Why is it that people often get “the winter blues” during this time of the year?
“The winter blues” is a term that often gets thrown around that can mean different things for different people with different reasons for its presence.
For some, “the winter blues” may mean an increased sense of anxiety about the end of the year and the upcoming holidays — whether that’s because of goals unmet at work or in your personal life, anticipating spending time with family you’d rather avoid, or clocking in another holiday without a loved one that you’ve perhaps lost to death or to a breakup.
For others, “the winter blues” may arrive in the form of seasonal depression, more commonly known as seasonal affective disorder (S.A.D.), which, according to the DSM-5, is considered to be a reoccurring subtype of major depression or bipolar disorder that typically occurs at the same seasonal period each year, typically Fall and Winter for most people.
While the intensity of seasonal depression symptoms and the reasons for onset may vary from individual to individual, it’s thought that the decreased levels of sunlight in the Fall and Winter months may affect an individual’s serotonin levels, a neurotransmitter that affects our well-being and happiness. For some, a reduction in naturally-produced serotonin levels can contribute to the onset of SAD each year.
Whatever the reason, root, or cause, “the winter blues” can feel very challenging for many of us, so please know you’re not alone and that there are some things you can specifically do to enhance your wellbeing at this time of the year.
So how can we help “beat the winter blues”?
There are endless ways and methods to support your overall well-being levels and, while there is certainly no one-size-fits-all prescription that will work for everyone, most of us can support our overall mental health and well-being by focusing on the following seven recommendations:
1. Recognize and realize that mental health is every single bit as important as physical health and invest in your mental health by seeking out comprehensive and regular professional support when and if you need it.
2. Take very good care of your physical health and, with professional support, rule out any underlying health conditions that may be contributing to your lack of happiness and well-being.
3. Build nourishing relationships in your life and reduce (or eliminate) contact with those relationships that drain, diminish, or don’t support you.
4. Deliberately plan play and joy and adventure into your daily and weekly routines.
5. Spend time in nature.
6. Limit time spent on social media (or be curious about how you can better use it to support your mental health).
7. Connect to something bigger than yourself be it nature, a social justice cause, or a form of religion or spirituality.
Also, if you’ve been following this blog for awhile, you know that I’m a big believer in self-care and in cultivating a large “toolbox” of activities, resources, and methods to help support your mental health.
When working with my clients who are looking for at-home remedies or activities that would help them “beat the winter blues,” after ruling out the need for any pharmacological or physiological supports or screenings, I then invite them to consider these questions:
1. What are you already doing in your daily or weekly routine that brings you joy or some sense of support and nourishment? Whatever it is, first do more of that. For instance, does taking a work break by Skyping with your beloved nephew bring you joy? Could you do more of that throughout the week?
2. If there’s nothing that is currently a support in helping you feel less sad or depressed, can you think about a time in your past where certain activities felt supportive and helpful to you? Could you imagine revisiting some of those past activities? For instance, if when you felt generally better and happier in the past few years, and hosting a potluck for your girlfriends felt really good to you, could you imagine doing that again?
3. Consider building a “toolkit” of emotional coping mechanisms that engage all of your senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. Design a variety of soothing activities that engage all or some of your senses and engage in these when you are feeling sad, depressed, or in need of some comfort. For instance, can you wrap yourself in a fleece blanket with a steaming cup of your favorite tea under some Christmas lights while you listen to your very favorite albums?
The sky’s the limit when it comes to imagining and cultivating creative self-soothing, home-based activities, resources, and methods to support your mental health. So be curious about what is, has, and will work best for you personally and then try those activities out regularly (and don’t be afraid to tweak and adjust as needed!).
And most importantly, please remember this:
Anxiety, depression, or “the winter blues” is not a sign of weakness, brokenness, or anything to be ashamed about. Period. For many, depression, anxiety, and “the winter blues” IS treatable. You can live with this and still live a wonderful life. It just may look different than you imagined sometimes. Depression, anxiety, and “the winter blues” looks differently for everyone, so find out what your version of it needs to be managed and helped. You don’t have to be alone in your depression, anxiety and “winter blues.” You can get help and you deserve to get help.
So what kind of holiday gifts could help boost your wellbeing to help you “beat the winter blues”?
While my general belief is that products don’t necessarily make us fundamentally happy or fill our lives with meaning, I do believe that they certainly can bring a greater sense of relief, ease, and enjoyment into our lives, all of which contributes to greater levels of wellbeing as we journey through “the winter blues” or any other stage of our lives.
The following is a list of suggestions I often share with my clients and friends when they are looking for gifts — either for themselves or for their loved ones — that are soulful, well-being enhancing options that include both actual products, services, and creative suggestions.
1. Sign up for services that make your life easier! Is there is a service you could purchase – either for yourself or for a loved one – which would help bring more joy, ease, and relief to your/their life? For instance, this may look like hiring a TaskRabbit to help cut back on the amount of chores you/they have to do at home each week. Or perhaps, this looks like setting up a Munchery or BlueApron account so you/they don’t have to stress about preparing and planning healthy meals each night.
2. Purchase that one special thing you’ve had your eye on forever. For example, purchasing a piece of clothing or art that you’ve had your eye on for ages may boost your happiness levels each and every time you wear or look at it.
3. Make a deposit against your dreams! For example, set up a separate savings account and start funneling money into there for the dream trip you’ve been eager to take. Or set up a savings account for a loved one and put in an initial deposit for that dream they’ve been longing for — going back to school perhaps.
4. Purchase some nostalgia. For some, spending money on products or items that bring a sense of nostalgic delight is a genuine way to boost happiness. For example, maybe it’s making sure you have some imported British groceries in your kitchen that remind you of your study abroad days in the UK, or maybe it’s going onto Ebay and purchasing that vintage toy you dearly loved as a child just because.
5. Purchase a healing book. I’m a lifelong, diehard bibliophile so to me, there’s nothing better than a healing, soulful book to help me navigate life’s tough times and feel more grounded. The following are some of my top book suggestions for you and your loved ones:
– Women who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, PhD
– Carry On, Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Beautiful, Messy Life by Glennon Doyle Melton*
– A Little Handbook for Life’s Tough Times by Annie Wright, MA, MFT
6. Use the power of audio gifts to help “beat the winter blues.” I highly recommend the following products if you, like me, love audios and apps that are designed to nourish, ground, and make you feel better.
– Headspace: An app for mindfulness training.
– Guided Meditations to Relieve Stress by Belleruth Knaperstack, LCSW: a downloadable guided imagery mp3.
– A Guided Meditation to Help Relieve Depression by Belleruth Knaperstack, LCSW: a downloadable guided imagery mp3.
7. Get in touch with your inner child and your inner calm with Adult Coloring Books*. This has been such a huge hit with therapy clients and clinicians because these adult coloring books are terrific supports if you deal with anxiety or depression. There’s a huge amount of types and options of adult coloring books on Amazon so just find one that speaks to you and have at it. Also, obviously, you’ll need colored pencils to partner with this.
8. The Transformation Game. My dear friend SARK first introduced me to this incredible multiplayer personal growth game created by teachers at Findhorn Foundation and I never fail to be amazed at the guidance, clarity, and calming power of this game. If you or your loved one likes board games and appreciate the idea of doing some deep reflection and growth while playing together, this could be the perfect soulful holiday gift.
9. Angel Cards are a sort of mini tarot for personal guidance that’s a classic in the personal growth industry. I keep a bowl of them in my office and let clients pull a card while they hold a question in their mind to see what the Angel Cards have to say. It’s a rich guidance practice and a great soulful, well-being enhancing product.
10. You probably saw this coming, but much like purchasing a service that makes your life easier in point #1, investing in a service like therapy can be a tremendous asset not only in “beating the winter blues” but also in helping bring about change and healing to any area of your life that may need it. If now feels like the time to sign up for therapy yourself, or to encourage and maybe even financially support your loved one in pursuing therapy, that may be the very best way to help “beat the winter blues.”
I hope this article felt helpful to you.
Now I’d love to hear from you in the comments below: What’s one tip you use and recommend to help “beat the winter blues” and what’s one soulful holiday gift idea you might recommend? Leave me a message and I’ll be sure to respond.
Or if you live outside of these states, please consider enrolling in the waitlist for the Relational Trauma Recovery School – or my signature online course, Hard Families, Good Boundaries, designed to support you in healing your adverse early beginnings and create a beautiful adulthood for yourself, no matter where you started out in life.
And until next time, please take very good care of yourself. You’re so worth it.
*This is an affiliate link and any purchases made through this link will result in a small commission for me (at no extra cost for you).