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3 Tips for Coping with Seasonal Depression

Many people suffer from some form of seasonal depression. Those with severe cases are diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder, but innumerable others with mild to moderate symptoms go without formal treatment. We may spend days or weeks at a time feeling unmotivated, exhausted, apathetic or just inexplicably “blah.” We call it “cabin fever” or the “winter blues” but we don’t talk about it much beyond that. I had my first encounter with seasonal depression a few years ago, and I’ve since armed myself with a handful of coping tools so that when the days start getting shorter and depression rears its ugly head, I can take comfort in the knowledge that I’m going to make it through the winter. Please remember that this information is based on my personal experience and should not replace medical advice. If you are experiencing a severe depressive episode, if you’re thinking of harming yourself or another person, or if your symptoms last for more than 3 months please seek the counsel of a licensed mental health professional.

Create Your Toolbox

My first “blue” winter was the first time I had experienced symptoms of depression. Sure, I had felt sad and tired before, but I had never been so completely devoid of sensation or motivation. I didn’t know how to help myself and I ended up feeling helpless. I’ve since developed a coping toolbox - essentially, a list of ways I can help myself when I feel mired down by depression. My list includes things like doing yoga, taking a hot shower, getting a massage or acupuncture treatment, spending time outdoors, and cuddling with my dog. These are all things that I’m almost always capable of doing, even when I’m feeling down, and that I know will leave me feeling more energized than before. Take some time to jot down your tried and true mood-lifters. It might include things that you find soothing (cuddly blankets, your favorite music, a delicious-smelling candle), ways to temporarily distract yourself (working on a project, playing a game, watching an episode of your favorite TV series), or ways to engage with your feelings (journaling, meditating, talking about it with a friend).

Take Care Of Your Body

When the winter blues have their hold on me, getting out of bed can be a challenge. Some days are better than others, but on those “other” days I usually don’t accomplish anything worth speaking of; I do, however, make sure that I take decent care of my body. Francis Bacon said “A healthy body is a guest-chamber for the soul; a sick body is a prison.” - and isn’t depression enough of a soul-prison already?! To ensure that your clear, healthy mind has a beautiful guest-chamber to return to in the Spring, do your best to take your vitamins, eat healthy foods, drink plenty of water, get enough sunlight, shower & groom yourself, and avoid excessive amounts of processed foods, caffeine and alcohol.

Do What You Can (and be okay with that)

For me, seasonal depression comes paired with anxiety. Anyone who’s been stuck between “I don’t feel like I can do anything right now” and “I feel like a failure because I haven’t accomplished anything today” knows exactly what I’m talking about. That little voice of anxiety, fear and self-loathing has never served me, and it’s the seasonal symptom that I find most unbearable. I’ve had to practice being louder and smarter than that little voice, but it’s a struggle. I’ve found that it helps to go through all of my lists - my toolbox of mood-lifters, the things I’d like to accomplish for the day, the to-do’s that have been nagging at me - and pick one thing that I feel capable of. Then, when I’ve done that, I do one more. On particularly tough days this process can be slow and difficult, but on better days it helps me gain momentum. Either way, at the end of the day I can rest comfortably in the knowledge that I did as much as I was capable of.