Some trees get all the glory. Nothing marks the changing of the seasons like the flaming leaves of a maple in autumn or the explosion of blossoms on a crabapple in spring. This autumn, I drove around my neighbourhood, marvelling at the autumn foliage, but every time I stopped to try and get a picture on my phone, I could never quite capture the magic of the colours. Maybe I'm just a shit photographer.
But the thing I don't like about these showy autumn leaves (and spring blossoms) is that they don't last. Gradually, the firey sunset colours give way to dull browns and then fall to the ground, leaving behind a naked tree, all spindly branches and sadness. There's something so depressing about bare branches and the gloomy feeling they give me almost outweighs the thrill of the beauty that went before.
Feeling sad about the weather getting cold is actually a thing – aptly named SAD (seasonal affective disorder) and along with my regular sad and anxious, I just bet I've got this, too. I like to think of it as an extra layer of crazy that I put on every May to September. My poor, poor husband and children.
On a gloomy day last winter, I was standing at my kitchen looking out into the vastness of my neighbour's backyard and I noticed it was populated by a bunch of evergreen trees. It occurred to me in that moment that I was so grateful for them. Against the grey skies, they stood tall and proud and lush with green. When everything else around them was dead or dormant, refusing to grow, they were steadfast in their aliveness. Though the rain and howling winds, evergreens are reliably vital.
So I realise that the key to surviving the winter blues is to take the time to notice the things I do like about the colder months and to pursue things that I enjoy doing in the colder months. Sadly, I'm not a skier. It seems like a very cosmopolitan thing to hang out in a chalet but in reality, snow is COLD and WET and did I mention FREEZING COLD. These are a few of my not favourite things.
So I've made a little list of things I do during the winter months that help keep my mood on a more even keel. If you suffer from a little sadness at this time of year, you might like to try them or think of some of your own.
Self-Care Ideas for Surviving Winter
LET THERE BE LIGHT
I always know when my depression is really kicking in because it begins the moment I open my eyes in the morning. I feel pinned to the bed by an invisible heaviness. I know the very worst thing for this heaviness is to stay in bed and let my brain try and 'figure it out.' In fact, trying to figure out anything when I'm in this mind-frame is fraught with danger. Lingering in my bed means lingering in my head and my head is the single most unsafe place for me on these days. On days like these, my brain is a lying piece of shit. So I get up. And then I turn on every light in the house. I mean, I light up the place like it's Christmas. This is especially important on grey, overcast days. The low, dark clouds make me claustrophobic, like the world is closing in – flooding my living space with light helps to keep that darkness at bay. Having the radio and/or television on is also helpful for me. It reminds me that life is continuing on as normal even when I feel like someone has moved the furniture of my brain around and everything feels frighteningly unfamiliar. The inane chatter of radio hosts, even irritating advertising jingles, they all represent normalcy which I crave more than anything.
I am not outdoorsy. At all. I like the temperature-regulated indoors with it's ambient lighting and comfortable soft furnishings. My instinct is always to stay in rather than to go out. But out is where the magic is. Outside is where you are reminded of moving things, growing things, living things. Staying still is dangerous when your mind has turned on you. So get outside and breathe some fresh air. Even the smallest walk can help – if you're surrounded by the natural world – you know, trees and shit – all the better. If the sun pops its head out from behind a cloud, even just for five minutes, go sit in your yard and let the sun shine on your face. Science has shown that Vitamin D is an important factor in mood regulation. Don't ignore science! Rug up and head out.
In past years, winter has been the time I have traditionally let my exercise routine fall away. This is hardly original – who hasn't used the excuse of inclement weather to avoid exercising? But this year, I have pushed through and I attribute that to the fact that I've been exercising long enough now that it has become a habit. This is the sweet spot for getting fit and staying fit, when exercise is as much a part of your everyday routine as brushing your teeth or drinking wine. I'm not saying there aren't days when going to class at Cinch is the last thing I feel like doing but those are the days I need to go more than ever. Those are the days that if I didn't go, self-loathing and disappointment would pile on with sadness and defeat. A winning combo indeed! On my worst days, physical exercise is a bright spot. If you need more convincing, read this article about what happens to the brain during exercise. Spoiler alert: it's good.
BE NICE TO YOURSELF: DIET EDITION
I describe my winter mood as "feeling chips and gravy." I don't even particularly like chips with gravy. I'm more of an aioli girl to be honest. But when the temperature plummets, I want all the warm carbs. ALL OF THEM. But carb-heavy meals make me sooooo tired. Eating junk when I'm sad is instinctual but they always make me feel so much worse. Part of it is guilt and regret in the aftermath of eating, but there is also the link between nutrition and mood that can't be ignored. I can say anecdotally that my mood is always better when I am eating optimally but scientific studies are now backing this theory up. And diet also includes what we drink – in particular, alcohol. Though drinking wine feels so good in the moment, it's ultimately a mood depressant and is absolutely the worst choice when I'm not travelling well.
LOOK FOR LITTLE THINGS
I am an optimistic person. I can maintain a decent level of positivity through trying times. But occasionally I stumble. If my head isn't right, it can be difficult to convince myself that things will turn out okay. So I look for signs. It's almost like a little meditation. It might be stopping to watch the kids if they're playing well together. It might be the sound of their laughter or the funny things they tell one another. Or my slippers. Man, I love my slippers. It could be noticing numbers – for instance, when I check the time, it seems to be triple numbers. 3:33. 5:55. That sort of thing. And though it is likely superstitious bullshit, I let it give me a little nudge, a gentle reminder that the universe is leading me somewhere beautiful, even if the path there feels a little treacherous. This morning the universe sent me the sun. It was early. The kids were still asleep. Bren is away for the next few nights and I was feeling a little vulnerable. The sun was coming up and though a big tree (a big, beautiful evergreen tree, thank you, Mother Nature) was mostly blocking it, a few golden rays found their way through the branches and directly to me. And I was so grateful because sometimes you need a reminder of this simple truth. If you can just hold on, the light will always find you.
Still Not Okay?
And of course, if it all feels like too, too much, you can get help. I have been there and there is no shame in wanting to feel better. Whether you need counselling, medication or a combination of both, the best place to start is with a GP – one that you like and trust is ideal but just get yourself to a doctor. You'll be one step closer to finding a workable solution for you.
Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636
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