty much open the door to depression and those of us who are vulnerable walk right in. My godmother also suffers from SAD and her solution to the problem was to move down to Florida and spend her winters in the sun. Unfortunately, I’m not at a time in my life to make such a move (I WISH!!) so I had to come up with some other preventative measures to make sure I don’t get hit with the depression bug as bad this year.
I had a friend who would always say that “misery is a choice”; we can choose to be miserable or we can choose to be happy. Depression may not be a choice, but in the face of it I can arm myself with coping skills to help me choose happiness as often as possible in the hopes of combatting the sadness. I’ve compiled a list of tips, small tasks and activities that we all can do to help us beat the winter blues. Hopefully they help anyone else who gets down this time of year stay afloat! I’ve been doing all of these things since around the holidays and even my husband has pointed out the difference in my mood in comparison to this time last year.
1. Get Outside //
I know this sounds completely counterintuitive. However, the fresh air and exposure to sunlight helps tremendously! I’m not telling you to go for an hour long run in the negative temperature, just a little bit of fresh air throughout the day. Maybe take your dog out for a little longer of a walk, park your car a little further than usual when you go to the store, etc. In the winter we spend so much time indoors and with the constant blast of artificial heat the air can be drying and even cause fatigue. The last thing you want to do is give into fatigue during the winter months, it’s just another excuse to lay around on the couch and open yourself up to less than happy feelings. A few minutes outdoors, even in the frigid temps, is enough to invigorate your spirit and send a surge of energy through your body that you’re not getting while cooped up indoors. You’re also exposing yourself to sunlight which brings us to our next tip…
2. Soak Up as Much Sun as Possible //
Lack of sunlight is the ultimate cause of Seasonal Affective Disorder. In fact, many therapists will prescribe Light Therapy to clients suffering from SAD. It’s so important to get some sunlight every day. Preferably being outside in it, however, standing by a window with rays streaming through or driving around on a sunny day will still help. Make sure you still wear at least SPF 15 though, because you still need to protect your skin even when the sun isn’t super strong. Another thing that helps tremendously is upping your Vitamin D intake. I’m a huge proponent of Vitamin D! Both my dad and I had slightly low levels of the vitamin a few years ago during the winter and my doctor recommended taking a supplement of 2000 IUs of Vitamin D. After a week or so of taking it we both felt better, happier, more focused and energized. You can also get Vitamin D from foods such as salmon, walnuts and spinach. Just be careful with the supplement; if you’re in the sun a lot in the summertime, you probably don’t need the vitamin in supplement form. During one summer my Vitamin D levels were actually quite high and my doctor instructed me to only take the supplement during winter months when I’m not outside as much. AND, I wear SPF every single day, year round, so despite what the tanning salons tell you, you STILL absorb the necessary vitamin from the sun’s exposure even while wearing SPF! Cheers to that!
3. Brighten Up Your Living Space //
Yup, we’re still talking about sunlight here. It’s THAT important! Really, it’s about light and brightness in and of itself, not just the sun and that’s something I’ve just realized this year. Changing our bedding has made more of a difference in my affect than I would have imagined! We used to have this dark beige bedding with a dark tan bed skirt and deep chocolate pillows. It darkened our entire room quite a bit and even with all the lights on it never felt bright enough. I never thought anything of it because it was actually a nice dim “mood lighting” for…bedroom activities. Lately I’ve found myself really into interior design so I’ve been doing a lot of reading and research on it and one thing I discovered was the power of light especially in small spaces. I wanted to open up our apartment more by bringing in lighter details (it was my husband’s apartment before I moved so it’s always been quite masculine with all dark and deep colored details). The first thing I did was get an all white bed and I was blown away by how much lighter everything in the room became! I feel instantly happy when I walk into the bedroom when the sunlight reflects off the white fur and the entire space sparkles. We’ve also added a white couch with white pillows to our living room and lighter area rugs with light cream and pale cerulean accents. Another thing I’ve done is kept all my shades up so the apartment can get as much natural light as possible. I’ve taken some things off the window sills to open up that space as well. Another tip is to remove the screens from your windows as that allows much more sunlight in.
Comfort All Your Senses //
All the sensory aspects of winter can trigger SAD. So when thinking about adding to your living space and environment you want to keep all five senses in mind. We’ve already covered sight with adding more light. Next is scent, which is so, so, so important! I cannot emphasize scent enough! The problem with scent in winter is the lack of it. Think about Spring and how strong the scents in the air become as all the flowers begin to bloom and we feel reawakened. The main winter scent that comes to mind is pine and once the holidays pass so does the scent of pine. I find candles to be a huge comfort in winter, not just for the cozy atmosphere they yield but for the much needed scent. I gravitate towards two distinctly varying scents in winter: comfortingly sweet scents (like caramel, vanillas, baked goods, etc.) and candles that smell like men’s cologne (my favorite is Mahogany Teakwood by White Barn). I honestly don’t think I could make it through winter without the comfort provided by an abundance of candles; they create such a warm, peaceful atmosphere. The other sense I think about is touch and that’s where furs come in. I adore fur in winter (faux, of course! Faux-fur-throws.com and Restoration Hardware are my go-tos!) both as part of my outfits and around my house in the form of cozy throws and pillows.
Don’t Let Comfort Foods Get the Best of You //
Taste. Super important sense to acknowledge this time of year. It’s so easy to get stuck in the unhealthy habits we indulge in over the holiday season. Speaking for myself, I mostly eat out of boredom in the winter because there simply isn’t much else to do! Comfort foods are great now and then and I’m the last person to deny myself an indulgent meal but, challenging as it is, try to keep these winter indulgences in moderation. Comfort foods feel good in the moment but the instant that moment passes, so does the temporary joy, whereas healthy, nutrient packed foods keep you feeling content and energized long after you’ve taken your final bite. When indulging in comfort foods my husband and I love to get creative in the kitchen and make healthified versions of our favorite comfort classics. Last night he made an outrageous chili from bison meat and a variety of peppers and other veggies. It was low calorie, low sodium and high protein and deliciously comforting on a cold night. Along with eating well, staying hydrated is also key! Staying hydrated also keeps you energized and wards off fatigue and dry winter skin!
Finally Tackle that Craft/DIY/Whatever it is You’ve Been “Meaning to Get To” //
Drawing and any kind of artistic outlet have always been a constant hobby of mine but I find myself doing more crafting and DIY projects during winter months. If I’m going to be cooped up indoors I have to find something somewhat productive to do. It’s a great way to keep you happy because there is a pretty nice sense of accomplishment that comes with the completion of something creative. Also, displaying something beautiful that you made is a great thing! My husband loves that pineapple girl drawing so much that he insisted we framed it for the house. She now sits above my jewelry display and every time I see her while I’m putting my accessories on I can’t help but smile and feel proud of this pretty little thing I created.
Visit Your Favorite Places //
During wintertime there isn’t much to look forward to if your favorite place to be is the beach. When I was in college I started driving out to the beach during grey winter days when I needed that calming, peaceful feeling I can only get from the waves. I realized that even when the sun isn’t out, even when I can’t dive into the waves, I still feel the exact same comfort. The weather may change but what draws me to the water doesn’t and neither does the beauty of my favorite spot. Warm or cold, the ocean still makes me feel small and close to something greater than all of us. So think about that spot for you, whether it’s the beach, the mountains or even your favorite restaurant. Make it a point to get there when winter starts to wear on you. Not only will it comfort you but planning the trip gives you something to look forward to and a little added excitement. Also, it gets you moving and gets you out of the house! Last winter, when I was depressed, I spent nearly all of my time inside and on the couch. This year I’m making a point to get out of the apartment at least once a day. That’s why I’ve committed to swimming. The water reminds me of the beach and gives me a reason, that I actually look forward to, to leave the apartment.
Be Social! //
Piggy-backing on getting yourself out of your home is committing to various social engagements. Make a point to do something with others. Meet a friend for happy hour, go out for brunch on the weekends, go see your parents at their place, etc. Social interaction was definitely something I neglected terribly and the more I avoided people the worse my SAD became. It got to the point where I had flaked out and blown off my friends so much that I was terrified to make that first step and see them again! In hindsight I can see how lonely I had become. I even put off going out with Dan. I didn’t want to socialize with his friends, I didn’t even really want to go out with him; I just wanted to stay hidden indoors. This year I’ve been sure to make it a point to keep dates with friends and a point to get out and be social as often as possible and not turn down opportunities to get together with others or even to get dressed and go out for a nice dinner with my husband. This is exactly why one of my New Year’s resolutions is a monthly date night.
Plan Something to Look Forward To //
We try to always take some sort of trip towards the end of winter/start of spring. It gives us something to plan for during the bleak and empty months of January, February and March and look forward to. A vacation is also a great way to keep in check with the goals you set for yourself at the start of the year. It’s easy to slack on your diet and exercise when you’re constantly hiding behind puffy coats and oversized sweats, but an upcoming vacation keeps you accountable. I know planning a trip to an island or somewhere warm isn’t always feasible. In those cases try planning a short weekend trip somewhere within driving distance or even a day trip to a nearby town you’ve never been to. I love the feeling of anticipation; it keeps my mood elevated.
Live in the Moment & Embrace the Positive //
This is my biggest challenge but it may be one of the best things you can do to stay happy through the winter. My biggest mistake last year was wishing away the season and throwing my mind into the future, hiding out until summer’s arrival. Not living in the present can sometimes be quite depressing! Especially if the moment you’re in isn’t your ideal. What I’ve come to realize is that instead of focusing on what I dislike, I have to transition my view to focus on the things I love. One of the negatives I have always focused on in winter is the clothing. I’m not a big fan of bulky winter coats and clunky snow boots. However, I don’t have to wear the things I don’t enjoy. There are plenty of winter clothing options that are consistent with my style. I realized that there are 5 things I embrace every winter that I truly adore: plaids, furs, scarves, hats and leg warmers. I like incorporating these into my daily outfits so I can feel like myself and look cute on the greyest of days. Color is huge for me in winter as well, my two favorites being bright white and red. Forget that rule about no white after labor day, white is the most uplifting color on a dark winter day! Other things I love about winter is the way the snow sparkles on a sunny day, the coziness we feel bundled up inside during a frigid afternoon, hot soothing baths, snuggling under the covers with my husband on a freezing night and how adorable Gatsby looks wearing his winter booties. These are the things I will focus on this season.
Being miserable is a choice, as is being happy. This year, I choose to be happy throughout winter’s entirety and embrace all that I love while focusing on my goals and the people in my life that make me feel as warm as a beach day in August!