Good afternoon lovelies,
I’ve decided to write this post because it’s that time of year when many of us struggle with the winter blues. The primary focus of Seasonal Affective Disorder is depression and yet I experience a ten-fold increase in my anxiety symptoms around November-February. If this sounds like you, you are not alone. Seasonal Affective Disorder can manifest itself in many ways and although the depression component is always the primary focus, anxiety, irritability and mood swings can all happen too, according to my former therapist.
I was diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder last year after three years of suffering and three years of presenting with symptoms. Unfortunately, in order to be diagnosed, you need to present with symptoms at least twice at the same time of year for two years. I knew what it was because both my mother and father struggled with it, I just wanted a medical diagnosis so that I could pursue the appropriate treatment. Unfortunately, if you’re a HSP (Highly Sensitive Person) like I am, then you’re also more likely to develop Seasonal Affective Disorder than the rest of the population, due to our highly sensitive nature making us more sensitive to changes in the weather.
Before I tell you some of the things that have really helped me, I want to tell you the one thing that didn’t help me – antidepressants. Your mileage may vary of course, but for me, they made the brain fogginess 10x worse, further exaberating my anxiety.
So with that in mind, here are 14 things that I’ve found to be particularly helpful.
- Talk it out
I cannot emphasise this enough. Don’t mope, but also don’t be afraid to talk to someone, particularly someone who might understand what you’re going through. Just getting it off of your chest can really go a long way to making you feel more understood, less alone and hopefully a little bit more normal.
2. Keep warm
When we’re cold, cortisol increases and our survival mode kicks in. Adrenaline and cortisol deplete serotonin, which naturally destroys our good mood. Although cold showers are proven to have scientific benefits for our health, extended periods of cold put undue stress on our body, and are bad for our health. To avoid that, be sure to wrap up warm when you need to. Invest in a good coat, a hat, a scarf and some cosy knitted gloves. Buy some ear muffs too, if you need to. Warmth relaxes our muscles, which will relax you in return.
3. Practice hygge
Hygge comes from Norway and Denmark and is really a practice of warmth, comfort and joy during the winter hardships. I embraced hygge this year and I have definitely found winter much more cosy. Knitted jumpers, fluffy blankets, hot chocolate and candles are all part of hygge, along with laughter, family and friends and warm, hearty food. It’s surprisingly easy to adopt hygge with a little knowhow, just be aware of the marketing cons that label products as ‘hygge’ in order to sell them for considerable profit.
4. Make time for touch
It’s scientifically proven that a ten second hug releases endophins and leaves us feeling good about ourselves. Whether it be a relative, a friend or a cuddle therapist, touch (particularly hugging) can go a long way to making you feel wanted, safe and loved, and feeling wanted, safe and loved in turn will help you feel less anxious and depressed. Even a hug with a stranger can work for some people, just make sure you’re both agreed first!
5. Try light therapy
I have a bizarre relationship with light therapy because while it helps me, I find that having a lamp within my personal space and glaring into my eyes is.. umm.. not particularly helpful. Instead, I find it works best to have the light on in the general vicinity. It makes the whole room feel lighter (without feeling too bright light a white light lightbulb would) and that in turn can improve my mood.
6. Get outside
I know, I know.. “but Helen, it’s cold and wet out there and warm in here”. I get it, you want to stay in and never leave until it reaches at least 30 degrees again, but being stuck in really isn’t good for you. Not only are you missing that oh so important vitamin D from sunlight, but your trapping yourself from thought and possibility beyond your four walls. Getting outside will also help to get out of your head. Even if you only wrap up warm and sit out in the garden for 5-10 minutes to start with. Promise me?
7. Get a massage
Massage works wonders to relieve stress, depression and anxiety, but it also does wonders for the tense muscles you may be experiencing from seasonal stress as well. In fact, this time of year, most of us are stressed and so I’d definitely say go and get yourself a massage. Massages! Massages for all!
8. Explore essential oils and plant extracts
This is one of my personal favourites for oh so many reasons. Firstly, if you don’t have any, I strongly suggest you look for Bach’s Rescue Remedy. It’s a flower exract remedy which goes a long, long way in calming angsty feelings, naturally and legally. Second, failing that, consider burning essential oils in an oil burner to help your mood. Peppermint is a favourite of mine to help clear your mind, bergamot orange increases happiness and lavender and jasmine promote relaxation and sleep.
9. Get plenty of rest
Sometimes, when my SAD kicks in bad, I don’t sleep well. Not sleeping well means I’m tired and cranky the next day, so it’s really important that I do what I can to get some good quality sleep. For me, I find it useful to listen to relaxing sounds on my bluetooth headphones and wear a sleep mask. The soothing sounds distract me from my thoughts, and the sleep mask helps me fall into a deeper sleep, which I kind of don’t get otherwise with a street light right outside of my bedroom window. Sensory deprivation, under the right circumstances, can really help you to let go of anxiety and a need for control (because what is there to control when you’re floating in water in the dark?), but even on a simpler, smaller scale, some soothing music and an eye mask will work.
10. Keep busy
Whether it’s weaving wreaths, writing Christmas cards or singing carols, the nice thing about the month of December is that there is so much to do. Get involved with local events and turn up for Christmas parties. The more involved you are with everyone and everything else, the less time you will have for focusing on how you’re feeling.
11. Keep perspective
Something my mother always taught is to remember that after 21st December, the days start getting longer again. That means we’re actually closer to summer before Christmas has even happened. That’s right, on 22nd December, the sun is on the way back and the days are getting just a tiny little bit better again. How are you feeling now? Better?
12. Eat and drink well
This should be obvious, but if your diet is full of junk, you can’t expect to feel good. I love hearty stews and soups in the winter, packed full of veggies. Having a little treat is fine, but make sure you balance it out with the good stuff, too. Limit caffeine, sugar and alcohol, which an all go a long way to making you feel worse.
13. Consider vitamins
Ask your doctor about starting a vitamin regime. I take vitamin B complex with inositol, vitamin D and magnesium citrate, but you may need a different supplement or combination so it is always worth seeking a medical opinion. Don’t try and take a pot luck guess, your health is far too important to take a gamble on.
14. Consider therapy
If you’re still really struggling, please, please consider seeing a therapist for help. They won’t judge you, they are more than familiar with winter time anxiety and they are more than equipped and trained to help. Don’t suffer in silence, find a therapist you trust and who can work with you to help you get back on the road to feeling better.
Don’t forget, none of these suggestions will work immediately and some may even require days or weeks to help you feel better. They do all require some effort, but your health and happiness will always be worth it in the end.
Sending big wintery wishes for you and your health this Christmas!