Staying afloat while dealing with winter depression

I want to talk with you about difficult feelings. Sensations and emotions that occur when one is dealing with “winter depression.”
For example, when it feels so difficult to get out of bed in the morning during wintertime; when I’m lacking energy during the day; when the regular activities feel like chores and chores become neglected tasks.
These are just some of the symptoms that I have had during winter months for several years. I have often brushed them off with the line that since I have lived and worked for years in African countries, I just don’t deal well with the cold.
But the truth is that it’s not the cold weather that gets me down, but the lack of light.
Last year around February, my mood was so low that even when listening to a cheerful song while walking on the street, my eyes would tear up. And I was unable to explain why.
I almost felt as if something were wrong with me; I was experiencing a lot of inertia, heaviness; and was unable to find joy easily in my everyday. I was craving sunlight so much that it almost hurt.
I was never diagnosed with SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is a periodically appearing phase of depression. However, I have been showing signs of “winter depression” and I find it important to recognize it; and to talk about mental health.
Most people experience seasonal depression in the winter (while some do in the summer). Due to the shorter days and lack of sunshine, melatonin levels rise, which may cause sleepiness, sluggishness, low energy levels. Seratonin levels, at the same time, increase during this time — and can cause feelings of depression. In addition, lower light levels seem to disrupt our body clock.
There exist various therapies that one can turn to, especially when SAD symptoms are getting very challenging and serious.
Light therapy, talk therapy and othet body-mind techniques may be helpful on top of choosing the right lifestyle changes.
Reaching out to friends is equally important and spending time in community with others.
To provide an opportunity for us to spend time off the mat together, I’m facilitating a “Yin Yoga Holiday Gathering” session in the morning of 21 December, Saturday.
We will soften into deep, passive stretches, practice harmonizing breath techniques and enjoy deep relaxation. Afterwards, we will share some cookies and fruits, and tea.
There are some common-sense tools that seem to help me to get out of the funk.
  • I need to find spaces to work in that have ample natural light. When I’m in a closed space, I try to sit by the windows. Taking short walks during daylight helps a lot too!
  • Getting good quality sleep is important. Ideally, I would like to go to bed early and try to set a cut-off time for being online.
  • Exercise works magically for me. I literally look forward to going bouldering twice or three times a week because it makes my body feel really alive, and allows me to be with other people. Working as a freelancer is a lonely job and I find it important to spend time among other humans.
  • While I definitely aim to nourish my daily meditation practice, I also allow myself a softer asana practice. I like varying this up and letting my body guide me, sometimes my practcie is more dynamic while other mornings it resembles simply rolling on the floor or staying in child’s pose yin style.
  • Using an alarm clock that brightens up nearing the wake-up time, imitating the way the Sun rises. I find it a more gentle way to get woken up during dark winter mornings.
  • Respecting my needs. While it is nice to socialize, I don’t need to force myself to go out excessively — staying in and being cosy with a blanket and book is also a great way to nourish my soul.
  • Check out my post with a downloadable “grounding asana sequence” that can also help with gaining more stability and Earth-energy.