Winter is coming…here’s six ways to fight off Seasonal Depression
by Cyndi Benner, MA, LPC at Inspire Counseling Center
I was standing in the yard on a gloomy day recently throwing the ball for my two-year old puppy. I am always keenly aware that the ratio of rest and play for her is dependent on me giving her exercise. I was basically going through the motions and feeling a slow sadness settle over me. “Do I have seasonal depression?” I wondered. I have always loved summer. The kids are home from school, the days are longer, the sun is shining, my wardrobe of shorts and sandals – all of it!
I must admit however, that there is something magical about the other seasons too. Watching the wonder of the leaves changing, the first snowfall, or the first daffodil in bloom. But the feeling welling up inside me felt just as much like dread as it did sadness. I have seen the panic in my client’s eyes on the first chilly day of fall. Here is comes! Winter. Short days. Darkness. Bitter cold. On that particular day, as I stood throwing the ball in my backyard, I looked up briefly. And there it was, one tree, deep in my yard, with every leaf in tact, blazing red. I paused for a moment or two. I chose to savor that beautiful tree. In that savoring, came hope. The sadness didn’t dissipate immediately, but I held space in my heart for hope too.
One lesson I am constantly learning, and re-learning is what I can and what I can’t control. And spoiler alert – I can’t control the seasons. They just come and change without my permission. So what can I control? I can control the way I approach them. I can control my attitude about winter and my intentions.
Perhaps I don’t fit the criteria for seasonal depression, but I know I have a tendency towards bouts of sadness during gloomy, cold days. Now that I know that about myself and have accepted it, with intention, I can double down on nurturing myself. What does that look like exactly?
Self-care is very personal. It is very unique to each person. But I will share some ways that have helped me embrace winter. These may fit your life as well or at least get your creative juices flowing.
Six tips to help fight off Seasonal Depression
- Saying No: My best self-care tip is know when to say “no”. I always buy myself time when I am asked to commit to something by saying “let me get back to you on that.” And that’s when I really take a moment to check in with myself to see if it is something that will drain my energy or restore my soul.
- Coffee + PJ time: I give myself (at least) one morning a week to hang around in my pajamas a little longer. No workouts. No appointments. It is just me, my coffee, my dog and my journal. An early evening can work too – especially since it is getting darker earlier.
- Fresh Air: Even though it gets pretty cold in the Chicago area, I am intentional about getting outdoors. For me it is usually about walking my dog with a friend. I get fresh air and connection, and my dog gets exercise. Win-win.
- Yummy Recipes: I use the winter months as a good excuse to try new recipes. There is nothing like the smells of fresh pumpkin bread or warm soups that make me feel purposeful and nurturing. I put my music or my audiobook on and start chopping or mixing. My loved ones benefit too!
- Cozy up with a Book: Are you in the middle of a good novel right now? Winter is a great time to get lost in stories. Visit your local library for suggestions, book clubs, interesting guest speakers and even workshops. Winter is a good for alone time, but when alone time turns to isolation, then remember the importance of staying connected to people. Your local library is a great (and free) place to start.
- Vitamins & Hot Baths: Take care of your physical body too. We are mind, body and soul. By nature I am not too disciplined, but in the winter I never skip my vitamin D (5000 mg is the new recommended dose), my exercise, eating healthy (on most days) and hot Epsom salt baths. What you chose to keep your body healthy is very custom to your needs and lifestyle. Take time to figure out what that should be and then come up with a plan to do it.
These are just a few things that encourage me to have a more positive outlook on the long winter months. It is important to remember that you will need to have enough time and space in your life to be able to tune in to what it is that would feel nurturing to you.
Spend some time in your next therapy session or brainstorm with a close friend. Lastly, be intentional about leaving enough margin in your life to actually do those nurturing things. “What is margin?” you say. It is having a life that doesn’t have a bumper-to-bumper schedule. If you have back-to-back commitments than carving out margin may need to be your first step to good self-care.
It is worth noting that Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a legitimate diagnosis. It can be mild or severe. Some of the symptoms include a feeling of sadness around the fall and winter months and a loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed. Pay attention if you are also sleeping too much, having trouble concentrating or especially entertaining thoughts of suicide. SAD can be treated with talk therapy, medication and light therapy. If you think you may have SAD then tell someone you trust and reach out for support.
Cyndi Benner, MA, LPC is a therapist at Inspire who loves helping women, mothers, parents, and adolescents thrive in difficult situations. Cyndi is “trauma certified” by the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault (ICASA) and creates a gentle and safe space for clients to heal from traumatic experiences.
Cyndi helps clients through troublesome childhoods, life transitions, loss, identifying needs, parenting struggles and women’s empowerment.
In her personal life, Cyndi has spent years understanding the impact and affects of ADD/ADHD as well as health concerns, such as Lyme Disease. She is Lyme-literate and knows the challenges parents face today and the importance of treating the whole person. Her personal faith and spiritual journey, also allow her to provide faith-based counseling to clients, upon request.
To book a session with Cyndi, call (847) 919-9096 ext. 1 or email firstname.lastname@example.org