Anyone who lives in the Midwest can totally relate. After the thrill of Christmas is taken down and packed away until next year, we’re left with cold, dark, snowy days that never seem to end. Wisconsinites are left with no choice but to surrender to the long winter ahead.
So how do we cope?
I’m certainly no stranger to a major side effect of this time of the year, and I’d like to talk a little bit about it today. As I’ve gotten older especially, I’ve noticed huge shifts and patterns in my mood and energy levels recurring every winter and decided I needed to seek out help in determining how to best treat this for my overall health.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons — SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year. If you’re like most people with SAD, your symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody.
The reduced levels of sunlight this time of year (during winter months, where we get on average only about 10 hours of daylight) can lead to a drop in serotonin and melatonin in the body’s brain chemicals, leading to disruption of mood, energy, appetite and sleep.
I’ve learned to recognize the signs of it coming on, and how to manage myself better when it does. Taking my multi-vitamins – especially Vitamin D – regularly, drinking more water, eating less processed foods and getting to sleep earlier at night have helped immensely improve my day to day functions.
In addition, I use a Happy Light on days when it’s not sunny and I need a “light boost.” My therapy light is designed to mimic the colors of daylight and provides the recommended 10,000 LUX of brightness to help with my winter blues. Days I use it also helps improve my focus, naturally boosts my energy and overall makes me feel less sad.
During the month of January so far we’ve had on average about 3 or 4 really bright, sunny days, with longer stretches of 20+ days of cloudy, gray days. So you can bet my Happy Light gets used more often than not this month.
I’ve also learned how to manage my stress better this time of year, by focusing more on ways to unwind and relax. I make an extra effort to do my yoga exercises 2-3x/week, and carve out “me” time to do things that help fill my bucket like reading a good book, singing/listening to uplifting music or working on a new art/craft project.
And I’ve learned the art of embracing the Scandinavian way of winter hygge. Pronounced “hoo-gah” this word takes on a concept of creating winter coziness in the home and appreciating the season, despite it’s longevity. This notion is really important, since Wisconsin winters can last 5-6 months on average.
For me, winter hygge looks like:
- Calming, neutral colors in the home
- Soft blankets, fuzzy sweaters, wool socks
- Warm tea with honey and eating lots of different soups
- A 500 piece puzzle set up to challenge the mind
- Keeping white lights up on a small tree or candles to create a warm glow
- Warm baths with lavender Epsom salt
- Bundling up and going outside for a snow walk or sledding with my kids
- Watching my favorite movies to lift my mood
- Regular chats with a good friend or family member who love and support me
Over time, I’ve learned to accept my body’s winter tenancies, and strive to improve my health during this period using these methods. I understand it may not look this same way for everyone who deals with SAD, but it has worked very well for me.
I should also point out that all of this is so much more achievable through my faith in Jesus. I lean into Him even more during this time of the year, and rely on my quiet time spent in the word or through meditation and prayer to draw me closer to my Savior. He is the ultimate source of my life’s joy and will always be my safe hiding place.
So, do you winter well? For someone living in a tropical climate, this may be a completely foreign concept! But us Midwestern folks know how to make the most of a long, cold season.