Cozy up and say Goodbye to Seasonal Affective Disorder!

It’s that time of year – when we have to dress up like an Arctic explorer just to walk to the mailbox. Despite all the cheery music piped into every cafe and department store we visit, it seems like the grumps can outweigh the good tidings. 

The winter months can be a drag but sometimes, they can trap people in a much gloomier place. When occasional mood fluctuations give way to constant negative thoughts, lethargy, and sadness that interfere with daily functioning, we refer to it as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). 

Symptoms of SAD are the same as depression (its official name is actually Major Depressive Disorder with Seasonal Pattern), but they only rear their head during the fall and winter months. That’s because SAD is triggered by a biochemical imbalance brought on by shorter daylight hours. 

In places where daylight is more scarce (think, closer to the poles), SAD tends to be more common. The biological clock of people with SAD clashes with their regular routine, throwing them out of sync with their circadian rhythms.

The word ‘biochemistry’ can set off alarm bells, as if it takes the matter out of our hands. But the truth is, our environment shapes our neurons. While you should always discuss any worrisome symptoms with your doctor, we find that one of the most powerful treatment options for SAD and the winter blues is by being intentional with how we live.

Because we’re all unique snowflakes, winter will change our lifestyle in different ways. Maybe you’ve got fewer opportunities to move your body or hang with friends. Maybe you’ve got more time to cozy your pup. 

Some of the changes are welcome, but others ding your quality of life, so take time to evaluate your needs during the course of a week.

We’ve gathered some suggestions based on our experience helping clients treat mood disorders such as SAD, but it’s worth exploring what we each need to live our personal bliss. 

Here are our favourite ways to send seasonal depression packing.

  • You’re not a bear, so don’t go into full-on hibernation mode. Stay physically active by finding winter-compatible activities you enjoy. Indoors, outdoors, dealer’s choice – bonus if you commit to a regular time & get a friend to tag along.
  • Chilly nights that start in mid-afternoon call for coziness. Chase away the Grinch with clove-scented candles, plaid flannel, holiday tunes, puppy cuddles, suds in the tub, and your favourite mug full of spiced cider.
  • Early sunsets are nature’s way of begging you to catch some extra zzz’s. You’ll boost your immunity and be less of a grump. Win-win.
  • “Go play outside!” Yes, we know, we sound like your parents. And yes, we know, it’s cold. So get some arctic gear, brave the wild and boost your mood along. If you can’t get outside, treat sad by bringing nature to you: House plants do a body good.
  • Nothing boosts our Vitamin D levels like the actual sun, so spend time outdoors during daylight: Sip your mocha on the stoop, take your daily walk at lunch, and roll your trash bin to the curb before sunset. Every drop of light therapy helps.
  • Make winter a group sport. Schedule regular time with friends and family to vent or to vibe: monthly pedicures with your bestie, an after-work walk with your colleagues, or a weekend date night with your partner. 
  • Take advantage of the seasonal slowdown to look inwards. Create a daily habit of meditation, journaling or another introspective practice to figure out what’s working for you.
  • Let the seasons guide your meals but, as we switch from summery salads to carb-heavy comfort food, make sure to eat plenty of seasonal veggies, so you’re getting the nutrients to be a fully functional human – rather than a sugar-seeking zombie.
  • The more spice in your life, the less likely you are to experience SAD, so commit to trying something new on a regular basis: a restaurant, a walking trail, or an exercise class you’ve never tried.
  • Make this winter a time to do you. Is there some area of your life you’re missing out on creativity, competition, social impact, connection with nature, or mastery of a new skill? Whatever makes your heart sing, put that at the center of your personal treatment plan.

Three actionable steps to kick the winter blues to the curb

Once you identify where you’d like to focus your attention, it’s time to take the next step and make it happen. That’s where we often hit a snag. You know what I mean: the irrational excuses start lobbing grenades at us, until we wave the white flag, or an icky feeling stops us dead in our tracks. 

That nasty obstacle, aka your Limiting Belief, is a negative worldview that lives in the irrational part of our Walnut Brain where it spreads propaganda that we are helpless to change our circumstances. It’s possible to wrangle a Limiting Belief to do damage control, but the best Limiting Belief is one that no longer owns any of our mental real estate and for that, we need a mental health professional. This takes us to Step 1…

Step 1: Banish Limiting Beliefs 

At ShiftGrit, we’ve created a method to remove Limiting Beliefs at an unconscious level. Free from its grips, you’ll be in better shape to tackle Step 2…

Step 2: Get Intentional

If you want to have a plan, you have to plan it. (Oh, the irony.) Intentional living takes an upfront investment, but if you take time to figure out how to slay the winter slumps, it will pay off when your improved mood leaves you more time for fun, productivity, and purpose.  

Don’t overhaul your entire life at once. Start with 5 ways to beat the winter blues that make your skin tingly.

Step 3: Develop the Coping Skills for Seasonal Affective Disorder or Winter Blues

Now comes the fun part. If you’ve planned a schedule of activities that bring a smile to your face, you’ll be tobogganing your way through winter like a champ. 

And that’s what it’s about for us, at ShiftGrit, joy. We aren’t interested in “getting by.” We believe everyone deserves to reach the pinnacle of happiness during our short time on this planet. That starts with helping our clients identify and remove their limiting beliefs, so they can spend their valuable mental bandwidth on the things that make them feel merry and bright.