9 Tips for Battling the Winter Blues

Positively Present - Winter Blues

 

As winter arrives, I'm taken back in my mind to last year... Last winter, I was really down and out at the start of 2019. I spent so much time in bed, engaging in unhealthy coping methods, and generally just feeling rotten about myself and my life. While I don't know for sure if this was general depression or Season Affective Disorder (S.A.D.) -- I should have sought professional help, but I didn't -- I do know that it was pretty terrible to feel that way. 

Though I feel very differently now than I did then (not gonna lie -- 2019 turned itself around and turned out to be one of the best years I've had in a long time!), when I think back on last winter, my mind starts racing and all I can think about is how to prevent myself from falling back into that darkness again this year. So, of course, I decided to do some research on S.A.D. and learn about how I could prevent it, or, if it happens to strike again this year, how I can cope with it. 

Even if you don't have S.A.D. or depression, you might find yourself facing the winter blues. With colder temps and darker, shorter days, it's not surprising that many people struggle during this season. You can't always avoid feeling sad (or S.A.D.) altogether, but here are some of the tips I've discovered that I think would really help if you're struggling. 

 

  1. GET A LIGHT BOX

    I've never tried one of these so I can't vouch for their effectiveness, but from what I've read, it sounds like they can really help people who are suffering with S.A.D. Apparently there are many different types (as well as something called a "dawn simulator" that's used to wake you up in the morning) so be sure to do your research and figure out which one would be best for you. 

  2. VENTURE OUTDOORS

    The lack of light and shorter days can make it tough to go outside (especially if, like me, you're not an outdoorsy type to begin with), but if you're feeling down, making the effort to spend time in the fresh air can really help. Even just a quick walk around the block can help! (Or get a pup so you're forced to take them out and get some outdoor time in every day!)

  3. TRY THERAPY (CBT)

    While I can't personally verify that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy works for S.A.D., I do know that it's worked for me in the past to deal with other mental health issues and it's the therapy type I saw recommended the most while looking up info on S.A.D. Seeking professional help is one of the best ways to find solutions for your specific needs, so I highly recommend it. 

  4. MAKE SOME ART

    Art therapy really does work, and I honestly don't know if I would have survived last winter without making art. I know art isn't everyone's thing, but if you're feeling down, give it a try. It doesn't have to be traditional art either -- try writing, pottery, drawing, painting, sewing. Anything creative that allows you to get in a flow for a bit can help. 

  5. CONSIDER MEDS

    To get through S.A.D. some people need the assistance of medication. If you're having a difficult time, talk to your doctor about what you're going through to see if there might be something that can work for you. (Whatever you do, don't attempt to self-medicate. It never works out and often makes things way worse than they were.)

  6. PRACTICE YOGA

    Yoga is another saving grace for me. I'm not particularly good at it and I generally do it for about 10-15 minutes every day, but even when I half-ass it and don't feel up for it, making the time to do it always makes me feel a bit better. (My favorite is Yoga with Adriene on YouTube but there are tons of yogis online!) Exercising also works wonders if yoga isn't your thing. 

  7. SEEK SUNLIGHT

    Open the blinds! Pull up the curtains! The lack of sunlight is one of the reasons for S.A.D. so the more of it you can allow into your home, the better. If you don't have a desk near a window, as your boss if there's somewhere else you can work temporarily to be near a sunny spot. Going outside isn't always an option, but take advantage of sunny days indoors by allowing the light in. 

  8. MAKE PLANS 

    When I'm feeling down, the last thing I want to do is be around people. But I've discovered that it's often what my mind needs when I'm sad. I don't enjoy going out in the cold, but I'm planning to make an effort to make lots of plans this winter so that I'm busy and socializing. It won't be easy, but I know it's helpful for me. 

  9. STICK TO A SCHEDULE

    With the lack of daylight, it's tempting to go to bed super early or sleep in (if you have the option), but I've read (and also believe) that sticking to a schedule is important for managing or preventing S.A.D. The body and mind love to be on schedules and it gives your life a sense of purpose that's important when you're feeling down. Your winter schedule can be different from your summer one, but just try to stick to it! 

 

Of course, there are many other options to explore and if you're really suffering during the winter, seeking professional help (whether in the form of therapy or from your doctor) is always a good idea. If you're feeling down (especially after the holiday season passes and it feels like a swift change in pace), know that you're not alone and that it's perfectly normal to experience down days in the winter. Try to remember that, even when it doesn't seem like it, the difficult darkness will pass. There will be a spring again (or something that makes it feel like spring to you). 

 

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New Year, Same You?: In Praise of Positive Choices

 

Positively Present - Celebrate Positive Choices

 

When something really great happens — you get accepted to the school of your choice, you publish a book, you land the great job, you find love, you make the team, you get the A, you choose a new career path, you give birth to a human person — celebrating is easy. People around you get excited for you and, even if you're filled with uncertainty ('cause change, however positive, can be scary!), you likely feel some sort of positive feelings about having worked hard to accomplish something.

But, unless you're some kind of amazing superstar, these big "wins" are probably not an everyday occurrence. In fact, they might happen only a few times in your lifetime! While I'm all for celebrating life's big, exciting moments, I think we could all benefit from turning a little celebratory attention to the little, everyday wins. This is especially true at the start of a new year when you're probably trying to: (a) keep up with positive progress made last year, (b) start making positive progress this year 'cause last year was a bust, (c) maintain some combination of the A and B, or (d) come to terms with the fact that it's a new year and you better find a way to get your act together before a new decade comes along! 

No matter how you feel about new years, there's always a bit of pressure associated with the start, with those twelve months of possibility stretching out before you. Resolutions or not, we all hope that this year will be better than last year (or, if last year was a great one, hope that this year will live up to it). We're all eyes ahead, focused on what we want to do or achieve in the weeks to come. Many of us are trying to better ourselves, to make choices that will be more aligned with who we want to be in the future. The beginning of each year offers such hope to be a better version of ourselves, and, while that hope can propel some of us into positive action, it can also make an awful lot of us feel like we're already failing at the year, even just a few days in. 

Personally, I had grand ideas for my post-holiday self. The end of the year is always my busiest, both personally and professionally, so I often find myself saying that "X will be different in the New Year" or "In January, I'm going to tackle Y." Not surprisingly, we're a week in and few things have changed dramatically from the time when the calendar read 2018. Change, at least for me, tends to happen slowly, and frequently it's only when I reflect back on things that I realize how much progress I've made. 

I frequently face a "new year, same me" frustration, growing angry at myself for not making all of the picture perfect choices I swore I would make once that calendar page had turned. But yesterday, after chastising myself for a not-so-great choice I made, I found myself mumbling, "I wonder how many good choices you make every single day and don't even think about."

And that little sentence stopped me in my tracks. How many positive choices do I make all the time without even thinking about them? How many changes have I made, over time, that I don't even think about praising myself for because they've become habits? While mulling over these questions, I recognized quite a few good choices I've made recently that a previous version of myself might not have made, like...

  • I didn't pick up my book and read for hours in the middle of a workday 
  • I didn't say the not-very-nice, judgmental thing that came to mind 
  • I didn't sleep in, neglecting the dog until much too late in the morning
  • I didn't order pizza when I had a perfectly good meal in the fridge
  • I didn't forget to take medicine and a rest when I got a headache
  • I didn't skip writing in my gratitude journal, which brings me joy
  • I didn't go down to the corner store and pick up a bottle of wine
  • I didn't put off vacuuming even though I really wanted to
  • I didn't send a call to voicemail and avoid the conversation
  • I didn't leave the bed unmade (which always makes me unsettled)
  • I didn't delete the email and avoid my editing tasks
  • I didn't conclude that I could skip this week's blog post
  • I didn't turn down an opportunity to help a friend in need
  • I didn't consume an entire bag of candy mindlessly
  • I didn't neglect my daily yoga practice, even while very tired
  • I didn't allow myself to smoke cigarettes like I used to 
  • I didn't leave dirty dishes stacked up in the kitchen sink
  • I didn't throw plastic in the trashcan instead of the recycling bin
  • I didn't lose my patience with the incessantly yapping dog
  • I didn't ignore the spreadsheets, despite the boredom they bring
  • I didn't buy that thing I really don't need but really wanted

These are just a few of the good choices I've made recently, most of them made without thinking twice about them. This list isn't meant to be, Woohoo! Look at me and all I've done right! It's meant to show you that, despite the plethora of not-great choices I've made so far this year, I've also made a lot of good choices too!

If you're like me and you're feeling a bit let down by the new year, unsure if you'll be able to live up to your 2018 self's version of who you'd be this year, I highly recommend writing a list of your own. Especially if you're working on New Year's resolutions (or if you've already broken them), writing down a list of positive choices you've made — even if they seem silly or obvious, like brushing your teeth or going to work — can really help you reframe the start of the year for you. 

A new year is a great time to make changes, make resolutions, set intentions, etc., but don't let it be a time when you beat yourself up for all you're not yet doing, forgetting about all the positive choices you've made (or are currently making). We're all on different paths. What's positive for me might not be for you; what feels like a big accomplish for me might be effortless for you. So take some time this week to think about what you've been doing — particularly the things you've done so many times that you don't even think about them anymore — and celebrate them. Because, when you think about it, all of those big wins in life — the moments we celebrate with fervor and festivity, confetti and congratulations — are really only possible because of all of the little wins we take for granted. 

 

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8 Things to Get Rid of Before the New Year

 

Positively Present Letting Go

 

In last week's post, I wrote about 5 ways to prepare for 2019, and this week I wanted to dive a bit deeper into the "clear out your clutter" point because, while you certainly don't need the start of a new year to declutter and simplify your life, sometimes the change of a date on the calendar can be all the inspiration you need to make positive changes. Plus, there's something immensely satisfying about kicking off a new year with a (somewhat) clean slate! 

There are obviously tons of decluttering posts online, but here are some of the things I think you should seriously consider ditching before 2019. Decluttering might sound like a luxury task -- something you do whenever you have the time -- but getting rid of what you don't need can free up not only physical space, but also mental and emotional space as well, allowing you to fill it with things, people, and experiences that bring you joy. So, tempting as it might be to say, "Who has time to declutter during the busiest time of the year!," keep in mind that taking the time to do it now will help you in more ways than you might realize in the year to come. 

 

ONE-SIDED RELATIONSHIPS

Are there any relationships in your life where you're doing all the work? Are you always the one reaching out, suggesting plans, texting first? People and relationships are complex so sometimes there's a reason for you initiating (perhaps a friend is super anxious or shy, for example), but, more often than not, if there's a noticeable imbalance, you might be better off with out the weight of that relationship on your shoulders as you head into the new year. You might not be able (or want) to end it completely, but you can at least pull back and expend your energy on more balanced interactions.  

 

CLOTHING YOU NEVER WEAR

This is an obvious decluttering go-to, but it's popular for a reason. With the rise of fast fashion, many of us have tons of clothes we never wear just hanging in our closets. Not only does this take up lots of space, but there are so many people who would love to wear the items that no longer interest you! Host a clothing swap with friends if you have the same styles and similar sizes, or, better yet, donate what you don't need or like to those in need. Just thinking of the joy you'll bring to someone else can be the motivation you need to finally clear out that lingering clutter! 

 

ANY "JUST IN CASE" ITEMS

And, speaking of lingering clutter... get rid of all of the items (clothing, kitchen gadgets, accessories, etc.) that you've been hanging onto "just in case." I used to hang on to so many things because I thought that I might need them one day, but, after overcoming this mindset and becoming super good at getting rid of things, I've only encountered maybe one or two times where I've thought, "I wish I had kept that!" I know it's hard to imagine, but once you get rid of the "just in case" items you've been keeping, you won't miss them -- and, by giving them away or donating them, you'll be sharing them with someone else who actually will put them to use.

 

LINGERING TO-DO TASKS

You know that thing on your to-do list that you keep writing down but never doing? Now's the time to either do it or get it off the list. Either accept that you're not going to do it -- after all, if you haven't done it yet, it's not looking great -- or do it right now. If it's appointment you've been putting off, schedule it. If it's a call you've been meaning to make, pick up the phone. If it's something that can't be done it one sitting, at least take the first step to get the ball rolling and break it down into smaller, actionable tasks that you will actually do. 

 

SUBSCRIPTIONS YOU DON'T USE

Subscription services -- and boxes -- are all the rage now, but are you actually getting a bang for your buck? Look through anything you're subscribed to -- magazines, TV or music accounts, monthly boxes, etc. -- and make sure you're actually using and enjoying them. These monthly things are easy to forget about (or think, "I should cancel that," and not actually take the time to do it), but if you're not using them, get rid of them before the new year begins. (And, with that extra money, consider supporting creatives you enjoy via sites like Patreon!)

 

BOOKS YOU WON'T READ

If you're a book lover, you probably have a few tomes on your shelf that you want to read, but know you actually won't read. Often these are books we've picked up because we thought we should read them -- the classics, those highly recommended by others, etc. -- but if you've had it on your shelf for awhile and haven't read it, consider donating it to your local library. That way, if you do decide you want to read it some day, you can check it out! This year I've personally gotten into the library big time and it's such an amazing way to get tons of books -- for free! Consider taking advantage of the library in the year to come and you won't have extra books on the shelf come next December!

 

EXPIRED FOOD + MEDICATIONS

We often notice expired food and medications when we go to eat/use them, which is precisely the most inconvenient time to be finding out that they're not good! Go through your fridge and cabinets at the end of the year and get rid of anything that's expired, taking note of anything you might need to pick up to have on hand for the year to come. If you come across food that's still good but that you know you won't eat, see if you can donate it to a local charity so that someone else can enjoy it rather than just throwing it in the trash. When it comes to medications, check online to see the best and safest way to dispose of them.

 

NEGATIVE SOCIAL ACCOUNTS

Do you follow any social media accounts that make you feel unhappy, angry, worthless, or negative? Now is the time to unfollow them! I wrote about this in Inspired Unfollowing: A Week of Conscious Content Choice, and it's still as relevant as ever. You are not required to follow any accounts that bring you down and, now, with Mute options on most platforms, you can silence them even if you don't feel right unfollowing (like, for example, a family member). Most of us spend a ton of time on social media, which is why it's so important to go into the new year with a positive and productive collection of accounts in your feed. Obviously not every account needs to make you feel pure joy, but if you have some in your feed that are causing you serious mental anguish, get rid of them! 

 

 

These are just a few of the many areas of your life that might need some decluttering before the new year begins. Everyone's decluttering needs are different so if some of these don't apply to you, try to think about the areas of your life where you feel frustrated most often. Frustration and stress can be a result of having too much of what you don't need -- and that includes not only things but people, activities, expectations, etc. If you're not quite sure what you need to get rid of for the new year, pay attention to where and when you feel the most stressed and ask yourself, "What could I remove from this situation to make it easier?" (And, remember, sometimes that thing you need to remove is your own mindset or expectations!)

 

 

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