When anyone complains about winter being imminent they get met with a traditional scoff: ‘MAYBE you’ve got S.A.D.??’ S.A.D. being ‘Seasonal-Affective-Disorder’, of course.
This is usually a polite way of saying, cheer the fuck up but sometimes it’s not as easy as creasing your cheeks and faking it till you make it. We all have our preferences…….people, clothes, cars, phones, places, food, whatever else you can think of. Preferred seasons are also another point of contention with people often being summer fanboys or winter fangirls (usually that way round as well, FYI).
For as long as I can remember I’ve found the darker months here in the UK tough to deal with. I remember battling deep depression as a 14 year old kid in 2005. I’d just been dumped by my first ever girlfriend and suffered the first death of a loved one in my life. The winter hit and I was inundated with suicidal thoughts and even tried to take my own life at one stage. All that shit just had to happen at winter, didn’t it?! If it had been summer I might have handled it a bit better. That was my reasoning at least.
And I’m not looking for sympathy or anyone to say they ‘understand’, I dealt with that alone and have worked my ass off for the next 14 years of my life to finally reach a place of mild contentment within myself. I’m happy. I’m fortunate. I’m doing a job I love. I have great friends. And family members who would go to the end of the earth and back to see me smile. But you never forget how it feels to be lost, unhappy, self hating and unsure of your place in this world; an encompassed form of suffering. It keeps you humble and forces empathy towards anyone going through a similar situation.
When it’s literally dark
The research between sunlight exposure and mood quality is concrete: lack of sunlight equals worsened mood. The further north you live, the more at risk you are. With a whopping 20% of all Brits identifying with ‘the winter blues’ (1). The lack of natural light interferes with the body’s production of serotonin and melatonin. Serotonin decreases making you feel worse and melatonin increases making you feel sleepy, lethargic and unmotivated. The bottom line here is this is a real thing. Not some greedy summer lover’s cry for sympathy.
(Serotonin is produced in response to light, whereas melatonin is produced in response to a lack of light. Hence why in winter the serotonin/melatonin balance gets skewed as the balance of light and dark also gets skewed.)
Diagnosis is tricky because of the commonalities with other forms of depression so it can be very difficult to single out S.A.D. as a singular entity. Statistically speaking, only 2% of the UK population actually has diagnosed S.A.D. but as we all know, there will be thousands living their entire lives undiagnosed with no clue they met all the diagnosis criteria!
Personally speaking I always handle things better when the temperatures are higher and the days longer. Winter makes me a harsher critic and I have to fight harder to maintain my newfound optimism. If you find this time of year tough, realise you’re not alone and many of us are hanging in there just like you. And let it be known you can struggle even in the best of circumstances. I’ve had the best year of my life to date and as I write this I’ve found myself feeling down and struggling to find the fun in usual activities, second guessing my stance with certain things and just generally in a funk; patience thinner than normal etc……..
So this shit can hit at anytime; nobody’s immune. It’s your body’s reaction to nature, NOT a personal reflection. Remember this!
Taming the beast
Let me prove the last 14 years haven’t been a waste with the sharing of some healthy ‘coping mechanisms’ for this time of year………..
Firstly we need to accept the laws of nature. Nature is, and always will be, seasonal. Light cannot exist without dark, heat without cold, sun without rain, happiness without sadness. People say nature isn’t fair and while in many cases I can see the reasoning, I’ve personally found nature to be pretty balanced from an energy perspective.
You cannot take X amount without giving Y amount. Time and time again I’ve found this to be true. Anytime I’ve got carried away with my ego I’ve been brought down to earth in style. I think the term is humbled? We can use a workout analogy to better illustrate this: if you train hard for 6 days straight, chances are you’ll need similar recovery time to truly recover.
I’ve had the summer of my life this year, I really have and it only stands to reason that I should find this winter particularly tough. This is the paying back phase for me. It’s natural and I even saw it coming. Nevertheless it doesn’t soften the blow that much more.
Trees shed their leaves every year to make way for new ones next season. See yourself as a tree. This is your downtime, your recoup time. The feelings will pass and the sun will be out again.
‘You are what you repeatedly do’ is a popular saying and for good reason. You are a manifestation of what you do most, so it’d better be good or you won’t be. It’s for this reason the daily habit mantra is pushed so heavily but it works.
Forcing yourself to chip away at the small mundane things you don’t really want to do each day, but you know lead to the gradual construction of a new you are crucial. They’re what will allow you to not only have your moments in the sun – both literally and figuratively – but to also fully enjoy it.
For me this is working on my mobility and handstands etc because this will make me a better athlete and I have a clear image of me on all my trips next year doing better moves and looking unrecognisable from this year. For you it can be anything. It will be the small stuff that when you’re doing it you’ll not see what it’s even doing but believe me, this stuff accumulates quickly.
Movement – the best medicine known to man!
Exercise has cured millions of depression symptoms worldwide and is time tested (2). Use this to your advantage. Just moving your body can do wonders for a fragile mind. It needn’t be intense. If you’re not a regular exerciser, just committing to a walk each day will be a massive hit back at the doom and gloom of this time of year. The therapeutic effects really cannot be overstated!
If you’re a regular exerciser you might find motivation dwindles. This is OK, don’t sweat it. Stick to your program and entwine the gym into the daily habits above. Realise that without your workout you’ll feel worse. That’s your reward. This goes deeper than the superficial stuff like the pump, getting girls/guys and chasing numbers on the bar.
However drained you feel, you owe it to yourself to show up and grind it out. Do it with stoic acceptance of what is and resist the temptation to judge things negatively. It’s hard not to be successful with this mindset.
Nourish the body
The gut-brain connection is one only the ignorant dismiss but food really does have an enormous impact on how you feel. The instant gratification of junk food is as tempting as ever right now but is it worth the dip further into the abyss that comes with it? Is it?!
Ensuring your diet is as nourishing as possible will keep the mind functioning as best possible. Water intake up. Fresh fruits and vegetables. Single ingredient foods. Vitamin D3 intake sufficient. I’m not associated with any supplement company but I know from anecdotal lengthy personal experience, taking Vitamin D3 in the darker seasons prevents my mood from further plummeting. Evidence supports the theory too (3).
Of course it doesn’t compare to real sunlight but is definitely the next best thing. That said, if you can get sunlight exposure at this time of year, then DAMN WELL DO IT! Get out for that 20/30 minute walk and get some rays on your skin. This will arm you nicely to the lows that come with winter.
The right dose of isolation
When you feel in the dumps it’s natural to not want to be around others. You’ll feel inadequate and doubt your ability to add anything to their lives. But this is just a feeling, remember. It’s an illusion. Your mind is tricking you into thinking there’s inadequacy when in fact it’s just the motivation that’s missing. You’ll not want to do things but when you actually do them, you’ll be pleasantly surprised how good you are at them. I’ve found this to be the case so often.
Therefore it’s paramount to have a good routine in order. Leaving things to chance isn’t going to work because it’s too easy to blow it off. Set plans and write down what you need/want to do each day – be it socially, professionally, physically, spiritually and emotionally. Being around people is a human need, remember. We have evolved as tribal beings despite the modern cut throat world we live in, these hard wired desires never leave.
If you feel you need alone time, sure, take it. But don’t isolate in the truest sense of the word. Do the right things when it’s dark and your moment in the sun will be back before you know it.
Thanks for reading. If you’ve suffered with similar things discussed in this article, I’d love to hear from you. Leave me a comment down below and let me know how you cope with winter blues!
The 'brains' behind StraightTalkingFitness, a site all about discovery that leads to strength in all formats; fitness, mental, emotional and spiritual. Everything starts from within and projects outwards. Master the body, master anything and everything.