In London, it seems as though that means -20 degrees Celsius, heaps of snow that quickly turns into disgusting brown slush and numb ears as you wait decades for a bus to roll around.
It’s hard not to miss the summer when dark, somber clouds loom over the sun. Without chatter on the street from people enjoying an afternoon brunch at outdoor patios and children screaming over quickly melting ice cream, the motivation to rise from bed out of a dark room into endless layers of winter clothing can be minimal to non-existent. Some might even catch the dreaded “winter blues.” Especially in January, after the delights of the holidays and the excitement of New Year’s Eve have passed, it may often feel as though there isn’t much to look forward to or celebrate. As my boyfriend likes to put it, January is the Monday of the year.
For many, the winter blues manifests into something more serious. Seasonal depression, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, is very common and is usually triggered by the change of seasons. When darkness takes up so much of the day and the sun becomes a family friend you only see on special occasions, hormones such as serotonin and melatonin are disrupted. This shift, well, sucks because these hormones regulate sleep, mood and general feelings of wellbeing. And people with a family history or a diagnosis of anxiety and depression may be particularly susceptible.
Though the months of October and November are the unfortunate windows for seasonal depression to sneakily make its first appearance, January isn’t unheard of either. In fact, it is arguably when Seasonal Affective Disorder is the quietest and most menacing intruder. In my own experience, I have had the least difficulties during October due to celebrations such as Thanksgiving and Halloween. I find that January is when reality hits harder than ever, and classes start again in a time when no holidays are near and there are only impending midterms to think about. Sitting in a class you are suddenly uninterested in and knowing that a blizzard is waiting outside to slap you in the face can make anyone wonder why they left their house in the first place. But let me tell you, leaving your bed is the smallest, yet best thing you could have done.
That’s why it’s essential to treat symptoms as soon as they appear, because all forms of depression limit people from living life to the fullest, enjoying friends and family, and functioning well at school or work. Especially as a student, when we have the stress of classes and due dates mixed in with seasonal depression, it’s important to do whatever possible to get right back on track.
Though seasonal depression is very common, it is also treatable. Without being a professional by any means I have created a list of things I do or have heard of to help battle this seasonal bully.
1. Get Moving
I understand that physical activity is always the first suggestion in any 101 guide to happiness, so don’t get me wrong, I hate the gym and everything that has to do with working out. No one will ever find me at the treadmill sweating off my bad mood. However, when I go swimming I don’t feel like I’m doing any form of dreaded workout. But, similar to gym lovers, I focus on a goal I want to obtain in a certain amount of time, and just that distracts me from what’s got me down. Though I don’t go to the pool often because I’m admittedly pretty lazy, just a basic flutter kick when I teach swimming lessons once a week lifts a huge weight off my shoulders. Whether it’s swimming or a cardio dance class, devoting an amount of time to something you find fun and rewarding does wonders. Weight gain is also common with seasonal depression and, while it can be hard to find the motivation to shed the pounds during the dead of winter, seeing any kind of personal improvement helps.
2. Write in a journal
Writing is something I always find fun, even if it’s just a list of something random. That may not be your thing, but writing down your thoughts is proven to have a positive effect on your mood, even if it’s for 20 minutes. It’s the easiest thing to do, especially on the worst days when it’s the toughest to get out of bed, because all you need is a pen and notebook while wrapped in a duvet. The best time to write is at night because you can reflect on the last 24 hours. You should focus on writing down what you have felt during the day, what you currently feel in the moment and any concerns you have. Because I’m a fan of the simplicity of lists, an easy journal entry can simply consist of things that made you feel thankful during the day. Another can even be something you’re thankful you did, like picking up the notebook to feel better. I even write lists about people I should surround myself with the next day, which also gives me something to look forward to in the morning.
3. Prepare a real meal
I find that during the week I’m too busy with class to grocery shop, and on weekends I’d prefer to stay in my room than go outside. As a nasty result, I munch on junk food I have stocked up and order meals that feed my appetite without offering much nutritional value. Working up the effort to go to the grocery store, even on a really dark day, will make you feel like a grown up and that’s it, which is totally okay. Going to the grocery store is on everyone’s to-do list, so checking that off is an accomplishment. Aim to buy food on the healthier side, because just eating well manifests a more positive mood. Now, I’m guilty of rarely ever doing this, but devoting the time to focus on preparing a meal I know I’ll enjoy and nutritionally benefit from makes me feel terrific. Even if you’re a horrible cook like myself, playing some upbeat jams while dropping shells into an omelette is fun, and finishing something you started is important to improving your mood.
4. Surround yourself with friends
I totally know those days where the idea of socializing makes you feel like there’s a giant lump in your throat. Days like that are perfectly fine and even therapeutic, as long as you’re not hurting your relationship with people that have your best interest in mind. I absolutely eat up being a hermit in my room as often as I can, but I’m also someone that doesn’t like to wallow in my bed for too long. Just from my own experience, I’ve found that too much time in my room ultimately makes me feel worse—mentally and physically (I always have Cheetos in my closet). Hanging out with people that are close to me doesn’t feel as exhausting as a sea of people at Ceeps when I’m experiencing the seasonal blues. The point is to do anything to bring yourself out of the gutter, so even a phone call with a close friend that consists of a quick five minute catch-up is one step closer to beating the seasonal bully.
5. Make your room a positive space
This one might be kind of obvious, but it goes a long way. The things that occupy your room are the first thing you open your eyes to in the morning. I know my best days didn’t start when I pulled off a duvet stained with Cheeto dust and had to walk around the minefield of clothes on my floor. I find that if your bedroom floor isn’t cluttered, then neither is your brain. That goes the same for your desk, so a clear space without six used cups and unknown stains is ideal for your own wellbeing. I also like to hang up pictures with positive memories, but not too many or else the clutter on the walls make me anxious. If your room is small, it’s also a good idea to have a medium to large sized mirror because it feigns the impression of a wider space and really just more air to breathe. Having some plants also adds some subtle and lively decoration, and taking care of them has its own rewards. Just make sure that you toss them before they turn completely brown (sad plants = a sad mood). However you decide to decorate your room, make sure it’s proportional to the amount of space you have. Remember that less is more because too much going on at once is overwhelming to anyone and no help whatsoever when the seasons have you down.
I am often guilty of ignoring everything positive I can do to help myself and wallowing in my chip stained bed, but that is totally okay. Sometimes none of these steps work, and it takes reading an article like this to make you realize it’s time to do something.
If you believe your symptoms are dangerously taking over your life, there are plenty of helpful resources at Western that I encourage you to take advantage of:
Western Student Services Building, Room 4100: (519) 661-3031
Student Health Services, UCC Room 11: (519) 661-3030
Peer Support Centre, open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday and can be found in Room 38, UCC Building
Reach Out 24/7, phone crisis assistance: (519) 433-2023
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