ROCKWALL, TX (Feb. 27, 2023) Once, while living in Germany many years ago, we entered into the gray sky season where we did not see the sun for over three months. Seasonal depression ran rampant and my husband and I, me from sunny Southern California and him raised in and under the warm skies of Texas had to do some work on learning how to power through.
Seasonal depression (SD) is a real issue and gray skies, being trapped in the house due to ice storms and your family schedule being off-kilter can wreak havoc on the body and mind. For some, the feelings are diagnosable as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is a type of depression that is related to changes in seasons. Different from seasonal depression (SD), people affected by SAD see the symptoms beginning and ending at about the same times every year. For those who struggle with SAD, symptoms start as the fall light begins to diminish and can continue into the winter months. Decreased energy, moodiness, general listlessness or sadness are often reported. These symptoms can ease up with the approach of spring and the return of regular sunshine to the atmosphere.
Whether you find it is seasonal (SAD) or situational (SD), there are some things you can do to lessen the depression and blues that can come with either of these issues. Remember, always seek professional help if you feel your depression is more than you can handle.
First, use glowing lights as much as possible. Any light with a blue tint (as seen in LED), turn it off and turn on lamps that have a glowing ember. When the sky goes ice gray like this, you have to give your eyes a different color scheme than what the sky outside is doing. Light candles (those little tea light unscented ones in the foil capsules are great) and place them around your space on gray days.
Then, you need to “luft.” This is a long-cherished German daily activity where you air out your home. Since you are stuck inside you need to air out your lungs and body. Get some fresh air. Every hour or so, step outside and let the cold chill you. First, it’s very healthy to get out of that warm dry air as it allows the brain to receive being indoors as a safe space, not a trap. I usually step outside and stretch and move and do some deep breathing. Make sure your eyes are looking at as much scenery as possible.
Turn off the TV. Put down your screens. Use TV/screen time specifically and only for intentional use. The Queen of England used to call hers Telly Time and it was a set aside time for TV. Don’t let the tv be on and you in front of it for hours. It’s a blue light screen and very hard on the brain.
Take a hot bath or shower. Your body doesn’t know the difference between warm outside weather and hot water- but it responds the same way. Go outside and get as cold as possible while the water is filling up and then come inside and get right into the tub. It creates a positive circulation response as it replicates a cold/hot plunge concept. It’s very good for your body and heart.
Move. It’s crazy but the longest walks I’ve ever taken were on days like this. SD’s mortal enemy is movement and you getting that heart pumping.
Drink tea. The hot kind. Our friends across the pond who live in the gray for months at a time swear by black tea to combat SD. I won’t go into all the things but (you can read up on it with this simple Google Search link) it’s a researched and proven fact that black tea has a stronger pick me up against SD than green tea or coffee. Drink it anyway you like it but it’s supposed to be hot to receive the most benefits from it.
Stay juiced up on Vitamin D, C and complex B. Like, for real. Do not skip these. The sun gives us Vitamin D for our bones and the C & B are for our immune system, general health and sustained energy.
Infrared Lighting. If SD is something you struggle with often, you really should look into a red infrared light. Overseas, you could get them for your bathroom so when you were getting ready in the morning you were doing it by infrared light, but they also have them in just bulb form and you can put them anywhere you like. In additional to depression, suicide rates always increase during the winter season. When you get into the gray sky season, infrared lights are used to combat the hormonal secretion that goes haywire with the gray sky and being trapped inside. If you are thinking about self-harm in any way, please call a professional or seek immediate help.
And lastly, music. Music is like an on-demand therapy session. Putting a tune on, something with a tap your toes feel can really change your mood. You can leave the music on in the background, crank it up and have a dance party, or you can pull out all your favorite vinyls and go through memory lane with the kids. Just make sure it is peppy and moves you into a positive headspace. This is not the time to pull a Bridget Jones “All By Myself” rehash.
Then of course, drink your water, get good sleep, and rest when you need to. And, if you use them, don’t forget to take your meds. (Treatment for SAD may include light therapy (phototherapy), psychotherapy and medications so please reach out if you need referrals to resources.)
Don’t brush off that yearly feeling as simply a case of the “winter blues” or a seasonal funk that you have to tough out or plough through on your own. Take steps to keep your mood and motivation steady throughout the year and employ these and other tactics to keep your mind on the sunny days ahead.
Guest column and graphic by Erin Kincaid, Founder and Clinical Director of Rockwall Heath Counseling. She holds a host of degrees in Psychology, Christian Counseling, Anthropology and is working toward her PhD in Clinical Counseling.
Erin lives in Rockwall with her husband and son. Look for more of her guest columns here.