Banish the Winter Blues!
Familiar refrains of “Oh the weather outside is frightful…” and “Dashing through the snow…” seem to carry special significance in the greater Chicago area, where our winters are known for their bite and tendency to drag on (and on). Spending time outside begins to demand more preparation to ward off the cold and battle the snow, many of us fall prey to the lure of staying inside where it’s nice and warm, cutting back on our regular activities. Our daily commute becomes more stressful, and by the Winter Solstice (the shortest day of the year) on December 21, 2014, we will be experiencing around 6 hours less sunlight per day then we did this summer! That’s enough to impact circadian rhythms (the inner, biological clock that regulates certain hormone production and sleep-wake cycles), a reality tied to symptoms of seasonal depression and metabolic slowing this time of year by many studies. Add in the stress of the Holidays and it’s no wonder so many people suffer from “winter blues” or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
If you know you tend to struggle with feeling down, stressed, fatigued, irritable, or apathetic this time of year, read on and consider taking an active, intentional approach to managing holiday stress and preventing winter blues this year.
As discussed in Part 1 of our Holiday Survival Guide, Navigating Family Time, being intentional with how you invest your time and energy, making use of advanced planning, and being assertive about your personal priorities and boundaries are essential to surviving family time. If you missed our first guide, don’t worry — you can review it here! These principles continue to remain essential in Part 2 of our Holiday Survival Guide, Banish the Winter Blues. Below you will find 7 tips that turn these principles into practical activities that will help you survive the winter season.
Consider giving yourself an invitation to:
1. Honor your self-care routine.
The lure of the couch and a warm blanket can easily trump prior commitments or self-care routines when the days become dreary, long, and cold, or in the “slump” following the business of the holiday season. Take some time to reflect on what successes and struggles you’ve had in honoring your self-care routine in the past. Seek support, whether it’s a friend who could also use a gym or yoga buddy, your dog who still needs her daily walk, or your therapist if you feel your struggles have the potential to become overwhelming.
2. Invest in a light box.
If you know you’re prone to depressive symptoms this time of year or have struggled with depression, consider a quick consultation with your physician, psychiatrist, or therapist about how a full-spectrum light box may be beneficial for you. Many find thirty minutes of regular use in the morning can boost mood, energy, and alleviate some depressive symptoms.
3. Make time for laughter.
Studies have shown a myriad of benefits related to laughter, including its ability to reduce pain and stress. Many who live in bigger cities have ample opportunities to access comedy shows. If that’s not your cup of tea, consider a game night with friends or a funny movie to lift your spirits.
4. Seek meaning.
If the commercialism of the holiday season is bringing you down, allow yourself to acknowledge this strain. Consider making homemade gifts with a personal touch or donating to charity in lieu of a gift giving process that does not feel authentic for you. Finding time to volunteer, either on a special occasion such as a holiday or on an ongoing basis, can also be deeply fulfilling and allow you to engage in something that is meaningful for both you and others. Stay tuned for our “Get Connected In the Community” post for volunteer and community involvement ideas in Chicago!
5. Tackle financial stress head-on by setting (or reviewing) a budget.
Whether it’s to help you avoid stressful “financial fall-out” during or after the holidays, to allow yourself to get away somewhere warm come February, or to save up for tickets to a show you’re dying to see with friends, support yourself in honoring your priorities and needs by being intentional with your financial health.
6. Write yourself a letter.
Instead of developing New Years Resolutions for changes that often last only a few weeks, consider writing yourself a letter of acknowledgement for all of the things you have accomplished this past year (big, small, and in-between). It’s so easy to focus on what we’d like to change or improve that many of us lose out on opportunities to notice and appreciate our personal successes and growth, even when we very much deserve some credit! The New Year can be a wonderful opportunity to take stock of these things and feel bolstered heading into 2015.
7. Seek out or create moments to revel in the season!
Whether it’s by attending a seasonal show, participating in a religious service, curling up in front of a fire, or simply making a snow angel or donning a pair of ice-skates, encourage yourself to be present for joyous moments that truly are unique to this time of the year.
Utilizing some or all of these suggestions is sure to make getting through a tough winter season a little easier.
Lindsay Doyle, PsyD is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist at IntraSpectrum Counseling. Dr Doyle specializes in supporting those who have endured trauma or come from “chaotic backgrounds,” as well as those who are navigating issues of identity development, bereavement & loss, and/or difficulties with relationships, anxiety, or depression. She is dedicated to providing affirming services to Chicago’s LGBTQIA community.