Feature photo courtesy of @gucci_low_life.exe
It happens every year, yet each time we bid fall farewell, a lot of us are dumbfounded by the changes inflicted upon us. We start sleeping more and going out less. Skincare? What is that? Answering texts from friends in a timely manner? What is that?
It’s the Winter Blues, baby.
Despite the coziness of being bundled up in layers, warm drink in hand, we often find ourselves wrestling with the season to stay in a good mood. The Winter Blues, also clinically known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), can make you less productive, unhappy, and more likely to raise your calorie intake. SAD is not just limited to the fall-winter season either, though it is more commonly experienced in these months. Despite a decent amount of continued research, no one really knows the official cause of the Winter Blues.
Whether the blues are brought on by the weather or the holiday madness soon to come, it’s hard to find a solution to this unwelcome visitor that all of us can agree on. The good news is that there are many things you can try.
Light therapy is easily the most suggested method. The idea is that the bodies of people with the Winter Blues get confused during the seasonal change, affected by the decreased amount of sunlight and, as a result, the increased amount of melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone in the brain that controls the sleep cycle: melatonin rises at night to induce sleep and lowers in the morning to wake you up. The increase in melatonin is what causes fatigue and lethargy. Serotonin, a mood stabilizing hormone, also decreases when there is little sunlight present. This undesirable combination seems to only apply to people in certain geographical areas; the further you are from the equator, the less sunlight you’re exposed to in the winter. For example, people in New York have a higher chance of being affected by the seasonal change than people in Florida. Despite the science behind sunlight exposure and its relation to our inner workings, not everyone finds light therapy successful.
So, in this era of self-care and wellness, what else can we do to save ourselves from this seasonal affliction?
Here are some solutions we've cooked up:
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Help some furry friends in need: Helper’s high does the body and mind justice—consider giving your time as a volunteer at your local shelter. Shelters typically reach capacity in the winter and need all the help they can get. If you want to take it a step further, consider fostering and welcoming a dog or cat into the warmth of your own home.
Engage with the outdoors: Yes, it’s gonna be cold, but sometimes you have to embrace the enemy in order to beat them. Going on a walk or taking a hike will help get the blood flowing and produce endorphins to boost your mood. If you live somewhere with snow, make snow angels and go sledding, your inner child will thank you.
Literally cook something up: Don’t worry about Gordon Ramsey calling you an idiot sandwich. Learning a new recipe will keep you busy and productive. There are also meals that are proven to be mood boosters, such as seafood paella and waffles. Invite your friends to cook and have dinner with you on a regular basis; bonding over a hot meal in a communal setting is sure to liven your spirits.
We also asked around to see what’s working for our friends:
"Staying happy and making self care a priority in the winter is really difficult as a college student, especially with finals coming up. To de-stress, I have recently taken up bullet journaling as a way to organize my life and to take time away from a screen. I’ve found bullet journaling to be relaxing, a way to get out of my own head, and extremely satisfying. Making mood and sleep charts have greatly improved my well-being and helps me keep track of how I’m doing."
Kirsten, 18, Florida
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"As the days get shorter in the winter months, I find that my depression becomes rooted most heavily in my lack of productivity; hence my motivation hitting an all time low because of the darkness outside my window. At times like this, even indoor activities like working on my art becomes difficult.
In order to make myself keep my mind from completely shutting down and giving up, what I like to do is immerse myself in movies. I spend countless hours watching them back to back, letting my brain shut down to be sucked into someone else's story. I personally consider it a productive activity, because I always reflect on each story afterwards and feel like I've learned something valuable that I didn't know just a couple of hours before."
Amity, 18, Tokyo
“Staying happy [during the winter], in general, is hard! With the sun coming down sooner and having to be at work right at the crack of dawn, it gets difficult to try and maintain a positive outlook when I’m shut off from the sun. However! I’ve developed ways to help me stay cool and cozy during the winter to prevent any Big Season Sads.
First, definitely see some friends. I know it can be hard, but me being able to see my boyfriend every day helps a lot! I also like to have game nights. If I can’t hang out with any IRL friends, or don’t have the energy or money to do so, I love chatting up some online pals and maybe streaming something together. If I don’t even have the energy for that, then I roll around and cuddle with my cats. Allergies and all.
Second, I walk outside when I can. I take my lunch break and spend half of it outside so I can at least see and feel some sun before going back inside. I know it gets cold, but sometimes I’ll just sit in my car to be a little warmer.
Last but not least, good food. Cooking at home makes me feel a lot better and more myself. Also saves a lot of money when I don’t eat out as much! Food is a huge comfort to me, so making some stew or a hefty meal feels really nice.
All in all, staying social (and recharging when needed!), soaking some sun, and eating good!”
Precilia, 22, Georgia
“In the winter time, I try to allow as much sunlight in my room as possible. My curtains are always open, and I make sure to sit by my window as much as I can. I also try to fit in a yoga session everyday, as I believe that exercise can help me maintain a positive mood. If I have a particularly negative day, I cook myself a good, soupy meal and binge watch The Great British Bake Off. It’s the most simple act of self-care that would help me feel a little better.”
Mai, 22, New York
"I don’t know that I cope particularly well when it comes to seasonal depression, it tends to work in combination with the regular year-round depression which is just great for me! In all seriousness though, I do think I’m handling this winter slightly better than last. Of course, I’m still sleeping almost 10+ hours a night, but now I surround myself with friends and cinnamon-scented candles during the days in which I feel alone. I suppose I try to look at it this way: the days have gotten shorter, but the nights spent with loved ones only grow longer.”
Muktaa, 21, Toronto
A lot of these solutions involve keeping yourself busy, being in good company, and being in tune with your body. If you find that it’s not enough, if you have the means, please consider reaching out to a mental health organization such as NAMI or find a therapist near you.
Regardless of what methods you choose to try, we wish you wellness and warmth this winter season.