They're real, and they're a time of low energy, where everything you know you have to do seems like it's made up of 500 steps. I've learned a few techniques to help during these longs months of winter, I hope that by sharing here it can help to make this time more manageable for you, too.
Before meeting Jane, my therapist, I waded through the winter months with a tried-and-so-not-true-how's-that-not-working-for-you approach. A big ugly monster throughout my life has been the winter blues, Seasonal Affective Disorder, what people call "SAD".
I have been this way about the heavy winter months for as long as I can remember, and grew up thinking Oh just me. Just me, sighing twenty times in a row while staring out of a Jack Frost impressed window. But if you ask around, you’ll find that it's not just you. Lots of us struggle with their mood during this gray time of year with the days of less sun, less hours of light.
Finding out that SAD is much more than a wimpy response to the fall and winter months made me feel like I had a chance of doing something about the anchor on my spirit that came during this season. If I could find a way to deal with October through April (probably only January for you, but I do everything extreme when it comes to lack of sunlight), then there was hope. There is a reason, proven and scientific, for the winter doldrums.
Less sunlight reduces the serotonin, which is nature’s feel good hormone, that your body makes. When our body makes lots of serotonin, we feel happy. Less sun, less serotonin, less happy.
If you're like me, which means you've been in a corner already crying ten times before 9:30 a.m.and not just to puppy commercials, and you’re taking everything personally including the sneer you know you didn't imagine from the bagger at Trader Joe’s because you forgot your tree-loving canvas bags, then I think I can help you with these suggestions for getting a hold of these winter blues.
--I can’t say this enough times: please see a Doctor. Medication is pretty dang close to miraculous, so ask for it. Talk therapy is another miracle worker. So are support groups. You don't have to tough out SAD alone.
--Use color. Sounds so dumb, but we don't have to make our black turtlenecks into our uniform. I have a bright orange cardigan I wear over my black turtleneck since I can't ditch my black T-neck altogether, it's my blankie. The glow of orange makes me feel like I'm my own chestnuts roasting by an open fire. The human psyche is influenced by color. Greens and blues have been found to be the most uplifting. (Surprise? Nope. It's because they remind us of outside!)
--Showers are magic. Though it can be tough to find the oomph to shower, it's worth it. You'll feel better being clean.
--Find ways to give yourself a lift. It costs $7.00 for a nail color, not a full manicure, at most nail salons. Your feet, color change only, run $10.00. I do this once a month in the winter. Every time I look at my twinkleberry hands and feet, I feel better about myself. Find what makes you smile.
--Listen to your favorite comedians on YouTube at least once a day. My tried and true guarantee is George Lopez. But I swear by Tig Notaro and Cameron Esposito. Prozac in 5 minute audio bursts.
--Get yourself a light box if you can. I found an affordable one at a warehouse store. If you are able to do it financially, this is an investment you will not regret. Exposure to the rays will stimulate serotonin production in your body and that's how the human body works, remember? #Themoreyou know
--Exercise. Exercise is like sunlight for your body; it makes your body produce serotonin. So walk outside for an hour, run around a local gym for 30 minutes. Join a pickle ball league (it's only for January, you can do it)
--SLEEP at least 7 hours a night. Serotonin is made while you’re at rest. More sleep, more serotonin.
Some more quick changes to help you during this time:
-Ease up on the sugar, turn to protein instead
-Take a multivitamin with D
-Give yourself a special hair treatment: cut, color, deep conditioner. Something out of the ordinary.
-Fight the urge to isolate yourself -- reach out to friends via phone, text, or social media
-Keep your choice of movies/books/music, light. (Nix The Fault in Our Stars. Same goes for Adele)
-Hold your pets. A lot.
Recognizing what we need in the way of mental health care is the best course of action. You’re not the only one struggling through these winter months, many of us are right here with you. As long as we keep a bright blue pitcher full of yellow daisies on the kitchen table, we help make the way to March easier. As long as we look for and implement whatever it is that brings a smile, we stand a good chance of seeing these months through.
When you're armed with knowledge and understand how brains and bodies work with SAD, it makes it easier to see why you have to do what you have to do. Read more, learn more, join Facebook SAD support groups, see your Doctor, check in with friends, and practice good health.
Hang on to hope, spring will be here again. It returns every year. I promise you.
Until then, come back here any time you need to and stare at this. I know I will.