Everyone feels the effects of winter one way or another. Either the chilly temperatures drive you indoors or you have trouble adjusting to the shorter days, even as they begin to lengthen. For some, these effects are compounded by clinical depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Regardless of the reasons why you find yourself suffering from the winter blues, there are self care activities that can help. Let’s take a closer look at what the winter blues are, how to counteract them, and self care activities that are easy (and relaxing!) to fit in during the holiday season.

Why is self care so important in winter? 

Self care focuses on activities and downtime that you give to yourself. During the holidays, when so much time is focused on family and events, it’s even more crucial. As a pain patient not adding this time can lead to cumulative effects of stress. Over time, this chronic stress can have real effects on your health.

Self care activities are even more important in winter. People who suffer from SAD, or seasonal affective disorder, are specifically affected by the turning of the season. Depression begins to set in as fall begins and continues until the days even out again near the spring equinox. It causes mood swings, a lack of energy, and feelings of despair.

SAD is the most complex form of depression in the winter. People who suffer from it should not dismiss it as just the winter blues. It is normal for anyone to have days where they feel down, but one of the defining characteristics of SAD is constant depression during the winter months.

Symptoms of SAD include:

  • Daily depression
  • Hopelessness
  • Worthlessness
  • Low energy
  • Oversleeping and trouble falling asleep
  • Loss of interest
  • Changes in appetite
  • Sluggishness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Suicidal thoughts

SAD can be caused by a number of things, including a limited amount of sunlight that affects the body’s circadian rhythms and drops in serotonin and melatonin levels produced.

How many people are affected by SAD?

There are many risk factors for SAD. Women are more likely to experience depression in the winter than men, but when men have it, their symptoms may be worse. Young people are more susceptible to SAD in the wintertime. People with a family history of SAD or other symptoms of depression may also have more problems in the wintertime. SAD is also more common in people with other forms of clinical depression and the symptoms may be worse in the winter.

It also depends on where someone lives. The further from the equator you are, the more likely you will be affected by the loss of sunlight during the day. In spite of these possible demographics, only about 4-6% of people are diagnosed with SAD in the United States.

Of course, not everyone affected by the winter blues has SAD so it is important to talk to your doctor about your symptoms before making any changes in your diet, routine, medications, or lifestyle. You may need to apply a different approach to self care activities if you have SAD and clinical depression. Your doctor may suggest talk therapy, a light that mimics sunshine, or anti-depressants.

Self-care activities for winter

Whenever someone suggests we relax or take a break, traditional methods of relaxation may spring to mind. While massages and vacations are lovely, they are not always practical in winter. When holiday stress hits its peak as the year begins to wind down, here are nine unusual way to relax.

1. Go for a swing

Who says playgrounds are just for kids? If you are feeling beyond stressed with holiday activities and demands, take some time out and head to the nearest playground. Sit on the swing and just let go. Remember what that feeling of flying felt like when you were little, when a friend or a parent pushed you higher and higher. Let the wind flow through your hair and turn your face to the sunshine.

This is a break that can be had anytime you pass a swing