Battling the Winter Blues

Part of me thinks I’m lucky to live somewhere that has four distinct seasons. As much as I think I would adore living where it’s warm all the time, in reality, I’d probably miss the period of change in each season. I quite like the first few weeks of cooler weather. I come home to a cosy house and put my Ugg boots on, and it’s all a bit of a novelty.

You might find this image comforting, but all I see is COLD ANKLES! Get this person some ugg boots!

…And then the novelty wears off and I begin to resent having to leave the house. I just want to stay curled up under my doona. As winter wears on, the blues really start to sink in, and it used to become a pretty serious depression for me. But now I am aware of it and I take conscious steps to battle it before I sink too low.

Often in winter we tend to gravitate toward whatever brings us comfort. That’s usually comfort food, and warm cosy blankets. Curling up on the couch with my doona, a bowl of nachos and a glass of red wine? Sign me up! But as comforting as that is, it’s hardly energising. We end up feeling fat and lazy and tired. Our homes might get a bit neglected, those projects remain undone, and we start to hate on ourselves for not achieving anything. And because we feel a bit down about it all, we seek comfort in another bowl of crap food and another episode on Netflix… and so the cycle continues.

You’ve probably heard of a condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. It’s a genuine clinical condition which is basically winter-induced depression. It’s thought to be caused by decreased light exposure. SAD is often characterised by increased appetite, weight gain, and increased sleep. Now there’s two different levels I’m talking about here: there’s the winter blues where we feel a little glum and uninspired, and there’s full-blown depression. If you think you’ve gone beyond the blues and you have depression, please speak with your GP or a counsellor.

Don’t be a winter glum bum!

The first winter that I actually enjoyed was a few years ago. I was really dreading it and already sinking into the blues before it even properly started. But I was working on a lot of self-development and identified that this was a challenge I needed to face head-on. I decided to set some winter goals, with the mantra: “Laugh in the Face of Winter”. Writing it out like that, I realise that maybe it’s a bit weird. But it got me through winter without a hint of depression. And the following winter I didn’t have the same feeling of dread. Here are some of the steps I took that year to make it more bearable:

Exercise

You knew that was going to be in the list, didn’t you? If the thought of going to a gym or going out in the cold just has you disregarding the idea of exercise altogether, I get it. I was the same. But that winter, I joined the gym and forced myself to go in the mornings. It was bloody cold. And it was hard to get out of bed. But I would repeat to myself “Laugh in the Face of Winter” and I would drag my frozen butt in to the treadmill and work up a sweat.

I found that on the days I started with a good workout and raised my body temperature, the cold didn’t seem to affect me as bad for the rest of the day. It’s like my body coped better with the colder temperatures after being warmed up in the morning. I don’t know if there’s any science behind this, and maybe I should research it… but for now, you’ll just have to trust me that increasing your body temperature with exercise can help the days feel less bitterly cold.

These days I don’t have a gym membership. But I’ve been making an effort to get out and go for a walk on the sunny days. Canberra is bitterly cold in the winter, but we are so lucky to have a lot of gorgeous sunny days. As long as it’s not too windy and I’m dressed appropriately, a quick walk in the sunshine lifts my mood considerably.

You don’t have to carve out a whole hour for a workout or a walk. Even just fifteen minutes, if that’s all you can manage, will make a difference.

Dress appropriately

This should be a no-brainer, but it still amazes me that I forget about it sometimes. This winter I’ve been struggling to enjoy my walks outside, even when it’s nice and sunny. I get home and I’m frozen through to my bones. This is the first winter that I’ve had a baby to think about, so before we go anywhere I spend about 20 minutes making sure he is all rugged up and toasty warm. And then, because I don’t want him to overheat inside with the billions of layers I’ve dressed him in, we get the hell out! And it’s only once we’re out and about that I realise I forgot to dress myself warmly!

My mum loaned me a coat a few days ago when I was walking home from her place. I marvelled at how much warmer I was and how the walk was actually pleasant when I wasn’t trying to hug myself and push the pram at the same time. And then I thought about it. I have coats. I have many coats. I just need to leave one by the door and pull it on as we’re leaving the house and it takes, like, zero seconds. And then I can be comfortable!

Same goes with gloves. Personally I just find them irritating because I have to take them off anytime I want to do anything. But the fact that I can actually do things with my fingers because they’ve been kept warm by my gloves is pretty great!

Invest in warm boots, a coat, some gloves, and maybe a warm hat if you’re not too precious about your hair. You’ll wonder why everyone’s complaining about the cold – what cold?

Seek out the sun

Even if it’s cold, if the sun is out, try and soak it up. Open your curtains and let the sun stream into your home. Go for a drive and enjoy the warmth of the sun coming through the windows of your car. Seek out a sunny spot in a café. If you’re brave, dress appropriately (see previous section) and enjoy your lunch or a coffee sitting outside. It doesn’t have to be for long. Whenever you can, try to soak up some sunshine and consciously appreciate it.

Keep healthy sleep patterns

It’s tempting to stay in bed for a few extra hours on the weekend. Oh, how I fondly remember those days when this was even possible (before I had a baby that demanded I get up). But try to avoid the temptation. Get up at a reasonable time, open the blinds and let the morning light in, make your bed, and get on with your day. The longer you stay in bed the harder it is to get up and get motivated to have a productive day. Promise yourself that if you’re still craving your bed you’ll give yourself an early night.

It’s so important to have healthy sleep patterns and to get enough sleep. But too much sleep can make you lethargic and lazy. Force yourself to get up and get into the day.

Aim for small changes…

When you’re already feeling a bit blue, it’s difficult to go and completely change a whole heap of things at once. It’s great if you can do it, but it might be unsustainable. So why not just pick one or two things that you think you can have a go at today to make winter a bit more bearable.

I’d love to hear how other people get through the winter blues. Leave me a comment and let me know!

 

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