As the days get shorter and the temperature drops, many of us begin to experience a familiar feeling of heaviness. Activities that previously seemed “low intensity” – social events, workouts, and tracking from our various inboxes – suddenly sparks irritation and dread. Inexplicably foggy and lethargic, we notice that our motivation and focus have plummeted. Before we knew it, we had fallen into a cycle of anxiety, avoidance and shame – exacerbated by our human tendency to numb ourselves with our vice of the day (alcohol, food, social media, Squid games).
Are you familiar with any version of this version? As a therapist and executive coach, this is a complaint I hear frequently. Research shows that 10-20% of Americans suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), ranging from mild to severe. And these are pre-pandemic numbers, then add that “minor” detail and it is likely that you will be more vulnerable to some of the symptoms mentioned.
Here are nine tips to avoid falling into funk this winter, or how to get out of it if you’re already in it:
1. Supplement with vitamin D
About a decade ago, I started noticing a trend in my clients. At the time, I was working in Vancouver, Canada, where there is little sun all winter. Knowing that vitamin D deficiency leads to depressed moods, I have encouraged my clients to have their blood tested before starting antidepressant treatment. The results often showed suboptimal vitamin D levels, and after a few weeks of supplementation, they felt noticeably better.
If you live in North America, there is a good chance that you are deficient in vitamin D: almost 42% of Americans lack the essential nutrient! I recommend that my clients take a vitamin D supplement daily.
2. Move your body
Repeated research shows that exercise helps prevent and treat depression. However, when we are feeling down, moving is often the last thing we feel motivated to do. Integrate two factors – enjoyment and responsibility – will allow you to sweat more easily. The motivation is actually quite simple: we are motivated by desire Where fear – which means that neither do we want to do something or need do something – so keep that in mind when planning your movement routine. My clients often think that “exercise” means going to the gym. While it works for some, you’re much more likely to go on with something fun: take a dance class, join a team in a recreational sports league, try boxing or tennis lessons. Bundle up and consider taking a few calls, whether it’s a business meeting or catching up with your best friend on the other side, while walking. Do you find it difficult to take responsibility? Sign up for classes with cancellation fees or hire a training partner to motivate each other.
3. Be kinder to yourself
Much research has shown that self-compassion – treating yourself like a friend or loved one – is an effective strategy for dealing with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, PTSD, etc. Why? It’s the antidote to shame, the emotion that tells us we’re bad, broken, and unlovable. When we are depressed, many of us tend to unconsciously kick ourselves while we are depressed by battling our depressed mood and perceived failures. We judge, criticize and give up – creating and perpetuating shame – when we need our support most.
A critical inner voice is an adaptation: at some point we have internalized it to prevent the emotional or physical (perceived or real) abandonment of a caregiver; mistreat us before a parent, sibling, or bully does it; or to motivate us because we have never learned to do it with love. Learning to support ourselves – especially when we are going through a difficult time or feel like we are not meeting our own expectations – is neither easy nor intuitive. But this is one of the some things that are under our control during difficult times and which are an integral part of their evolution.
Here is my go-to technique for self-compassion: start by recognizing the inner critic (because we can’t change something without awareness). Then treat yourself to a statement of self-empathy to reduce the shame. To me, it sounds like, “Megan, honey, it’s understandable that you feel (what I’m feeling) because (whatever the reason I’m feeling it).” And if I criticize myself for my behavior, I express my understanding for that too (reminder: understanding does NOT mean approving; rather it helps us reduce shame and become aware of our role model so that we can learn and exceed it). It might seem silly and uncomfortable at first, but think of it as learning a new language. It’s foreign and awkward at first, but eventually it gets easier and even automatic.
4. Get on the personal care train
If the thought of giving yourself words of encouragement during a difficult time seems difficult, taking care of yourself may be an easier way to show yourself immediate support. We all prefer to give and receive love in different ways, and giving ourselves verbal love and support – especially during difficult times – can be uncomfortable. So think of self-compassion as a journey and focus on self-care for more instant support. If it’s within your budget, get a massage, acupuncture, or a pedicure – safe human contact releases oxytocin, a mood-enhancing hormone. Cook a real meal or treat yourself to one (take out matters!). Spend time journaling, listen to your favorite distressed album from your teenage years, escape to a book or a show. Or just give yourself permission to do nothing, without the anxiety or shame of being “unproductive.”
It doesn’t matter that “self-care” can in fact be interchangeable with “adaptation:” we just use it proactively (to recharge and nourish) in one case and reactively (to distract or soothe) in. the following. And while part of healing and growing is feeling our feelings and becoming more aware and present, distraction can be a healthy way to take care of ourselves when we are in pain – just try to do it intentionally. to be less vulnerable to shame. -holes and self-destructive habits.
5. Adjust your personal expectations
Through a lens of spiritual psychology, expectations are at the root of our suffering. It’s when our performances, moods, or experiences don’t match what we imagined that we feel disappointment, anxiety, frustration, and shame. Not only does this intensify a negative mood, but it will likely further undermine our motivation … making it even more difficult to accomplish everything we expected of ourselves. If you find that your mood is slipping, consider adjusting your expectations to be more realistic. A simple way to do this is to ask yourself, “If my closest friend was feeling the way I’m feeling right now, what would I expect from them?” ”
6. Make social ties a priority
Similar to exercising, when we are feeling down, reaching out can seem like the last thing we want to do. Yet just like exercise, social bonding is research-backed protection against depression. Social isolation both breeds and exacerbates shame (the lieutenant of depression), and the supportive connection is one of the few things we know how to improve mental health. So notice your urge to isolate yourself, then challenge yourself to text, go to the event, or reply to the DM. As uncomfortable as it is, consider letting your loved ones know that things are difficult. While depression can tell you otherwise, those who care about you want to support you, but they can’t support you if they don’t know you are struggling.
If you feel more comfortable with strangers going through something similar, consider finding a support group in your area or online. And, my favorite: check out the Reddit “Depression” forum: with nearly a million members, you can participate in discussions or just read what others are sharing. Either way, you will be continually reminded that you are not alone.
7. Try light therapy
Some studies suggest that light therapy – sitting in front of a “light box” for 20 minutes a day – is like effective as antidepressant drugs when it comes to treating SAD. So think about drinking your morning Joe in front of an artificial sun.
8. Be careful what you put in your body
Speaking of Morning Joe, it’s always important to remember that our mental health is affected by what we ingest.
Unfortunately, most of the substances that negatively impact our mental health are the ones we’re more likely to get when we’re stressed, depressed, and sleep deprived. Too much caffeine, alcohol, marijuana, and too much sugar are all âgood idea right nowâ coping strategies. They disrupt our neurochemistry, hormones, blood sugar, and sleep, and eventually leave us Following sensitive to what we usually try to avoid – feelings of depression, anxiety and fatigue. So go decaffeinated, replace the second glass of wine with La Croix, and try to follow a diet of 75-80% whole foods that maintains blood sugar balance and promotes a healthy microbiome (gut). In recent years, compelling research has shown the gut-brain connection: our mind affects our gut, and our gut (and what goes through it) affects our mind.
Depression is the result of a confluence of factors: some environmental, some relational, some psychological and some physiological. It doesn’t matter how much therapy you take or how much stress you reduce: if your hormones are out of balance, if you are lacking in a nutrient that improves mood, or if you have developed an addiction to a psychotropic substance, there is will limit how much better you can feel.
9. Seek professional help and consider medication as an option.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to mental health. These tips are likely to make you more resistant to depression this winter; However, even when we are doing all we can to manage our mental health holistically, medication may still be the right choice. See your doctor and consider working with a therapist (Headway.co is a great place to start) to determine your best treatment and prevention plans.