Do you struggle with seasonal depression every winter?

I moved to Wisconsin from Kentucky nine years ago. Kentucky winters can get cold, but they are relatively short, so I never minded winter. My first winter in Wisconsin was surprisingly mild, and I embraced my new northern state with gusto. Until the following winter. We were newly married, living in an adorable one-bedroom apartment in a historical building downtown. My husband and I worked opposite shifts at our jobs, which meant I would get home soon after the sun went down in the late afternoon, and he would be gone until midnight.

I was spending long, dark evenings alone in our little apartment, and before long I noticed I was feeling down a lot. I would get listless and bored, and struggled to be motivated. This was unusual for me, as a lifelong happy optimist! As another winter passed, and another, I noticed the trend. As soon as Daylight Savings Time ended and the days grew shorter, I would feel that familiar down, listless feeling.

After we had kids, my low-key seasonal moodiness grew more serious. With the difficulty of getting multiple tiny kids bundled up and out of the house, I was at home most of the time. I grew restless and depressed, and the winters stretched on and on.

It’s been eight years now that I’ve dealt with seasonal depression, and this year I could feel it almost immediately as the days grew shorter and we spent less time outside. The difference is that this year, I am only nine months removed from struggling with major, serious, crippling depression and anxiety. God promised Jordan and me that 2018 would be a year of breakthroughs for our family, and it has been. We are so grateful and relieved. There are still more breakthroughs coming, but every day is now touched by hope and the fulfillment of this promise.

So as soon as I began to feel symptoms of seasonal depression creeping up again, I decided that this year, we’re going to fight this.

I can see it in my children, too. The long hours indoors, the darkness, the lack of opportunity to be running wild outside, has made them more restless and moody. We have a very busy winter ahead of us, and I don’t expect our circumstances to necessarily be easy. But I know that, with wisdom from God, we can turn this winter into a beautiful time, full of great memories.

A couple weeks ago, I asked in an Instagram post for ideas for combatting seasonal depression, and was given so many great suggestions! That gave me the idea for this post–a compilation of many of the ideas I was given, plus my own plans for making this a cheerful, joy-filled winter for my family.

(Before I begin, I do want to recognize that depression is a serious illness. I have struggled with not only seasonal depression, but also post-partum depression, “regular” depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. Mental illness has such a stigma, and is so often hidden by those suffering. This compilation is NOT a cure for someone truly struggling with depression, although implementing some of these practices may help. I encourage those of you suffering deeply, like I was a year ago, to reach out for real help. I never did, and if I could go back and change one thing about that time, I would have gone to therapy as soon as the depression started. I share a little about my experience with depression here.)

Without further adieu, here are twenty-six ways to fight off those seasonal blues, and make this winter one to remember!

OUTDOORS:

  1. Buy good snow gear, and get outside! — You’ll never want to get out in the snow if you’re cold all the time. Invest in a sturdy pair of boots, a warm coat, and a cute scarf and hat. Try to get outside every day, take a walk, throw snowballs with your kids, just breathe in oxygen and soak in vitamin D! 
  2. Have a bonfire! Bundle the kids up, and head out to roast marshmallows and drink hot chocolate around a cozy fire.
  3. Find evening events in your city or neighboring towns where you can bundle up, enjoy pretty lights, and sip hot cider. Some towns have sleigh rides, christmas light shows, etc.

INDOORS:

  1. Light, light, light! Buy all the lamps, and put them in every corner of the house. Drive out the darkness with the cheerful glow of cute lamps, twinkle lights, and candles. On that note…
  2. Candles! I have them lit all day, every day in winter. The glow and the scent makes the gloomy outdoors seem almost welcome. My sister, Molly, owns a candle company and she is a MASTER of dreamy scents. Her winter line just came out, and I want every single one of them. Check out her website at http://www.grace-and-bloom.com
  3. Play your favorite music. All day long. Switch it up depending on your mood!
  4. Change up the decor in your house for a simple change of scenery. Buy a new plant, switch out the photographs in your frames, splurge on something new from your favorite Etsy shop.
  5. Keep your favorite fuzzy socks and flannel pants around for those really dreary days.
  6. Take a long bath or hot shower. My sister’s company, Grace and Bloom, also makes bath bombs, shower steamers, and sugar scrubs that make my showers feel like therapy.
  7.  Have a warm drink in your favorite mug. Coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon, and brandy apple cider for after the kids go to bed!

HEALTH:

  1. Keep a routine throughout the winter. Wake up at the same time every morning, get dressed in comfortable clothes you love, drink your coffee, read or journal, eat a healthy breakfast… whatever it is that starts you off in the right direction and helps you face the day with confidence.
  2. Move your body every day. I do not usually enjoy working out! It’s just not my thing, sadly. But I’ve felt a big difference in my mood and my energy when I’ve exercised consistently. Especially in the winter, when we spend a lot of time indoors, we need to keep our bodies in motion. So join a gym, take a walk in the snow, or go for a hike on a trail at a state park. In my current situation, it’s easiest for me to just follow along with some YouTube workout videos after the kids go to bed. Pick whatever you enjoy and stick with it! 
  3. Learn how to bake a healthier version of holiday favorites!
  4. Focus on your mental health. Make sure you’re not only caring for your body during this season, but also your mind. Take time to focus on what is important to you, get enough rest, and nourish your soul with whatever inspires you.
  5. Drink your H2O! Just because we’re not hot and sweaty like we are in the summer doesn’t mean our bodies need any less water. Drinking enough will also help your skin, eyes, and sinuses not to dry out in the brutal dry indoor heat of winter, which makes you less susceptible to illness. Some experts recommend drinking half your body weight in ounces of water every day.
  6. Supplement where your body is lacking. My whole family takes vitamin D and cod liver oil daily. I also take a good quality probiotic, and give the kids probiotics occasionally. It’s worth looking into a vitamin B supplement as well, as deficiency of this vitamin can cause depression and fatigue. I have a lot more energy when I take B12! (Note: I am not a healthcare professional, and these suggestions are based only on my experiences!)
  7. Tanning. OK, this may be the opposite of health advice. I know, I know, tanning is terrible for you! So wear a heavy sunscreen if you want and don’t do it often, but a few minutes in a tanning bed can really boost your mood. I also love red light therapy, which is great for your skin and I find to be very relaxing.

ACTIVITIES:

  1. Have game nights or movie nights with your kids, spouse, or friends.
  2. Build giant forts in the living room with your kids, then have an indoor “campout” or picnic!
  3. Stick the kids in a warm bubble bath with bath crayons or fun toys and let them soak and play as long as they like. Follow it up with cozy jammies, and who wouldn’t feel relaxed and happy?
  4. Plan a fun outing occasionally to get you all out of the house — the library, museums, science centers, indoor play places, bounce houses, the YMCA pool or gym, etc. Take everyone to a discount bookstore and let them each pick out a new book.
  5. Ask a local church if you can use their gym weekly or monthly, and open it up to other parents with small kids for a free play time.
  6. Start a book club, movie club, dinner club, bible study, freezer meal prep group, etc. with some close friends — anything that will bring you all together and give you time to nourish your souls doing something you all love.
  7. Plan to take a trip somewhere warm near the end of winter. All winter long, you can plan and dream for those days on a warm beach somewhere. By the time you come home from the trip, winter will be almost over! (I will supplement this by suggesting that a trip anywhere in winter is a great idea. We went to Iceland and Amsterdam last January, and I have never been so happy to be cold!). 
  8. See if your local theater has cheap matinee movies on certain weekdays. Ours reruns popular cartoons and family movies sometimes.
  9. Check with local ballets and live theater groups, as some of them will occasionally have discounted matinee shows for kids.

LOOK OUTSIDE YOURSELF:

  1. My final suggestion for fighting seasonal depression is to focus for a while on the needs of others. I encourage you to pass on some love to someone you know might be struggling with feeling down this winter, or who is in the middle of difficult circumstances. Ready for a challenge?

THE CHOOSING-TO-SPREAD-THE-LOVE CHALLENGE

Meik Wiking, author of the popular “Little Book of Hygge”, suggests creating an “emergency box” of sorts, for those days you need a little extra cheer and coziness in your life. The box could contain some good chocolates, tea, a soft blanket, fuzzy socks, a good book or DVD, candles, bubble bath, etc. My challenge to you is to create a box like this, and then give it away.

One of my biggest issues with depression is how it makes me so hyper-focused on myself. The unwell mind can play tricks on us that amplify our problems, and make them seem larger than anyone else’s. One way to combat this is to actively work towards caring for someone else, and spend some time focusing on their needs.

I hope you’ll all join me in spreading some warmth and love this winter! Once you create your box, post a picture on Instagram with the tag #choosingtospreadthelove, and I’ll share it on my stories. And be sure to follow me on Instagram. I’ll be doing a giveaway soon, and you’ll all have a chance to send a box of love from yours truly to someone you care about!

What other ways have you combatted seasonal depression? I would love to hear them in the comments below!

Disclaimer: I received a free product from Grace and Bloom Candle Company in exchange for my shout-out, but all opinions are most definitely my own!

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