Beating the Winter Blues

Hello Beautiful Warriors,

Uh, the winter months, they sure can be tough to get through. Long, dark days, the cold, snow, ice, and the post-holidays slump. This has become even more true for me since moving to Iceland last year. While living in Boston, I thought those winters were bad - the sun coming up at like 9:00am and setting basically around 3:30pm, but boy was I in for it with moving here. This winter has been especially tough. 

While there's the cold and wind (oh my gosh, the crazy winds!) to deal with in Iceland, there are also incredibly dark days here. Being so far north, you get days where the sun doesn't really even come up. On the shortest day of the year, December 21st, the sunrise occurred at 11:22am and set at 3:29pm. That meant that the sun never really rose; it just skimmed the horizon, moving from a sunrise setting immediately into sunset. With so much darkness, it became way too easy to sleep far too many hours each night, and my motivation took a nose dive. 

On top of all that, many of us suffer from seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, during the winter. If you're unfamiliar with SAD, it's essentially depressive symptoms that happen during the winter months, like seasonal depression. Here are the symptoms:

  • Feeling depressed or sad most of the day, almost every day
  • Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Low energy
  • Trouble sleeping or oversleeping
  • Appetite or weight change, either an increase or decrease
  • Feeling sluggish or agitated
  • Difficulty concentrating

It might get severe enough to lead to feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, or suicidal thoughts.
- Source: Mayo Clinic

*Note: seasonal affective disorder can happen in the summer, as well. This article is just focused on symptoms that occur in the winter months. If you are struggling to carry out your normal daily routine or feeling suicidal, please seek out a professional for help.

In previous years, I didn't experience much of SAD, just some irritation, tiredness, and so ready for spring to come. Maybe a mild case, you could say. This year has been a bit more of a struggle. The main issue for me was extreme tiredness. With the sun not making an appearance until after 11:00am, I would want to sleep in until at least 10:00am. And, when I got up at a normal time, it felt like it was the middle of the night. The evenings weren't much better; I felt ready for bed by 6:00pm, because it felt like it was at least 9:00pm. With being so sleepy, my motivation dropped off significantly, which meant that I wasn't taking care of my body and had lost my daily routine. 

But, as with many challenges in life, I have found some new ways of dealing with the dark winter months and am managing the symptoms now. The promise of longer days and spring coming doesn't hurt either! So, in case you're also struggling a bit, here are some tips that have helped me so far:

Keep a regular routine. As I said, I could have easily slept the morning away and gone to bed as soon as I got home in the evening, but that doesn't help anything and just ends up making it worse. So, even though it was really hard, I kept myself to a schedule, or at least the best I could. Getting up and going to bed around the same time each day makes a huge difference. Also, doing things like exercising, going about my normal routine, and not taking extra naps are super important. Do your best to have normal days, even if they are in the darkness.

Vitamin D supplements. I had heard from several people, including Icelanders, that vitamin D is supposed to help a lot. Since we're not getting it from the sun, we gotta get it from our diet and many of us don't eat enough food to replace the sunlight. So, with this advice, I sought out vitamin D pills early in the season and stocked way up. We found several of the supplements were a combination of vitamin D and omega 3, so I did some research and found that omega 3 is supposed to help with regulating mood, a good think during these months. This is a pretty easy and relatively cheap way to get an extra boost during the winter months.

Light therapy. This has become much easier for everyone to access with several companies selling little home lights. Light therapy is meant to replicate the natural light we're missing out on, which allows your brain to help regulate your mood. In order for it to be effective, you need to use it for about 30 minutes each day. One way I squeeze it into my days is to just sit it next to me while I'm having breakfast, that way I'm getting the mood boost to start my day off and am less likely to forget to do it. While you'll find several options with a quick Google or Amazon search, these can be kind of expensive. If you're really struggling, I would think of this as an investment that you'll be able to use for several years. Shout out to my mother-in-law who let us borrow hers for this winter!

Alternatively, take a walk outside. If the light isn't your thing or too pricey, try taking a walk for about 30 minutes while the sun is up. This might not be what you want to hear when it's literally freezing outside, but again, we're missing out on the sunlight we desperately need for a positive mood and energy. We also spend so much time indoors during these months because it is so cold, which can leave people feeling cooped up and irritated. If you're going to give this a try, just bundle up and maybe use it as a time to practice a mindful walk or spend some time in nature. You'll likely feel much better afterwards.

Exercise. Remaining active during the winter months is what I truly believe keeps my sanity in tact. With all the cold, dark days, delays during your commute due to bad weather, being cooped's so easy to be super grumpy and others around you are likely grumpy too. Getting out of all this, even for just 30 minutes, can totally turn your day around. Exercise is a great way to move our bodies that are likely much more sedentary than in the summer and has been shown to actually increase energy and improve mood. You could opt for the 30 minute walk outside, I mentioned before, or maybe you hit up some extra yoga classes or keep up your gym routine. Whatever it is for you, just try to do some kind of movement each day. Both your body and mind will so thank you. 

Practice mindfulness and gratitude. This might be the hardest of all with a negative mood and low energy but try to spend some time each day being present and find things you can be grateful for. A gratitude journal is a great way to get this started. Find a specific time each day to write in a journal and find at least three things you can be grateful for that day. During a time of being indoors more, it could also be a great time to try out a meditation routine. There are tons of meditation apps out there to help you get started, from guided meditations to timers that allow you to do your own meditation. It's so easy to be grumpy and hate life during the winter, so counter that by finding things and people that bring you happiness.

I hope these have been helpful, especially if you've been feeling the winter blues. Wherever you are in the world, take care of yourself and remember that spring is coming!

Keeping up my morning practice during the long, dark mornings

Sending love during these hard months,