6 Self-Care Tips for Navigating the Winter Blues
It’s been awhile since I’ve posted, and the first time I’ve written since the New Year. The truth is, it’s been incredibly difficult to tap into my creative energy lately. The darkness and heaviness of winter drew me into hibernation. The news of losing a colleague drew me deeper. Doing anything extra beyond work, maintaining relationships, and taking care of the house seemed impossible. Now the days are lengthening, and the darkness is slowly lifting. Its common for writers to experience writers block, and for creators to experience creative block. What I’ve learned in my last few years as a novice writer and creator, is the importance of listening to and learning from those blocks. You can try pushing your way through a block, but in my experience it never yields work I am proud of.
Now that the fog is lifting, I can reflect, I see that my creative block was a calling to turn inward. I’d lost track of connection with myself, and with my spiritual practices. I wanted to create, but simply couldn’t find the energy. Although it hasn’t fully returned, I can feel myself slowly inching forward. The process of turning inward, reveling in self care, gentleness with my spirit, and increasing my social connections, is helping to bring back my light, and my creativity.
The Winter Blues
I decided to share this because I sense I am not alone. We all experience dips and shifts in our mood, energy, and creativity. In the midwest, its particularly common for this to happen seasonally, hence the term seasonal affective disorder (S.A.D), or the “winter blues.” While not everyone truly meets criteria for this diagnosis, I believe its natural for humans to experience some spectrum of symptoms as the days shorten, and as our energy source retreats. When we allow this energetic shift to occur, we can see the darker side of ourselves, which can be raw and unexpected. We experience the complexity of our being, and our undeniable connectedness to nature – the rising and setting sun, the moon cycles, the winds, and the tides.
You might be wondering, how does one navigate these shifts? First, my disclaimer as a healthcare provider: If you or a loved one are experiencing sadness, hopelessness, despair, loss of pleasure, changes in your sleep or appetite, or apathy towards life, please see your healthcare provider immediately. Depression is real, and its not “in your head.” There is mounting evidence that many mental illnesses begin in the gut, where 90% of our serotonin is made! Depression affects 1 in 10 adults each year, and that’s only the recognized cases.
Navigating the winter blues can be challenging; know that you are not alone. In sharing my own experiences with family and friends, I found that most folks in the midwest experience the winter blues on some level. Awareness is the first step. Self love and self care come next. Community follows. Below are some simple tips for keeping your inner fire stoked, and staving off the winter blues.
Practice self care. Carve out time every day to do something for yourself. It could be lifting weights, yoga, listening to podcasts, meditation, massage, breath work, a facial, a mani-pedi, reading, cooking/baking, or cleaning/decluttering the house. Whatever recharges your battery a little bit counts as self care!
Connect with nature. It might be cold, but you’d be surprised how warm one can stay by having the right gear. Taking walks in the winter is one of my favorite outdoor activities. Snow-shoeing, cross country skiing, hikes in the forest, and sledding are fun ways to connect with nature in the winter.
Commit to community. Enhancing social connections is a powerful tool. Humans are social beings, and our high tech world makes it easier than ever to isolate. We sit at home behind our screens and wonder why we feel lonely. Pick up the phone, call a friend, and make a date. Meet up with friends you didn’t have time to see all summer. Plan a girls/guys night out. Ask someone out for coffee or tea. Talk with a sibling or parent. Now is the time to recommit to connection, sharing, and conversation. Tuck your phones away if possible, since even having your phone in sight can prevent you from being fully present.
Get moving. Exercise is a form of self care, but its also scientifically proven to enhance mood and decrease anxiety! Even spending just 10 minutes getting your heart rate up can be helpful. In the winter, I search YouTube for 10-20 minute low-impact HIIT workouts that don’t require equipment. Go with whatever form of exercise you enjoy most, and aim to get your heart rate up least twice per week.
Mind your diet. In Ayurvedic medicine (the sister science to yoga), our dietary needs may shift with the changing seasons, and with imbalances in our Doshas, which are the constitutions or tendencies we all carry to some degree. In the winter months, Vata (air element) and Kapha (earth element) are dominant. Depending on your constitution and current imbalances, this might include (for example) eating warmer, more earthy foods, and avoiding cooler foods like raw salads/vegetables. If you’ve never done a Dosha quiz before, here’s one I recommend as you’ll also get suggestions for your specific constitution: https://www.banyanbotanicals.com/info/dosha-quiz/
Bright light therapy. Bright light therapy, aka the “Happy Lamp,” is thought to work by affecting brain chemicals that regulate mood and sleep. Many users of bright light therapy report improvement in their seasonal affective disorder symptoms. Lamps can also help regulate our circadian rhythms in the winter months, when we’re exposed to much less light.
Regardless of whether you’re experiencing the winter blues, the above self care tips can help anyone live a more peaceful, connected, and balanced life. If you’re experiencing more severe symptoms of depression, or suicidal thoughts, please find help by telling a loved one right away, and contacting one of the helplines below.
SAMHSA’s National Helpline 1-800-662-HELP
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255