Dan on Facebook asked for some thoughts on seasonal depression. A lover of the outdoors, he's finding it challenging to spend so much time inside. Winter is a challenge for me too, even here in California where the winters are far milder and shorter than in my native New Jersey. Finding ways of getting through winter has been a big focus for me, and for the first time this year, winter's not so hard. In fact, at times I'm even enjoying it! Seasonal depression is quite common, and it can range from simple "winter blahs" to something much more intense. The darkness of winter, combined with the cold and the necessity to stay indoors, can all lead to feeling blue. But I think sometimes winter can also trigger a stronger depression that has to do with unresolved emotional issues that surface when winter forces us to be less active and we have less things to distract us from what lies within us. In that sense, winter can also be an opportunity to see what parts of yourself need healing and attention. For example, for most of us, there's grief from a variety of losses in life that we've never fully processed. Our culture doesn't do grief well. We get a "stay on the sunny side of the street" kind of message that causes us to avoid the painful feelings of grief. But avoiding, suppressing and distracting ourselves from feelings doesn't make them go away. Given the more restful time of winter, these feelings can surface.
Although I'm going to share list of some things I've done to make winter easier, I have to start by saying that inner work I've done in the past has a lot to do with my good spirits this winter. Your everyday, garden-variety winter doldrums might be helped by some of the things I'll share, but it may take more than that if the depression is more intense. If you feel your depression is more than simple winter blahs, I'd encourage you to explore the possibility that there is more going on. You can find lots of reading online about depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder. It may be that winter is helping you to see that there's some inner work to do. Attending to your depression can lead to a more fulfilling life later on. There are lots of good therapies for depression, so I hope you'll get some help if needed.
And now, as someone who has always dreaded the coming of winter, here are the things I've found that are making a big difference for me:
- I bring more light into my home - light candles, have some pretty lamps lit. If I had a fireplace, I'd make lots of fires. It's amazing though, how much even one lit candle can mean in winter. Whenever possible, I spend a least a few minutes in the sun, really soaking it in. Full spectrum lighting can help as well.
- Exercise. Exercise helps with depression, and part of the blahs may come from being more sedentary in winter. I used to rely a lot on walking and when it was too cold to go out in winter, I was at a loss. A few things have made all the difference -- an elliptical machine, a bodybar and the hula.
- I do whatever it takes to stay warm. Lots of layers of clothes, especially yummy wool sweaters with beautiful colors that lift my spirits. I use an electric mattress pad to warm my bed before I get in. If I feel chilled, I'll even warm my clothes in a dryer and put them on. I can't tell you how good the heat feels. I have no shame when it comes to keeping warm. People joke about it when I wear two wool hats, one on top of the other, but my comfort comes first!
- Find enjoyable indoor activities. For me, lately, it's been the hula. I can't tell you how happy it makes me. Find something that really lifts your spirits and do it!
- Bring nature indoors. If you, like me, are a lover of nature, having plants indoors can really help. Taking care of them, seeing them grow brings a bit of spring and summer into your home. Forcing bulbs in winter is also wonderful. How about some lovely, fragrant narcissus or hyacinth? The Nature Attunement Meditation is perfect for this as well!
- Attitude. Oh yes, lest I forget, that all important ingredient. Cognitive therapy is effective in depression, and I think of an attitude adjustment as being just that. If I focus on how long and dreary winter is and how much I want it over with, it does seem incredibly long and dreary. Instead I'm learning to focus on the positive side of winter -- the opportunity to be more restful and go within. It's a time to hibernate and meditate. It's a time to contemplate.
- Surrender. Finally, perhaps the most important ingredient is surrendering to the melancholy when it's present. We're conditioned to fight it and resist it, to feel it's bad or wrong. It's a natural part of life. So often our suffering comes from feeling we should be different than we are (as in always happy and upbeat). Life as we know it couldn't exist without the poles of opposites - joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain. Let it be OK to feel blue.
Perhaps some of these things will be useful for you. Or you may have some other strategies to share. I'd love to know what works for you!