We see a lot of clients with increased depression in the winter. Seasonal Affective Disorder is real. Even if you don’t meet the criteria for the diagnosis, many people report more sadness, boredom, fatigue, irritability, and lack of motivation during the winter. And when the winter is long, cold, dark, and stormy, it only gets worse. Add power outages and days on end with kids missing school and people get just plain weary.
Here are a few ideas for dealing with the winter blues and surviving another snow day trapped at home:
- One day with everyone in their pajamas watching movies and leaving the imprint of their bodies in the couch is fun. Multiple days of this is not. Put some structure into the snow day: Have everyone get cleaned up and dressed. Eat a healthy meal. If the temperature is above 10 degrees and the sun is out, take a short walk outside to get some fresh air and sunshine…it will do wonders for your mood. You’ll get an even greater psychological boost if, while you walk outside, you say to yourself, “Ahh, this is so nice, I’m getting sun, fresh air….good for me!” (Dorky? Yes. But also very effective). 10:00 until 11:00 am is playing nicely or solo time. 11:00 to 11:30 is reading time. 11:30 to 12:00 noon is art. Have some lunch. 12:30 until 1:30 is school work, rooms cleaned, chore time. 1:30 until 2:30 pm is Wii exercise or outside walk/sledding. Exercise will save your sanity. 2:30 until 4:30 is family movie time. 4:30: Dance party! 4:45 until 5:45 is go be quiet and alone and do something away from everyone else time. You get the idea. Moving, feeling productive, having time together and time apart, eating well and having fun will make the day go faster and keep you from wanting to bear your teeth and snarl by 4:30 pm. You know your family, so make a schedule that includes what you all need/can handle/enjoy.
- Focus on the basics:
Good sleep: If you notice your mood is sad or irritable, try to go to bed and wake up around the same time each day, getting at least 7-8 hours each night. Lack of sleep has a profound effect on our mood. Napping for long periods of time can disrupt night-time sleep, so keep napping to 20-30 minutes and don’t nap after 4:00 pm.
Good nutrition: Snowy days often mean comfort foods. Go ahead and indulge a little, but make sure you are eating healthy fats, proteins and fruits and veggies at almost every meal. Fruit smoothies are a great way to get lots of great nutrition. Add some chia seeds and pair it with some nuts for mood boosting Omega 3s.
Exercise: Try to exercise, even if you are trapped at home, and even if you only have a few minutes at a time. Use a treadmill, exercise videos, dance with the kids, play the Wii. I used to play “personal trainer” with my son: we would challenge each other to sets of exercises and take turns being the PT. Try to have your exercise minutes add up to at least 30 for the day. Wearing a pedometer can help you keep track and motivate you to keep moving.
Joy: Do what you love. Make time for that yoga video. Read a favorite magazine during “reading time.” Take a bubble bath (before the power goes out!). Wear the perfume you love, even if you aren’t leaving home. Look at art online instead of scrolling though the entire Athleta site for the fourth time. One of my younger clients told me last week all she needed to feel good again was a dip in a warm hotel pool. If you can make it happen, seek out what brings you joy.
Fulfilling relationships: Invite your neighbor over so the kids can play and you can be with someone you enjoy. Call your mom while the kids are doing “quiet alone time” so you can connect. We need to experience ourselves as more than parents/cruise directors/referees and have our buckets filled by others who are funny, kind, interesting, and inspiring.
- Remember to be grateful for the winter. It is easy to look at the giant piles of dirty snow with disgust. Most of us sigh with great drama when it takes us an hour to drive 2 miles in the snow. Give yourself permission to be annoyed. And encourage yourself to take a moment to enjoy the parts that are amazing. Drive five minutes in the right direction and you will find a farm with a huge field that is blanketed in pure, white snow. Look closely and you will see deer prints in that snow. It is a scene that inspires an artist’s brush. Notice the icicles that shine and hang like stalactites off of the roof. Yes, your daughter has been whining all morning, and look how now, she comes inside with her cheeks bright red, her hair rising from the static of her hat. Mute her, and allow a slow motion movie with a sound track to amplify your love, highlight how beautiful she is at nine coming in the door, healthy and flushed from sledding. Take a moment several times a day to notice the beauty that exists because it is winter. Some people find it helpful to make a gratitude list throughout the day or at the end of the day to remind themselves to maintain a more positive perspective.
If you find that even after trying many of these ideas, you are still really wrestling with the winter blues, a consultation with a therapist might be helpful. Either that, or you might need a vacation in a very warm, sunny place (as long as the plane can actually leave the airport to get you there!). If you have more ideas that can help us all enjoy/sanely survive our snow days, please leave a comment below…we are all in this together.
Shelby Riley, LMFT is the owner of Shelby Riley, LMFT and Associates, LLC. She is currently the Past President of the Pennsylvania Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (PAMFT). Remember to check out Shelby’s website www.shelbyrileymft.com for useful information about therapy for individuals, couples, and families.