Winter Joy Strategy
August 16, 2019 7:22 AM   Subscribe

Every winter, I get very very sad and flat. I suspect SAD is at play (I live in Ontario). Every summer, I find a great rhythm and think "this is the year! this year I won't give in to the winter blues". Reader, it never works.

I am happiest when I'm outside a LOT and exercising a LOT (walking, running, lifting weights, calisthenics). I hit a great stride around mid-August every year where I feel strong and lean and healthy. Then I backslide from November-May, start crawling out of the hole in June, rinse and repeat.

How can I plan for success this fall/winter? I need help planning effectively as I'm a bit of an all-or-nothing thinker and my time is very limited. I have two kids, work freelance in film & tv

New situation that may help: we adopted a dog this summer, which has increased my daily walking time to upwards of two hours and I'm delighted with this change. I suspect this habit will stick, as there is another being's health and happiness involved.

How would you set up your coming winter to maximize your joy and physical activity?

I see a SAD hacks thread from 2010 but would love to hear if there's new wisdom out there.
posted by lizifer to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Great that you're going to keep up with walking, getting exposure to the sunlight is key for me. If it's raining and I need an umbrella I use my clear plastic one so I can still see the sky. The main things I've added that have really helped me with exactly this problem are a full spectrum wake up light (I have a Philips one) that I use on maximum, followed by a Lumie light box that I prepare lunch and eat breakfast in front of. Sometimes I put my face right up to it and stare into it for about a minute after too, if it's especially gloomy. Then I just make myself go and get my exercise by telling myself I'll just start, I don't have to do it all if I don't want to. Usually I get into it!
posted by london explorer girl at 7:31 AM on August 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

I totally understand that this is not feasible for everyone, but I plan two vacations a year - one in mid-January, the other in early march. Both to warm climates. I find that the holidays keep me preoccupied and happy until mid-January. Then when I get back from my first vacation, I just have to make it through several weeks until I'm away again. I find that I don't slide into depression in that short amount of time. And then mid march is almost spring! And these trips are not extravagant - in january we are going to camp in puerto rico and in march we go visit my parents in florida.

YMMV but this timing works out really well. I've spent my whole life in northern new england so I feel you.
posted by pintapicasso at 7:33 AM on August 16, 2019 [12 favorites]

I use a light box in the winter months, and meditate (Insight Timer) facing it every day, though I don't know how much it helps, but at least it makes me aware that I'm affected by the light levels and I'm more attentive to my mood. My worst time is really December, even though most SAD sufferers hate January, probably because (a) I hate the holidays and (b) at least in January I know the days are going to get longer.

Front-loading routines, with a very structured morning, helps a lot. That and insisting on having the lights up in my house, though my spouse likes rooms darker.
posted by Peach at 7:40 AM on August 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

I only feel good in the winter when I get outside, but I find I frequently get in my own way by not dressing properly. Then I get outside, feel cold and miserable, and go back in. So I guess the key is to dress for extreme warmth every day no matter what, and fully suit up, including mittens, before going outside.
posted by xo at 7:47 AM on August 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

Mrs. look busy does 30 minutes of yoga after the kids are in bed and that's contributed to a total 180 on her winter experience (we're in Minnesota). She doesn't even use the light box any more.
posted by look busy at 8:04 AM on August 16, 2019 [4 favorites]

I usually get SAD in the fall, but I am sure that some of the things I do could generalize to winter. Last fall I had the best that I'd had in years, and one of the things I did was to take it just a month at a time. So I set up things to do each month, and I would focus on just moving through that month and not thinking about the REST OF THE FALL stretching out before me. So in September I had a good anniversary to celebrate, October I had Samhain and a festival, and November I got married so that was a whole thing.

Other things I do:

Every year I make a pact with myself that starting in early September I will not listen to music that affects my mood negatively. I love, love, love depressing music, but it has to go, otherwise my mood is so much darker. (I'm sorry, Elliott Smith and tMG's Get Lonely! I'll see you in the spring!) I make playlists that I call either Unsad playlists or Songs to Sing Along With Loudly, and those and musicals are pretty much all I listen to. I also allow myself to start listening to Christmas music (my fave hol) as early as I want to, YMMV on that one.

I outfit myself as well as I possibly can in terms of what will make me the most comfortable in the fall weather. So since I'm in the PNW, it's really good rainboots, a good umbrella, raincoat, water resistant purse, cozy sweaters.

I put up additional lighting in my house, I just added another lamp in the bedroom and string lights in the living room, and I'm going to add some more, too.

I use things that make my home feel cozy, like candles and soft blankets and creative activities like watercolors and things to bake.

I decide on a few fall projects that I'm going to work on, I have a creative journaling practice right now, I'm making an oracle deck for a friend, and have another of those in the works, and I'm creating a tarot guidebook for myself.

I just got this idea and did it a few days ago - I went through my bookshelf and picked out a bunch of "fall books," so books that are NOT DEPRESSING basically, and put them all in one place in the living room so I can just grab them. I picked Anne of Green Gables series, a couple books by Brene Brown, and some other light stuff.

I celebrate the equinox with friends and we focus on the dark days being a time of rest and gathering energy.

Hope that some of this helps - I feel that seasonal darkness. Be well.
posted by fairlynearlyready at 8:42 AM on August 16, 2019 [5 favorites]

I've suffered a lot less in the winter since I decided to keep the heat at 72 instead of in the 60's and I got really great, really warm winter outwear (tall winter boots and a long down coat, in my case).

And, yes, keeping ALL the lights on and the house really bright does help.

Is medication off the table? When I moved to a dark northern place and had severe depression, taking an antidepressant for just one winter seemed to kick me out of the worst of my SAD and the subsequent winters seemed much more tolerable. It was as if my body just needed to be shown that winter didn't HAVE to suck.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 8:59 AM on August 16, 2019 [4 favorites]

I learned to ski as an adult and it totally did the trick for me!
posted by beyond_pink at 9:37 AM on August 16, 2019

Having a SAD lamp at work next to my monitor has helped a ton. I also changed up my commute to walk a bit more. It was really nice to get a few luxury layers to feel extra cozy.
posted by advicepig at 10:45 AM on August 16, 2019

Nthing SAD lamp.
posted by KleenexMakesaVeryGoodHat at 10:48 AM on August 16, 2019

Can you walk your dog at lunch time while there is still light out? Get one of those Philips Sunrise alarm clocks, it has worked wonders for me, if nothing else it’s not pitch black when I stumble to the bathroom in the morning. Vitamin D is fat soluble, so use the gel caps instead of he dry pills and you’ll see better success.
posted by furtive at 9:24 PM on August 16, 2019

I usually get SAD in the fall, but I am sure that some of the things I do could generalize to winter. Last fall I had the best that I'd had in years, and one of the things I did was to take it just a month at a time. So I set up things to do each month, and I would focus on just moving through that month and not thinking about the REST OF THE FALL stretching out before me.

Agreed -- I did something like this last year, and found it really useful. My principle was to believe that there is no such thing as Winter, per se, because if you believe in that you will find that it is very long and keeps surprising you by being worse in various ways than the thing you got used to and thought was winter, is it really still not over? Christ almighty. Send help. Et cetera. Instead there are three seasons:

1. Holiday, which begins sometime in the second half of November here (northeastern Ohio). The days are short. It is cold. Sometimes it snows. Candles and lights and things are still sometimes festive and fun.

2. Deep Winter. Actually Very Cold, and unpleasantly unleavened by holiday lights and festive feelings, but only about sixish weeks long, rather than endless.

3. The Long Thaw. The days are longer. Things melt, sometimes. Slush, frozen slush, and wondering why no one, including oneself, knows how to shovel a sidewalk really well, are the prevailing aesthetic.

None of these seasons is my fave, but each one of them feels reasonably finite when divided up this way, and that helped. All the other practical measures people are talking about are a very good idea too, probably much more useful than this, but as conceptual adjustments go, I found it a good one. Maybe you'll like it too!
posted by redfoxtail at 10:00 AM on August 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

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