Have you ever noticed how winter festivities fixate on bringing in light? Bonfires, luminescent Christmas lights, the solstice, the eight candles of the menorah – once autumn is past, most cultures have developed rituals that involve creating light, and include those rituals in their seasonal celebrations. We develop a mild fixation with light, conjuring it, spreading it, inviting it in. We can’t get enough of it!
Welcome to winter, the darker half of the year. The days are shorter, the nights are dark and void-like, and just about everything is covered in ice. Gone are the days of verdant walks through the local park and soaking up the sun’s rays. Now, the outdoors have become something treacherous. There’s ice threatening us from above and below, banks of snow block our path, and the air feels jagged in our lungs. Under conditions like this, how could any of us help but to obsess over light and warmth? Hence why those themes became key elements of our rituals.
Winter takes an emotional toll, and we can describe that toll as Seasonal Affective Disorder. SAD for short (and what an appropriate acronym that is), Seasonal Affective Disorder is basically the phenomenon of people being more susceptible to experiencing depression and depression-like symptoms during the winter months. SAD varies greatly from one person to the next, with mild cases manifesting as lethargy part-way through the winter months and extreme cases being as dire as full-blown depression. Most people experience SAD in some form or another, and there’s a reason for that; we are diurnal, warm-blooded light-wired creatures.
Everything about our neurological structure as human beings is tethered to the sun. When it sets in the evening, we grow tired and sleep. When the sun rises, our unconscious perception of its first rays tells us to rise and shine. As a result, longer nights become very confusing for us, neurologically speaking. In a sense, we’re fighting to stay awake, imposing our preferred routine of staying awake for roughly 16 hours at a time onto a solar schedule that doesn’t support us doing so. This problem is reinforced by the cold weather, because we thrive naturally in a given bracket of temperature that sits on the warmer side of the spectrum, so our bodies want to take shelter and seek warmth. The result is that we can start feeling lethargic, day in and day out, and it doesn’t take much for prolonged lethargy to snowball into SAD.
Unfortunately, we missed the window on hibernation, and our society doesn’t shut down for the winter. So, instead of sleeping it out, we have to find ways to cope. The good news is there are many very effective strategies for thriving through the winter.
Light withdrawal, be gone! If Seasonal Affective Disorder hits you hard it’s totally worth investing in a SAD lamp. These therapeutic lights are designed to emulate the sun, compensating for the winter’s deficiency of natural light. Having a SAD lamp in the corner is the visual equivalent of soothing white noise – it can do a lot to reduce the winter blues, and all you have to do is have it on in the background.
Spend Time Outdoors
Yes, it’s cold. It is icy. There’s more precipitation, and familiar paths will probably have snow-clutter. But the fact remains that you can’t beat fresh air and exercise when it comes to getting your daily dose of endorphins. Dress for the season – layer up, strap yourself into your sturdiest boots, wrap a scarf around your face, and head out. Bundling is the hardest part; after that, you get to enjoy the outdoors. Chances are you’ll find a winter walk is just as refreshing and enjoyable as a summer stroll, and even 15 minutes of walking is enough to reap the benefits.
More Attention to Self-Care
We should always schedule in time for self-care, but that’s especially true of times when we’re most mentally and emotionally vulnerable. To keep SAD from setting in, stay on top of your self-care. Block off downtime. Indulge in the tiny luxuries that make you happy. Keep your living space neat, schedule massages, and see your therapist if you have one. The best cure is prevention. Ensure you have regular exposures to things that soothe, comfort, and offer healthy distractions.
Don’t Forget What You Learned in Therapy
CBT, DBT, meditation, mindfulness, acting from your healthy self,
whatever your system, keep it close at hand and use it. There’s no better time to put your therapeutic strategies to the test than when you’re feeling challenged. Include these tools in your self-care regime for an extra boost.