10 Ways to Soften the Winter SADs with Self-Care
5 min read
by Xenia Ellenbogen | February 17, 2022
Feeling a bit bluesy, friend? That makes sense; we’re surviving what feels like our billionth pandemic winter, we all have a lot on our minds, and there’s less daylight, which can cause seasonal affective disorder (SAD). And, as the great bell hooks said, "Rarely, if ever, are any of us healed in isolation."
Any of these feelings sound familiar this winter? Lethargy, trouble focusing, exhaustion, burnout, anxiety, agitation, sadness or depression, generally feeling bummed out about the state of the world… If you said yes to any of those, you’re definitely not alone. As we hunker down yet again to get through the season, there are tools that can help us manage until we ease back into warmer, brighter days.
Oh, and one thing to note: you don’t need to be feeling down to practice self-care. Instead, you might practice it while you’re in an okay place mentally, sort of like making sure to eat before getting hangry. Self-care involves mindfully offering yourself some TLC. Basically, it can help take the edge off.
For getting through this winter (and yes, we will!), check out these 10 ways to practice self-care.
1. get in nature (or become a plant parent)
Bundle up and head to a scenic spot where you can get lost in nature and take your mind off things for a while. It’s proven that nature helps regulate the nervous system and improves general feelings of crumminess. And, considering the pandemic, being out in nature is generally a safe thing to do.
Too cold to head outside? Get some plants! Caring for plants can reduce stress, and some houseplants purify the air. Houseplants are also generally lovely to look at (when kept alive, of course).
2. take a long walk or get moving any way you can
Walking can help boost creativity and shift perspective. Also, it’s good for your immunity and overall health. If walking isn’t accessible to you, try any form of movement that brings you joy. Living room dance parties, yoga, stretching, or at-home lifting while watching trash TV are all on the table.
3. get some sunlight or a SAD lamp
To counteract feelings of SAD, be sure to take your vitamin D supplements, get outside (yep, even if it’s a gray sky), or spend a few minutes a day in front of a SAD lamp, which is an artificial light source that helps simulate sunlight. Light therapy can help boost the happiness hormone serotonin, and we all could use more of that.
4. create an at-home spa experience
Treat yourself to a lavish home-cooked meal or splurge on take-out, take a bubble bath, light a few candles, and put on a homemade face mask. There are plenty of ways to pamper yourself at home! Try to make the experience decadent.
5. schedule time off the screen
While it may be tempting to curl up on the couch and go down a social media rabbit hole, you might find some relief if you schedule a chunk of time each day without devices. One study found that those who get less than two hours of recreational screen time a day are generally more optimistic and happy.
6. practice deep breathing
Deep breathing and meditation can help you get into your body and out of your head. Meditative practices are associated with higher levels of concentration, better sleep, and calmer moods.
For a simple grounding exercise, lay on the floor and notice the parts of your body that make contact with the ground, and breathe deeply for ten breaths.
7. have a good cry
Sometimes, the only thing to do is let it all out. Put on that sad Spotify playlist (mine is called Great Songs to Cry to in Public). Connect with all that pain you’ve been carrying, and let it go. Crying also has other health benefits (it’s good for your eyes!).
8. if you’re overwhelmed, try a simple routine you can stick to
Especially if you’re combatting feelings of sadness, depression, or fatigue, sticking to a simple schedule can help. On a post-it note, write out a few plans you know you can keep, and slap that bad boy on your mirror, desk, or a place you look frequently. Don’t forget self-care as a sticky note item!
9. watch a feel-good show or movie
Sometimes, a gentle distraction can help a tough moment pass. Cue up a comforting classic or watch something that will instill some feelings of joy. Pro tip: there’s a new season of Queer Eye, where JVN serves up all the self-care tips.
10. go to therapy
There’s a reason why therapists have packed client lists throughout the pandemic—it’s because we are all in need of support right now. A skilled counselor can help you sort through the tough stuff going on or help provide insight into patterns that no longer serve your life. On a waitlist? You might check out online therapy sources in the meantime, like BetterHelp or Talkspace.
It’s normal to have days when you feel down and generally blah. But if you’re struggling to keep up with your normal routines, have a history of mental illness, or are having hopeless or suicidal thoughts, help is always available. Talk to someone you trust, or make an appointment to see your doctor or mental health provider.
If you or someone you know may be considering self-harm or suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (En Español: 1-888-628-9454; Deaf and Hard of Hearing: 1-800-799-4889), or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting 'HOME' to 741741.
Xenia Ellenbogen (she/they) is a freelance sex and mental health writer. She focuses on reproductive justice, LGBTQIA+ issues, menstrual equity, gender, and trauma. She holds a BA in writing from The New School.
by Xenia Ellenbogen