It’s January. The holidays are over. You have put away your Christmas gifts, put away the Christmas tree (or put it to the curb if you have a live one) and taken down all the holiday decorations. Most of the holiday “festivities” are over and life is back to normal, or so it seems. And you think, now what???
I used to go a little “nuts” starting right after the holidays, and it lasted mostly into March …. sometimes longer. I would get this overwhelming depressed mood – the “doldrums”, “stir crazy”, a yearning for more fun things to do, an almost unsettling feeling. Now, I know what we all call it – “The Winter Blues”. It took me years to realize what was bothering me. I would go “stir crazy” on Friday afternoons working in an office, all cooped up. I had thoughts of throwing a rock through a window to get fresh air!!!! (Don’t worry, I didn’t do it… honest – I really didn’t!)
I would get feelings of “what do I have to look forward to?” And, I would call up my sister, Carol, on the phone and ask in my, oh so whiney voice, “Carrrrrolllllll, what do we have to look forward to?” And she would usually recite a list of upcoming events, birthdays and/or celebrations to look forward to.
I remember, back in the fall of this past year, we had a month of non-stop rain. I was going so crazy from NOT seeing the sun that I thought I might jump in the flooded empty lot next door like a little kid stomping in puddles in the rain. I mean, at least I would be outside! That’s how desperate I was.
I also recall several years ago I had an office sales job in a pleasant enough work environment. It took me a few weeks to realize it but something was missing, and I felt “antsy” like I wanted to run away and not come back. I felt extra “cooped up”, and I would go stir crazy after lunch. And then I realized it, I had no window near me – and no window to look outside. Yup, I was working in a “windowless” work space! I felt trapped, confined, and like I would suffocate. Yikes, it made me crazy sometimes. I would get a call from my sister, and she would tease me, “I am sitting out back in the sun by the pool right now. What are you doing?” Ha ha – because she knew I was dreading working all day in a windowless office.
And then a few years ago, when I began working from home, instead of moving my work office to a spare bedroom that was somewhat darker, I chose instead to work in a space in our living room right next to a big open, you guessed it – a big window! I FINALLY knew better – but it took me years to figure it out!
And, living in Florida – of all places, you would think that the seasons wouldn’t affect me. But they do, and it has affected me for years. I get those “winter blues” when I don’t have enough fresh air, sunlight coming through the windows, or if it rains for days on end. I admit it. I am not in denial that I need that beautiful sunlight, good old Vitamin D and fresh air. Even if I am working inside, I must see the sun several times a week.
I have spoken to a dear friend, Linda Willson, a Registered Mental Health Counseling Intern, who has filled me in on a few things.
Linda shared, “Seasonal Affective Disorder” (SAD) contributes to a lot of the depression or long lasting blues that you get in the winter time.
Linda shared a synopsis of what SAD is:
- Depression that begins during a specific season every year.
- Depression that ends during a specific season every year.
- No episode of depression during the season in which you experience a normal mood.
- Many more seasons of depression than seasons without depression over the lifetime of your illness.
According to an article by the Mayo Clinic on SAD: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/basics/symptoms/con-20021047
Symptoms specific to winter-onset SAD, sometimes called winter depression, may include:
- Tiredness or low energy
- Problems getting along with other people
- Hypersensitivity to rejection
- Heavy, “leaden” feeling in the arms or legs
- Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
- Weight gain
The Mayo staff suggests trying the following: Make your environment sunnier and brighter; get outside; and exercise regularly.
So, I have learned a little bit more these days than what I knew 10 years ago. I find that now when I start feeling the “winter blues”, I get a bit of fresh air, sit outside for a little bit (weather allowing) and/or make sure I have plenty of light in the room! These are some of the things I have found, personally that work for me:
Get Some Sun: Not only are you getting Vitamin D, but it improves your mood. Winter days are shorter and darker than other months, people spend less and less time outdoors. Sometimes I just sit out front in a chair and get some fresh air for 15 minutes.
Get Out with Family & Friends: This is a big one for me. I have to make lunch plans with my daughters or my girlfriends or do something social every other week.
Consider Candles, Scents and Aromatherapy: For me, I have a “Scentsy” burner as well as candles and lots of plug ins. I work from home, and I learned that it has to smell good and refreshing. Good smells equal positive feelings which really helps me. If you are in an office, they probably won’t let you light a candle but maybe bring an air freshener for your desk.
Lighting: Make sure your work space or the area where you spend most of the day has good lighting and/or a window. Open up the window shades as much as you can – let the natural light shine through.
It really has taken me years to realize that what I experienced (and often still do experience) is the “winter blues”, but I am glad that I now take the small steps listed above to help myself beat the doldrums …
And we always have the spring and summer to look forward to!! Thank goodness, right?
The most important thing any of us can do is recognize that we are not feeling our “normal” selves. It is important to take proactive steps to feeling better. Similar to issues seeming worse at night, even small issues can seem enormous when we are down in the dumps, so it is important to be kind to ourselves, take care of ourselves and recognize when we need additional support.
Having said that, if you find that your mood is continuing to spiral downward, you feel overwhelming doom and sadness, or you cannot seem to force yourself to get up in the morning, it is time to seek help from your family doctor or nurse practitioner as it could be a sign of something more serious. And Linda reminds us, people can get help from www.psychologytoday.com to find a mental health therapist. (In future blogs, we will talk about how to recognize if you or someone you care about is just feeling a little blue or if it is something more serious.)
Wishing you endless sunshine, longer days, warmer temperatures and a very Happy New Year 2015!!
Your Friend for all seasons,