Man sitting on a dock, looking out over the water. Managing The Late-Winter Blues.

Managing the Late-Winter Blues

Do You Experience Seasonal Depression?

As a Denver therapist and life coach who often has online therapy sessions (and someone with a personal life) I’m well aware that we live in a fast-paced culture with copious demands that cause us to become used to high levels of stress. Human beings are adaptable creatures that are particularly adept at meeting the demands of our environment, even in today’s world, where multitasking and juggling multiple responsibilities are the norm.

Truthfully, this time of year can be hard.

For many people, the holiday season can be particularly stressful. Fulfilling roles and family obligations often lead many of us to a place of anxious distress. But what happens when the chaos and events of the season end, yet the winter months keep dragging on?

What is SAD? Seasonal Affective Disorder

After the burst of holiday energy subsides, it can be easy to fall into a state of feeling low or experience a general lack of energy and motivation in the face of the months of winter ahead. Depending on where you live, the weather is usually gray and the temperature drops, family and friends depart, and it can feel lonely.

This experience of feeling low and unenthusiastic around the slower winter months can also often strain our relationships with others and with ourselves. No wonder the term for these late-winter blues has an acronym spelling out just that feeling: SAD. 

Oftentimes we’re inclined to isolate or pretend to feel okay when we aren’t. These responses to feeling low, while they make perfect sense, only further distance us from our inner selves and from others.

As winter drags on, you might begin to wonder if you will ever see the sun again. You can help yourself through the winter doldrums by returning to some simple practices to ground yourself and let that slow-moving energy flow.

Beat the Winter Blues Using Acceptance & Self-Compassion

Exercising self-acceptance and self-compassion is imperative during this time and will ultimately help resolve low feelings more effectively than fighting the way you’re feeling. I’m sure self-acceptance and self-compassion are buzzwords you’ve heard before, and maybe you will roll your eyes at them, but these are the first concepts we forget when feeling low.

Usually our inner monologue becomes something like, “What’s wrong with me?” or “Why am I feeling this way?” These statements discourage us from accepting where we are in the present and prevent us from embracing what we truly need in the moment. Below are some basic ways to practice acceptance and self-compassion when you’re not feeling great.

1. Check in with Yourself

The first step to acceptance and self-compassion is checking in and noticing when these thoughts or feelings arise. Checking in is a very powerful tool that you can use not only to help manage difficult emotional experiences but also to improve relationships with others. Take the time to practice mindfulness and watch it change your life.

When we feel something uncomfortable, our first impulse is usually to suppress it, deny it or fight it. Learning to roll with the punches and accept ourselves and others is built on a foundation of emotional awareness. You feel the way you feel for a reason. 

Sometimes that reason is difficult to ascertain, but for the time being, simply noticing is Task No. 1.

2. Remind Yourself that It’s Okay to Say No

My mother used to say that nothing is worth doing if you aren’t doing it with a glad heart. This is ironic as my mother is also someone I endearingly refer to as the Queen of Doing Everything – a trait I am afraid I have also inherited. 

I’m sure many readers can relate to this: It’s easy to take on numerous tasks, especially when our self-worth is in doubt. Our impulse may be to rev up the engine and force ourselves into overdrive, piling on more tasks and responsibilities, to escape feeling worthless or discontented with ourselves. But if you’ve accomplished Step 1 and checked in with your feelings, when your friend invites you to their game night and your check-in tells you that your energy just isn’t there right now, it’s not only okay to say no, it’s actually healthy.

Saying no is something many people – especially in today’s busy world – generally struggle with. Here’s a secret: Beating yourself up about needing some time to recharge won’t change anything. 

While you may worry about missing out, it will ultimately feel so good to give yourself what you need in the moment. Giving yourself that time will, in fact, be restorative and prepare you for the exciting things to come tomorrow. If you’re already a natural “no”-sayer, keep on with the healthy self-care and boundaries. 

3. Be Intentional with Your Quiet Time

It can be easy to turn on the TV and binge Netflix when you’re feeling low-energy and depressed. While doing this is okay and feels good, it’s also very restorative to take some intentional downtime, especially when feeling low.

With the distractions of technology available at our fingertips, it can be easy to miss out on the important time of self-reflection that happens when our minds are quietly not focused on anything in particular. Some people spend lots of time avoiding intentional downtime. I often hear things from my clients like, “I don’t want to be alone with my thoughts.” With a few exceptions, it’s often healthy to be alone with your thoughts.

Our brains generally ramp up on anxiety when we haven’t given ourselves time during the day to be alone with our thoughts. Then those thoughts can keep us up at night or come up unexpectedly at unwanted times.

Intentional downtime can look different depending on the person. It can be as simple as lying on your bed or sitting on the couch quietly for 10 minutes. Perhaps it is taking a bath, meditating, walking outside, or sitting on a park bench and observing your surroundings. 

Whatever this might look like for you, it is important to give yourself this time to slow down and be present with yourself. Doing less and taking things off your plate may sound counterintuitive, but it actually often helps resolve feeling down sooner than trying to stay busy does. So, even if you are not used to being vulnerable in this way, give it a try and see how you feel.

4. Say How You’re Feeling

This last point is a key factor in maintaining connections with others when you’re feeling down. A giant contributing factor to feeling down is pretending we are feeling differently than we actually are to make others comfortable. It is important for your mental health to say how you’re truly feeling when someone asks.

We may worry about disappointing others or making them uncomfortable, but the price of smiling through pain can be much greater than being honest when others ask how you’re doing. This is also an important part of exercising honesty and vulnerability in relationships that matter to us.

The false belief is that we are protecting those we love from a perceived burden. In fact, we distance ourselves from others by not communicating how we are truly feeling or what we truly need in the moment. A significant amount of energy goes into faking a smile for the imagined expectations we think others have of us.

Give yourself permission to say as much or as little as you feel comfortable about what you’re experiencing when others ask. Assert your needs in that moment around whether you need support from someone else. It’s okay to say you need some alone time to work through things. Again, the people who truly care about you will understand.

I hope you’ve found some of these strategies for managing low feelings and flagging energy helpful. Winter won’t last forever, but you should be able to find joy in the now instead of having to look to the future for comfort. 

So, remember to practice self-compassion and take care of you during the late-winter months.

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