10 Simple Steps for Fighting Off That Winter Funk

sad woman winter
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What our mother or grandmother used to call the "winter blues" is usually labeled seasonal affective disorder (SAD) by doctors today, but we know the symptoms no matter the name: long bouts of melancholy or serious depression that kick in like clockwork right around the time winter starts every year. Though there's obviously a difference in severity between SAD and that blah feeling a lot of people feel around the holidays, both should be addressed, albeit in different manners.

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Sometimes we just can't shake the feeling of sadness or melancholy that comes with the earlier sunsets, short dark winter days, and a general feeling of "bleh" that comes with the winter months. For some of us, it happens yearly and can really mess with our heads for months at a time. And while there are definitely ways to deal with SAD (like therapy or medications), there are certain things that can make dealing with it a little easier -- like leaning into self-care and taking time to appreciate the little things. 

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If any of our readers thinks they have SAD, they should talk to their doctor. If they think they're just in a funk, here's how experts -- one doctor and one life coach -- recommend getting out of it.

  • Cocoon

    1

    Patty Blue Hayes, a certified life coach and award-winning author of Wine, Sex and Suicide -- My Near Death Divorce, says that indulging in your melancholy can be okay, at least for a while.

    She recommends setting aside time to be alone and feed your soul: "Your bedroom can be a wonderful place to hibernate for an evening of dark quiet time .... Set yourself up with chocolate and carbs, a special herbal tea or hot cocoa. Allow yourself the time to wade and wallow."

    A night to ourselves with tea and moody candles? Sounds pretty ideal.

  • Reach Out

    2

    As tempting as it might be to stay in a cocoon forever, you shouldn't allow yourself more than one solid night of wallowing. As Dr. Hillary Goldsher Irace, a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist practicing in California, puts it: "Pick up the phone and call someone you haven't spoken with in a while or someone that always makes you feel great .... Face to face connection is the key here."

    But why? "Connection with others naturally helps lift our spirits and makes us feel like we are participants in our own life," she explains. "It is invariably a life-affirming experience to share a drink, a conversation, or a meal with a friend or loved one."

  • Take on a Project

    3

    "Find a project with a beginning and an end that allows for the achievement of a goal that resonates with you," Irace recommends. "It is a great way to minimize feelings of despair."

    The key, though, is to make sure it's something you can do. So something like cleaning your pantry or hosting a dinner party or knitting a scarf. If you focus on doing instead of feeling and can come out of that exercise with tangible evidence of reaching your goal, you'll be in a healthier mindset going forward.

    Plus, you'll get a clean pantry or a new scarf out of it, so double win.

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  • Journal

    4

    It can be full sentences or more of a free-form, stream-of-consciousness kind of thing -- Hayes says it doesn't matter. "We can often gain great insight reflecting upon a visual representation of our emotions," she explains.

    Actually, it doesn't even have to be writing. "Dip into your kids' supply of colored pencils and markers and fill up one of the wonderful adult coloring books available," Hayes suggests. Color out your thoughts.

  • Exercise

    5

    "You've heard it before," Irace says, "but you need to be reminded. Exercise is one of the easiest, most accessible ways to improve your mood quickly."

    Irace points out that regular exercise is proven to relieve stress, enhance memory, improve sleep, and boost your overall mood, so it's important to get your heart rate up when the cold weather is threatening to get you down.

  • Leave Your Comfort Zone

    6

    Irace points to activities outside of your normal routine as one of the best ways to yank yourself out of a funk.

    "Do something that makes you a little scared -- that you aren't sure you can do. This act will divert your attention from the melancholy and straight into how you use your body or mind in a new way. Your brain will be activated and challenged."

    A little adrenaline, she says, never hurt anyone. That incredible high that comes from doing something you didn't know you could do might be exactly what your brain needs right now.

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  • Stew

    7

    Not like sit there and stew, but actually, like, stew. As in, make stew. As in, ignore the Vitamix and find an old family recipe and chop onions until you cry and simmer until your whole house is fragrant and warm. The focused task and repetition of chopping and simmering is a good way to soothe stress, Hayes says. 

    And then comes the most important part: "Share this meal with others," Hayes says. "Gather around a table and break bread together."

  • Cut Yourself Off From the Internet

    8

    "Take a break from the digital and virtual world. Click off the news, detach from social media," Hayes says.

    We know. It's hard. But Hayes says that whether it's for a day or for a week, time away from everything can be essential.

    So what do you do instead? Take the time you gain back for peaceful introspection. Think about yourself for a minute instead of everything going on around you.

  • Volunteer

    9

    It is the holiday season, after all. "Find a way to help those less fortunate than yourself," Irace says. "It will remind you of what you have and help court feelings of gratitude. It will also get you out of your own head."

    Plus, she adds, the feeling of connection and humility you'll likely get is a great way to push out the more negative feelings the winter tends to inflict on us. Plus you're helping people. There's really no reason to not volunteer, if you ask us.

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  • Be Kind to Yourself

    10

    At the end of the day, it's important to remember that it's normal to feel melancholy this time of year.

    "Holidays can be a difficult time," Irace says. "For some it can be lonely or triggering or conflict-ridden. It is okay to have empathy for yourself and to find a safe way to express uncomfortable sentiments."

    That means that in addition to talking to a close friend or a therapist as a method for coping with painful emotions, Irace says you should also actively practice self-love and try to understand that you're not crazy for feeling off. 

    And, of course, if things get worse and you're worried abut your safety, talk to your doctor. Take your symptoms seriously.

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