Winter has almost passed. We are in the home stretch But I want to talk about why we shouldn’t hibernate in winter. I’ll tell you where the inspiration came for this topic. I had asked my husband recently “hey what do you think would be a good topic to share in my blog?” I told him that I have this long list of ideas but sometimes I look at it and I am just not feeling the desire to dig into one of them. So, he said to me, “talk about how in winter it gets hard to stay positive. You go to work in the dark and come home in the dark and it can really cause you to feel down. So something that could break you out of that.” And I said, “You got it!”
So here we are. Thanks to my husband I am going to be sharing why we get to feeling this way and what we can do about it.
Some call it the Winter Blues. The medical term used is seasonal affective disorder. Seasonal affective disorder is sometimes known as “winter depression” because the symptoms are usually more apparent and more severe during the winter. Now I did learn, there is something called Summer pattern – seasonal affective disorder, which I found really interesting.
While they don’t know exactly what the cause is for the summer pattern, there is this idea that the heat and humidity of summer is a contributing factor. Also, that summer can create feelings of depression in those that are self-conscious about their physical appearance and get anxious about being outdoors and participating in outdoor activities. Other contributing factors are not being able to enjoy summer activities or vacations due to finances and even the change in routines that can come about in summer with kids being out of school. I am going to focus on the winter pattern of seasonal affective disorder, but as I said, I found it fascinating that there was a summer version and so I wanted to mention it, in case you have ever felt that. I don’t want to leave those individuals out.
What all this tells me from a high level is that this is why it is so important that we manage our thoughts. Because our primitive brain is ALWAYS on and it is always there to offer you thoughts of what isn’t good enough, what isn’t right, and what is wrong. But that cannot happen without our buy-in to it and going along with it. We can choose. We can be intentional.
The Center for addiction and mental health states that Typical symptoms of winter depression are:
- Sad and low mood
- Feeling hopeless
- Low energy
- Increased appetite
- Weight gain
- Cravings especially for food high in carbohydrates
- Increased sleep or hypersomnia
- Decreased interest in activities we used to enjoy
Now after looking at that list, I think some people may experience some of these symptoms all year long. But to look at this winter depression as the cause, why would this be?
Well, it was an insightful reminder that Ecologists call this period we are in the hibernal period. Could that not be more the truth with how some individuals feel this time of year? Like hibernating and just trying to survive? The definition of hibernate in animals and plants is to spend the winter in a dormant state. But I actually think that can apply to us humans as well. We go into this dormant state for the winter and just try to get through it and count the days until Spring. We aren’t bears. We are gifted with the potential and capacity to do so much more. Ask yourself why am I choosing hibernation over creation?
I do believe that so much can have to do with our mental state. Our mental outlook.
Sometimes it is thought loops or patterns of our thinking that we are just repeating. We are on autopilot to repeat the same thoughts. For example, if year after year I talk about how much I dislike winter and I talk about all the things I have to stop doing then of course, getting down about this time of year is going to have a greater impact on me.
So here are the facts:
It is colder in the winter
Trees and plants stop growing in the winter
The days are shorter and the night is longer in the winter
Depending on where you live, you may get snow in the winter
Now what is also factual is what we have available to us if we just get intentional about wanting it. So I want to share some ideas with you to get you thinking about how you can turn these winter blues into winter dos.
-We can prepare our minds in the fall. Just like you do preparations for your home to prepare it for the winter, we can also do this with our minds. By planning ahead for this drop in mood, we can proactively decide what mind-boosting activities would help us through the winter months.
-Put a priority on social activities. There is no rule that we must cut back on this. There are still so many indoor activities that we can participate in. and If the weather is a factor there are still ways to connect with your group of people in alternate ways, (we have actually become well versed in this thanks to Covid) we just have to make it an important part of our routine.
-Stick to your routine and schedule. Having a plan and sticking to it can be very rewarding. The actions and events may change due to the time of year but you can still be just as intentional with how you spend your time. If one event is no longer offered due to the winter season, find one to replace it. Don’t just allow yourself to just sit dormant and hibernate.
-Get moving – don’t let the cold or weather or change in outdoor activities keep you from moving. Of course, in the summer I am more likely to be found outdoors but in the winter I have the go-to activities that I commit to. Weight lifting, indoor cycling, yoga, meditation
-Have goals. Ok, sometimes the word goal makes people squirm. How about objective, desire, intention, purpose, or idea. If the word goal makes you not want to think about it. Call it something else. I often refer to my idea list as desired results. Doesn’t just saying that feel less heavy. I have 3 goals vs. I have 3 desired results. Can you feel it? Don’t underestimate the choice of your words. It can matter. So I always make sure I have a list of desired results I want more of in my life. And those don’t stop in winter. For me this year my winter desired result was to build more arm muscle, so I went about creating some action steps to get me there. I knew winter can tend to be a hibernation period so I made specific plans to take me out of that.
-Journal – write about what you are thinking and feeling. This is a great way to get out all the clutter that weighs you down. I want you to look at your mental state and your thoughts and put a measure of weight on them. How does it feel to carry all that extra weight around? By writing, you really can feel some relief and get clarity on what feels heavy to you.
-Get sunshine – whether that is letting more sunlight in your home over the winter months or investing in a lightbox, you have options for not settling for less light in your life.
-Take vitamin supplements. The majority of us are lacking vitamin D. I was very deficient in vitamin d so that is a supplement I take consistently and base it on my levels that my awesome functional medicine dr tests for.
-Get a coach or a therapist in your life to support you on your journey. My advice is not a one size fits all. Depending on your background and your journey you could benefit from more one on one guidance. You don’t have to go it alone and suffer.
I want to offer you something. It is the idea that just because you have always felt this way it will always be this way?
I will tell you, I don’t feel this hibernal season like I used to. I used to be the person that was more susceptible to seasonal depression. I now see I was not taking charge of this in my life and changing and having an impact on what I could. I would repeat the thought that I hate winter. I would go along with the idea that I could not be as active as I once was. I would choose to not be proactive and prepare my mind for winter. I would change the way my planner looked. I would find evidence as to why I was a victim – look I go to work when it is dark and I come home at dark, so all I want to do is vegetate on the couch and eat. I was choosing to hibernate. And then complain about it all as if it was a curse that I just had to deal with. Like I had no options.
Learning all these mindset tools taught me that winter is no different than any other season. I have a whole year ahead of me. What desired results do I want and what steps do I take to get there?
I have learned that if I have a plan and I set goals for ALL of my 365 days I don’t have that seasonal depression that I used to have. Truthfully, the seasons don’t feel much different to me anymore. In a good way, it sort of brings a new flavor to my plan. I ask myself what can I do this winter to bring me joy and more peace and contentment in my life. Maybe it is as simple as cleaning up an area of the home that weighs me down all year long. Because in the summer I am out of the home more and never make time for it. Maybe it is some personal development and growth activities that the winter is the perfect time to accomplish indoors.
I am telling you that you can flip this whole winter depression idea on its head. If you get intentional and creative and plan for it. What is that saying about insanity? By Albert Einstein, I believe. “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
We have to Stop saying that we don’t like winter
We have to Stop believing that we can’t do enjoyable things in winter
We have to stop giving in to the idea that it is time to hibernate and go dormant.
Ok, everyone. That is what I wanted to offer you this time around. I hope you’ll go back and take note of the suggestions I shared in this video for overcoming the winter blues and really consider putting some of them in motion.
Remember – You are the creator of your life. Do you like what you are creating? If not, remind yourself that you can change it, and maybe all you need is some support and a change of mindset.
“In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.”Albert Camus