Depression: Self-Care and the Winter Season
Shoshona Pascoe, MFT
The shortening days of winter affect us profoundly. The expectation of happy gatherings in the winter season, bringing together family and friends from far and wide, often misrepresents the reality and experience of many of us. Seasonal depression is an important element of this time of year, and there are many ways we can support our bodies, hearts and spirits if a low mood begins to make itself part of our days. SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, is directly related to the shorter daylight hours and our reduced exposure to the life giving energy of the sun.
Fatigue, lack of motivation, and an absence of enjoyment are some of the signs of seasonal depression as well as other forms of a low mood. Appetite and sleep changes (too much or too little), are also important to note. If depression is a tendency year round, the winter months can tip the balance of coping well or not. Giving attention to diet, exercise, and self-nurturing practices can go a long way helping to balance this natural slowing down of our bodily and emotional systems. And it feels good to know we can take action and help ourselves as we respond to the changing rhythm of the seasons.
A simple yet effective tool is using full spectrum light bulbs, that provide a similar light source to sunlight. Far northern areas such as Scandinavia and Alaska are more aware of these products as their light deprivation is more extreme, with accompanying symptoms. I enjoy using these bulbs in my reading lamps as they are also good for the eyes. Physical exercise is such an essential element during the shorter days, yet seasonal depression often makes it difficult to get going. If we think of walking as a natural anti-depressant, infusing oxygen into our bloodstream, and with side-effects like toning muscles and bringing a healthy glow to the skin, it can help push us out the door. The metaphor of putting one foot in front of the other can also help balance the attitude of lack that depression cultivates.
The pull to take part in the social activities of the season can run counter to the urge to hibernate, which nature so beautifully models for us. An intent to find the right balance to support your needs at this time of year is an important inquiry. Individuals have differing requirements for quiet and solitude, activity and rest, and this season evokes that inner wisdom. A deep winter pause can be just what is needed for a strong creative impulse in February when the daffodils begin blooming in our climate. Incorporating time to journal, read a good novel, listen to, dance, or play some music, may feed and nourish us as deeply as a good meal.
Depression may hold us back from reaching toward companionship and leave us isolated in a way that increases our low mood. The development of self-nurturing habits is a practice; it may feel unfamiliar to take care of ourselves in this way or feel we don't deserve this kind of attention. Yet when we attend to our needs and feel supported in life we have more to give others. And it is hard at times to do it alone. A series of therapy sessions can create a useful structure that helps hold the winter passage and also explores attitudes and feelings that keep us stuck in old patterns. This dark time of year is more introspective and can reveal insights and understanding hidden from our view in the busyness of summer's light.