For some of you, this is a familiar motto from Game of Thrones meaning something bad is going to happen. This motto references the hard winters the Stark family must endure in Westeros. And while we won’t have to worry about an army of zombies knocking at our door (thankfully), winter presents its own set of challenges. Some people feel winter brings many headaches: dealing with snow removal, driving in terrible road conditions, and feeling cooped up. For others, winter brings the joys of the holiday season, wearing warm sweaters, drinking hot cocoa, and participating in ice skating or skiing.
Winter can be a difficult time of the year for some people in recovery who may struggle with mood changes. Not only do you spend more time in the house and less time outdoors but you may also experience an increase in moodiness, fatigue, poor sleep, and a lack of interest in doing the things you love. In winter, we have less sunlight, which may affect changes in our body clock and our levels of serotonin, a mood-stabilizing neurotransmitter.
It’s normal to have some days when you feel down. But if you notice that you are feeling down for days at a time and you can’t get motivated to do activities you normally enjoy, it is time to ask for help. Especially if your sleep patterns and appetite have changed, you have thoughts about using your substance of choice for comfort or relaxation purposes, or you feel hopeless.
Seasonal affective disorder symptoms appear during late fall or early winter, and typically go away during the brighter days of spring and summer when we have more sun and longer days. Symptoms may start out mild and become more severe as the season progresses. Diagnosis usually happens through completing blood tests, a physical exam, and a psychological evaluation. Treatment for seasonal affective disorder may include light therapy, medications, and psychotherapy. While your provider will be responsible for any medication changes and the use of light therapy, there are many ways you may support yourself when you are experiencing symptoms.
Tips to Combat Seasonal Depression:
- Identify negative thoughts and behaviors that may be making you feel worse and discuss ways to change those behaviors. This may include identifying and practicing new coping mechanisms and skills that help to reduce isolation, develop insight, and manage stress and anxiety. Unmanaged stress can lead to depression, overeating, or other unhealthy behaviors and thoughts.
- Take trips (day outings will also do the trick) to sunnier locations in the winter. Even scheduling regular quick walks in your neighborhood to enjoy the sun during the day will boost your mood.
- If your schedule doesn’t allow for walks outside, make time for activities you may do indoors in winter that make you feel connected and productive. This may include attending a 12 Step meeting, a music event, or seeing friends and family more often during the winter season.
- Make a plan and stick to a schedule that allows you to practice daily self-care. This includes getting enough sleep and eating regular meals and snacks. Wake up and go to sleep at the same times daily, exercise at regular intervals, don’t skip meals, and enjoy your breaks.
- Try new mind, body, and spirit activities, such as meditation, exercise, guided imagery, yoga, or qigong. These activities will help you build movement and relaxation into your schedule.
- Update your living and working environments. This may mean changing the blinds or curtains to bring in more sunlight, trimming branches outside your windows, or moving your desk or sitting areas to a sunnier window.
Again, you may have days when you feel down. However, if you notice that you are feeling down more often than not, or you are not motivated to do activities you normally enjoy, then it is time to ask for help.
“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger — something better, pushing right back.” – Albert Camus