The end of Daylight Savings is on November 1st. This means we will all set our clocks back an hour earlier as it will begin to get darker an hour earlier. For many people, this also means seasonal depression will kick in.
What is seasonal depression?
Seasonal depression occurs when there is less sunlight at different times of the year in certain climates. A lot of people feel this during winter months in Minnesota (winter-onset seasonal depression), but people can also feel this during spring and summer months. When you experience seasonal depression, you can feel fatigued, depressed, low-energy, hopeless and withdrawn socially. Seasonal depression is very common. According to Mayo Clinic, there are more than 3 million U.S. cases per year.
Why does this happen?
Seasonal depression happens because of two major reasons. The first being that our circadian rhythm is disrupted due to the reduced level of sunlight. A second reason is because the reduced sunlight can make our serotonin—the brain chemical associated with moods—levels drop.
How do I cope?
There are many ways to cope with seasonal depression. It should be noted that these feelings are normal—especially in the middle of a pandemic—but if you are feeling depressed and down for days at a time and are not able to get yourself back up, do not hesitate to find a therapist or school counselor to talk to. Many therapists and mental health professionals are providing online counseling, which is a great way to receive mental health care while taking COVID precautions. Some ways that I have found helpful for myself:
1. Finding the beauty in winter
It can be difficult to do, especially in the cold. But it’s not impossible. Attending the school of environmental studies allowed me to be outside in winter almost every day; journaling about winter, noticing the changes in the environment, playing in the snow and even writing poems about these cold months changed my attitude. Associating snow with happy things like the holidays, holiday movies, holiday music and times of giving can also change your attitude. My personal favorite part about winter is no bugs. Writing a list of winter pros can also be helpful.
2. Go outside
Don’t let winter hold you back from getting outside for some fresh air. Winter is actually one of my favorite months to go hiking (when I can get myself to go) because I don’t overheat, and I get a different perspective of nature. Going outside can help you feel less shut in and trapped inside. Take advantage of the 30-degree winter days. Find activities, even if it’s simply building a snowman. Going outside will also help your body get acclimated quicker so you are not as sensitive to the cold weather.
3. Inside activities
Finding inside activities, especially when you can’t get yourself to go outside, is very important. Being content with being and doing things alone is one key to good mental health. Maybe that’s finding a new show to watch, using your oven more, making holiday/winter crafts, doing a face mask, painting, writing, watching movies, reading a good book, finding new Youtubers to watch, learning something new or sewing/knitting/crocheting. Having things to look forward to keeps your brain excited and your mood up. It doesn’t have to be big things; it can be as easy as making cookies and drinking hot cocoa on a cold day.
4. Mental health coping
I cannot express enough how much journaling every day helps with mental health, especially as a woman. Women are more likely to ruminate or think deeply about something over and over again. So writing or talking out your feelings to yourself is very important to understanding your thoughts and getting to the root of your problems. Going into that, pay close attention to your emotions and how you’re feeling. It’s okay to take alone time or personal days for yourself when needed, but be wary of pulling back too much socially. Being in tune with your emotions is so important to mental health and emotional intelligence—name what you’re feeling and try to pinpoint why.
5. Maintain motivation
Motivation is necessary to get through the day, to get homework done and to get out of bed. Psychologists recommend you should get ready for the day, even if you aren’t going anywhere. Get out of bed, get dressed, wash your face, brush your teeth, shower and maybe put on some makeup if you want. Getting ready for the day increases motivation quite a bit. It’s easy during this time to stay in pajamas or sweats all day, but falling into that pattern can be dangerous for your mental health. Generally, if you look good and ready to take on the day, you will feel that way too.
Another helpful thing that I have found is doing at least one thing every day to make me feel accomplished. This can be a small thing, like doing a face mask, or a big thing, like getting assignments done, planning out my homework in my planner or maybe even getting an oil change if needed. Even when it’s hard to get yourself to do something, doing it without thinking about it and not letting yourself feel any negative emotions about it really helps. Remember to fake it until you make it. Sleep schedules are also important and play a role in motivation. Keeping a steady sleep schedule will help you plan out your time and your meals better. Wake up and go to bed around the same time every day. Other helpful hints for motivation include setting goals for the day, using a reward system when you achieve your goals, tracking your progress and trying to see the good in the bad.
Trying to cope with seasonal depression, the cold weather, or COVID-19 is not easy. But using these coping skills is a great start to bearing the changing seasons.