View this post on Instagram
Just after the holidays this year, the winter blues descended.
I felt that low, sinking feeling in my chest. Negative thoughts pulsed through my head:
Everything is so damned hard. It will never get easier.
My skin prickled with the chill of anxiety, and the mornings dragged in a sense of dread with them.
Because I’ve suffered from depression on and off for years, these feelings sent me into a tailspin. What if this isn’t just the winter blues, and I’m sliding into a serious depression? Of course, panicking doesn’t help—but I’m so scared of the riptide of depression that it was hard not to freak out.
While I don’t believe that depression is something we can completely control any more than we can will ourselves out of a bout with the flu, I have found that it’s easier to stave off a depression when it’s in the early stages than it is to pull myself out of a more serious, longer funk.
So while depression and inaction are close cousins, I’m doing everything in my power to climb out.
Here’s what’s helping.
Exercise. Exercise isn’t just something that I do for my physical health—it’s one of the most important tools I have for maintaining my mental health.
In fact, I think my recent depression may have been triggered by a lack of exercise over the holidays. My kids were on school vacation, and just like that, I fell out of my regular exercise routine. So I’m setting small goals for myself, like getting on the treadmill and walking a mile and a half.
Yoga. In addition to walking or other cardio, there’s something about practicing yoga that allows me to physically alter my state for the better. It gets me out of my head and into the moment.
So I’m practicing extra yoga at home—I did 15 minutes on a yoga app this morning while my kids were getting ready for school—and I’m getting to local classes when I can.
Talk about it. Many of us who deal with depression feel shame or stigma around it. We don’t want to bring others down, or worry them, or admit that we’re struggling.
My instinct is to keep my hardships to myself and try and tackle them on my own. But my instinct is wrong.
So this morning, I asked my husband if we could have a quick check-in, and I let him know I was feeling really low. While talking didn’t magically make my depression vanish (but wouldn’t it be cool if it did?), it helped. I felt as if, by telling him, I’d installed a safety net for myself. Now someone else who loves me knows how I’m feeling, and he’ll be there supporting my self-care efforts. It doesn’t take the feelings away, but it does lift the burden of carrying them alone.
I’m also reaching out to friends and letting them know what’s up. As it turns out, several of my close friends are also dealing with winter blues. While I wouldn’t wish these feelings on anyone, it helps to remember that it’s not just me who’s struggling.
Get professional help. After a few weeks of feeling crappy and not seeing any improvements, I visited my physician and we made the decision to increase my antidepressant—at least until springtime.
When I was younger, I felt a lot of shame about using medication, and my goal was to manage my depression without medication. After years of trial and error, I’ve come to peace with the fact that for me, medication is an important part of my toolkit—and one I’m quite grateful for. Even if medication isn’t your jam, there are plenty of other ways to get professional help. A therapist, an acupuncturist, or a holistic healthcare provider can help, too.
Protect and distract:
Avoid bad news. Even when I’m feeling good, I try not to spend too much time consuming news. But when I’m low, it becomes imperative that I protect myself from the 24-hour news cycle o’ horror. Bad news is fuel for depression.
Find small things to enjoy. One side effect of my depression and anxiety is that when I’m in it, I lose my ability to concentrate. I can’t make it through the thick novels and memoirs I usually have stacked up, and I feel too sensitive to listen to my favorite podcasts—the ones that are either emotional or disturbing.
Instead, the last few winters when I’ve been in a rough spot, I’ve turned to books of logic problems or Sudokus. My mind likes having a puzzle with a concrete solution, and it gives it a much-needed break from overthinking. For some, your distraction could be binging on a feel-good show on Netflix, reading young adult novels, or flipping through craft magazines—it really doesn’t matter, so long as it’s a healthy distraction.
Remind myself that it’s temporary. Depression lies to us. It tells us that we’re broken, that we’ll always feel this badly. I’m doing my best to not believe these distortions. Yes, I’ve gone through some scary rounds with depression, but for the vast majority of the time, I’m not depressed.
Depression is a visitor, but it will retreat, and I’m reminding myself of this frequently.
Remind myself that I’m skillful. I like to think that each time we go through depression—or any life challenge—we discover a little bit more about ourselves, about what works and what doesn’t.
It’s helpful to remind myself that today, during this particular difficult period, I have tools I didn’t possess a few years ago. For instance, I’ve learned that heated Vinyasa yoga is a powerful tool against depression. I’ve learned that I need to get outdoors, even if it’s freaking freezing like it currently is in New England.
Knowing I have more tools than I did when I was younger gives me the confidence that I’m likely to climb out of this quickly.
If you’re struggling with winter depression or blues, know that you’re not alone. Let’s be gentle with our sweet selves. Let’s shower ourselves with compassion and care, just as we would a feverish child. Let’s remember that this, too, shall pass.