Updated: Dec 10, 2020
Wintertime. It’s the most wonderful time of the year.
Or is it?
Christmas lights are up, glittery decorations hang all around, “jolly” is the buzzword of the season. And yet as the days get darker and shorter the further it gets into winter, the deeper the feeling of gloom and weariness settles in with those of us struggling with depression and anxiety. Still, as attractive as hibernating throughout the season may seem, it's not really an option, and at the end of the day there’s no alternative but to brave the murky cold, and hopefully come out the other side. But having had to drag myself through winter after winter for years now, I can say I have some good tricks up my sleeve to bring a little more positivity into these dire days. And that is what I want to share with you today.
Let me start by pinpointing the two main reasons why this time of the year tends to cause such a strain on my mental health:
1. Lack of daylight
It’s a fact: daylight deficiency can trick the body into producing higher levels of the hormone that causes drowsiness (melatonin), and less of the hormone that boosts the mood (serotonin). That being the case, we naturally tend to feel more tired for longer when the days are so much shorter than the nights, to the extent that just trying to get through the day may well feel like an ordeal.
2. Social demands and expectations
In the northern hemisphere, the winter season is also Holidays season, and that generally translates into an array of social events, work socials, friends’ reunions, family gatherings, and other such socially constructed conventions people are expected to take part in. While for many people these are no more than welcome opportunities to enjoy themselves, for me – and countless other people struggling with depression and anxiety – they are simply dreadful obligations. The mere thought of having to interact personally with several people at a time, when my own headspace is filled with misery and turmoil, makes me want to run and hide.
Identifying these two factors as the main forces emboldening my depression was a lengthy process, painful at times, but the single most important step I have taken to this day to help ease me through the most challenging periods. Here is why:
It clearly showed that my seemingly non-existing energy and motivation to do anything at all isn’t a result of me being a lazy, unsociable loser. In fact, it is not that at all! As it happens, the actual reason why I’d rather sleep all day than go out with my friends is very much physical, to begin with, and has nothing to do with my capacity or self-worth;
For that same reason, I learned that even the smallest of initiatives is effectively a huge accomplishment. Washing my hair and changing the bedsheets when all I want is to stay in bed and not shower for days, are actual victories to be proud of;
With so much less daytime, doing what makes me feel good becomes a priority and not a luxury. When everything feels dull and worthless and it’s all I can do to not sob uncontrollably from the time I wake up, it’s more than okay to do little things that feel warming to the heart and comforting to the soul instead of forcing my way through a long and boring “to do” list. If watching cute cat videos online lifts my mood, I make sure I do that; if going for a walk outside gives me more energy to get through the day, I squeeze in time for that; if talking to a friend puts me in a better mood, I don’t hesitate to pick up the phone. And if doing absolutely nothing for a whole day or two is the only way to unwind my mind, then I allow myself to do that too.
Taking the time to look inside myself and learning where my adversities lie has enabled me to break them down into smaller and much less intimidating pieces that are easy to tackle one at a time, witch much less effort required, instead of having to muster the courage to stand up and fight against the vastness of the unknown. Simply put, caring for our mental health during hard times doesn’t have to involve radical changes and colossal amounts of effort. We should be kind to ourselves for ourselves, and a little self-understanding here goes a long way.
Ultimately, wintertime will inevitably be harder and darker for most of us. But just try and remember that if you push through, you’ll come out of the dark to find that Spring will always be on the other side.