Winter is here, and for people like me who struggle with winter depression (Seasonal Affective Disorder), those feelings of emptiness and sadness could already have started to creep in. Christmas has drained me completely, and I’m left with next to no energy and zero motivation. I feel like I’m in a bubble of thick glass and I can see everyone having fun and enjoying life on the outside, but I’m separate from it all, unable to feel excitement or positivity. Finding beauty is a struggle, and even when I do it doesn’t actually make me feel anything but emptiness. I feel hollow and joyless, and I know I’m in for a rough ride.
This year, however, I’ve planned ahead, and I’ve taken every step I could before December to help my future-self get through these dark coming months, and I’m hoping some of these ideas can be of help to you too. I’ve also been collecting tips and advice on Instagram, in order to compile this extensive list of ideas and inspirations to make winter more bearable, or even potentially enjoyable, for everyone who finds this post. Many of these ideas might seem impossible on the worst days, but I encourage you to keep trying to find joy and beauty in the little things and never give up. One day all the positive things you do now will manifest, and you’ll feel something again. Doing all these things might seem like a waste of time right now, but over the course of the dark months, hopefully, it will have helped you to come out on the other side with a few good experiences to look back on.
This is going to be a lengthy post, but it’s full of useful tips that can hopefully help you through winter this year.
Vitamins and light
In preparation for winter, I have been taking D-vitamin supplements twice a day for two months now and my levels are good! If you’re lacking in D-vitamin, this season will hit you even harder, so I suggest starting up as soon as possible, if you haven’t already.
The lack of light in Winter feels heavy on the soul, and living every day in darkness seems unbearable. In Copenhagen, we’re not blessed with snow or wild nature, but with rain and grey cloudy skies, so this year Daryl as put up bright cool daylight light bulbs in every room. I turn them on as soon as I wake up, and they emulate daylight quite well to my big surprise. I also turn on warmer lights to make it cozier, but all in all, it’s working quite well so far. You can find the bulbs here on Amazon.
How winter depression affects your relationships and what to do
If you live with someone, be it a roommate or a partner, your winter depression can easily start to affect those close relationships where you’re constantly together. Last year, Daryl had to pretty much take care of me for three months straight: he helped me get in the shower, talked to me in the shower when my anxiety got bad, cooked for me, had petty fights with me etc. And it drained him. He did it with love, but it took its toll, and this year I don’t want it to happen again.
Daryl has had a rough year himself and is not at his strongest (more about that another time), so it’s important to me to do everything I can to avoid unnecessary fights, added tasks, stress and a generally bad atmosphere. The best way I have found so far is actually to be very aware of how you spend your time, both together and separately. Making sure that a good deal of our time is spent on ourselves is proving to be quite effective! Daryl has been playing games, reading, and writing; and I’ve been reading, taking pictures and blogging. We’re both taking time to see friends and catch up with family, and we’re not tied at the hip.
Being “separately together” in our home is lovely. We’ll meet up for a kiss and a hug on the couch and then continue with our own interests. We take time for each other at dinner and watch a movie occasionally, go out for a walk, talk about our days; but we make sure to stay very aware of our individual needs and give each other space to focus on themselves. We’re also a very good team, and sharing the burden of getting through tasks make it much easier than if you do it alone. We help each other hang up wet laundry, fill and empty the dishwasher, cook dinner. We put on music or Sherlock in the background and chat while we work. It’s faster and it feels better to be doing it together.
See your friends and family
Don’t isolate yourself, even if you’re an introvert. It’s MUCH better to be social for a few hours and then retreat, rather than not seeing people at all. See the people you love and whose company you enjoy. Invite them over for tea and a movie! And meet new people and go outside your comfort zone. Meet that girl you’ve been chatting with on Instagram, or send her a postcard if she’s not in your country. Go to a game night with your boyfriend’s friends. I’m planning on going to a life drawing class! It’s to get me back into drawing, and also to push my social boundaries and meet new people. I’ll even be going alone – hello social anxiety! Sharing thoughts and having discussions with others can really invigorate you, inspire you and get you thinking about things you hadn’t considered. In my case, I just have to be careful not to overdo it. A little goes a long way.
What to do indoors
When the weather is less than appealing, it’s very nice to stay indoors and cozy up with blankets and sweaters. But just sitting watching TV all day won’t do much to improve your mood over time. Sure, binge-watching your favorite show is great, but to shake things up here’s what I and other Instagrammers do to stay busy and inspired:
- Wear your favorite clothes. It doesn’t matter that no one will see you, as long as you feel great. Wear that dress and share a selfie in your stories or send one to a friend.
- Take care of your skin. Winter is rough for the skin, so you’re going to need a good solid skincare routine to keep you feeling fresh and hydrated. This year I’ve used winter as an excuse to try out some new skin care products and I’m very excited to see which ones will be best for my face.
- Learn a new skill. I’m going to sign up for an online class here and look at YouTube videos, to finally learn how to properly use my camera. I’m also going to experiment with editing in Lightroom and I’m getting back to painting. What things have you wanted to learn for a while but have been putting off?
- Unclutter and tidy up. This is one of my favorite things to do in the whole world! I grew up in a hoarder home, so as an adult I’ve become very excited about the decluttering and own-less movement. It feels absolutely freeing to get rid of things you no longer care about or need: all the clothes that don’t fit, the plates you chipped but paid a lot for so you kept them, the markers that have run out of ink. Clearing out feels amazing and gives you a great blank canvas before spring. And you can even earn money if you sell things on, or help others if you donate. Tidy all your messy drawers, your shoe collection, your makeup pouch. It’ll feel wonderful!
- Play music, sing, and dance! Music is such an amazing way to feel better! Play your favorite songs, make playlists for friends, have them make one for you, buy old records and dance around in your PJs. Sing along, be loud! It can be scary to let go and surrender to it, but once you do it feels SO good. My favorite dance-around song is this one. Don’t know why but it really works wonders for me!
- Be “selfish”. Selfish is the wrong word. Be aware of your most true needs. Ask yourself all throughout the day “what do I want right now?”, “what would make me happy right now?”, and do it! Sounds simple enough, but actually figuring out what it is you want and need can be quite challenging. You’ll actually have to stop and listen to yourself, really listen. It worked wonders for me last winter and is ultimately what helped me through the worst of the depression. I started really listening to myself and my body, and that felt so good and so self-validating.
- Journaling and list making. I love making lists and I love writing down my scattered thoughts to make them a bit more cohesive, so I write in a bullet journal. There are many ways to make them, but I’ve ended up using a super simple weekly format to keep it quick and easy and to not overdo it. I can easily spend hours on it, and ultimately I wanted something less time-consuming. I use this little Totoro journal and have just ordered two more. I love stationery as well, so I fill them with stickers, post-its, and bookmarks to make it fun and cute. I also write in two beautiful list books from the 52 List project, that help keep me aware of what makes me happy and what projects I have going. I highly recommend them if you’re also a list maker!
- Decorate! Or redecorate. Move things around, collect things in nature, hang up more fairy lights! Sort your books by color, make yourself some new artwork or do an art trade. Try moving your bed to the other wall. Change makes things seem less stale, and newness is good for your mood. Go to IKEA and eat meatballs and look at their botanical bed sheets! Spend some time on Pinterest gathering inspiration! I recently made a garland of some of my dried Autumn leaves, and it makes me smile now when I look at it because I made it myself and took the time to hang it up.
- Draw and be creative. Do a DIY project. Being creative is calming and helps you be mindful. Putting all your attention to your project, trying new mediums, working from a tutorial. Personally, I love painting ceramics in winter. There’s a ceramic painting workshop nearby where I just sit for hours listening to a soothing playlist, while I make myself a new mug or teapot for my grandma. I have so many paints and markers to try as well, and this hibernation season is perfect for slowing down and actually taking time to try everything out. And don’t be afraid of “failing”. There’s no such thing as failing when it comes to creative projects. You learn and grow from everything you do, so don’t feel discouraged if you’re not completely satisfied the first times you try. And don’t be afraid of sharing it with others. You’ll most likely encounter like-minded people and be encouraged to create more!
- Surround yourself with nature. I have plants everywhere. It makes my home feel alive, fresh and happier. I collect leaves, branches, berries, pine cones and everything I come across, that allows me to bring nature into my home. I love my plant babies, and it’s nice to be responsible for a living thing.
- Read everything on your reading list. Look for inspiration for new books in the bookstagram community. Sign up for a book crate. Sit down with your favorite blanket, put your glasses on and just start reading. Soon the winter grayness will be gone, and you will be immersed in a new world.
- Take lots and lots of pictures. Play around with flatlays of your favorite objects, photograph your steamy cup of tea, take a selfie when you’re feeling cute, show off your awesome book collection and the cake you baked. Photograph it all and share. Capturing those little moments is a great way to stay focused on the positive things in life and to save them for when you need reminding. You can even print them out for a photo album or make a photo wall. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just personal things that stir something inside you.
- Eat healthy and soothing foods and drinks. Daryl usually makes us slow-cooked stews in winter. He loves it! My guilty pleasure is tea, lots of tea. I’m currently going through my advent calendar teas from Bluebird Tea Co., and trying out new blends is always a bit exciting. You might find a favorite! I also try to eat my favorite fruits and veggies and try to eat mindfully. Really taste all the flavors. Cooking new things and experimenting can also be fun and distracting. Making dinner for someone else feels really good. I especially like cooking for Daryl if he’s had a rough day.
- Be romantic. Whether or not you’re in a relationship, you can still be romantic. I used to date myself before I started dating Daryl. I’d cook my favorite dishes and turn on candles just for me. I’d take myself on dates to my favorite places and just enjoy my own company. Now that I’m with Daryl we like to be romantic together obviously haha. Sometimes just eating without the TV on can add a bit of extra romance. I usually find that the most romantic stuff isn’t the stuff you see on TV, but the little special moments that you usually don’t tell anyone about. For instance, I find it incredibly romantic when Daryl files the rough skin on my feet haha. I know it sounds weird, but when he holds my feet gently and tickles me and makes me laugh, it just becomes one of those romantic moments that you keep with you.
- Cuddle an animal. If you’re lucky enough to have a pet, you know this one already. We, however, don’t and we’re not allowed one in our apartment, so we have to come up with other ways to get some “fur therapy”. We both love to go to pet stores and cuddle all the bunnies! It’s hard to leave without taking one home though. Visiting friends who have pets is also a good idea. If pictures are enough for you, Swaglen has all the furry pictures you could possibly need.
- Plan a future dream trip. This one I’m going to start doing right now, budget and all! We both very much want to visit Tokyo, so we’re going to try and save up for it and do lots and lots of research. I find dreaming of places to go excites me, even if it’s not guaranteed that I’ll actually end up going. I’ll still be learning about a new place and seeing pictures and videos of it in my research, and maybe someday it’ll happen!
- Focus on self-care. I usually do this by taking long hot footbaths while wearing a soothing face mask and doing my nails. Sometimes I’ll refresh my hair dye or even go get a haircut to make me feel more polished. Doing things for you, whatever they are, is never a waste of time. Take it slow and enjoy your me-time.
- Laugh and have fun. This is one that I find to be more difficult than the others. Laughing when you’re depressed seems almost impossible, but if you manage somehow it feels SO good. If you have any advice on how to achieve this one, please write me in the comments!
What to do outdoors
- Go out in nature. It might be barren and cold now, but there’s still beauty to be found. Red berries on spidery branches, frozen lakes, frost covered leaves. Collect some things to take home with you. Bring your camera and capture the atmosphere. Do an outfit photo shoot in muted colors with bursts of color from your favorite beret and scarf. Bring your best friend and a thermos of hot chocolate.
- Go to flea markets. Outdoor ones as well as indoor ones. Sell some things or browse for hidden treasure. Pre-loved things can bring so much joy and help to make your home uniquely yours. Photograph the market stalls and share them on social media so others can see what it’s like in your city. It’s fun to see what things used to be popular in the olden days in different parts of the world. I personally collect vintage and antique nature books. I love the broken spines and the smell of age.
- Get lots of exercise. We all know this one, and it’s true. Moving your body will make you feel good. Wait till the sun is out one day, or wrap up in a cute winter coat and bring an umbrella. Go for long walks with your favorite playlist on, take your camera and hunt for beauty, go to the gym or run with a friend. Our terrain and weather aren’t ideal for winter sports or hiking, but those are options too if you live in wilder areas.
- Visit cafés and pie shops. The pie shop part is a personal favorite. We have one pie shop in Copenhagen and I simply love going there! Trying out new cafés can be super cozy, and you can hang out there with a good book or bring a friend and have a laugh.
- Posting to Instagram. You have no idea how much Instagram has helped me out of the darkness. Looking at other people’s feeds can make me extremely depressed, as I start comparing lives and I see others being happy when all I feel myself is emptiness, so I don’t recommend that. Posting hower, that’s where the key is! I force myself to look for things to post, lovely things, even when all I feel is emptiness. I started a few years ago when I was headed to therapy, right after being diagnosed, and saw the loveliest leaf on the way. I didn’t actually feel anything looking at it, but somewhere my brain registered it as beautiful so I photographed it and shared it. And that whole practice of always looking for good positive things in my surroundings has stuck with me, and I try to keep it up even when I’m at my darkest and nothing seem to matter.
- Sharing on Instagram. Another thing Instagram is good for is sharing and connecting with others that might be going through something similar. Getting support, being accepted, seeing that you’re not alone, and getting to help others by making them feel less alone too is SO rewarding, and makes it somehow better. After sharing my experiences with anxiety I have met so many people that I’ve been able to connect with and it’s made such a big change in my life. Now, when I’m in that dark place, I post it to my stories and share it openly and honestly, cause at least that way I won’t be carrying it alone, ashamed, and letting it fester.
To those who feel dark and empty during winter, I sincerely hope this post can help you get through this rough season, and I’ll keep updating it as I come across new ideas and methods to deal with this disorder. If you’re feeling very dark and down, I’d definitely recommend you go see your doctor and ask for help. Personally, I wouldn’t be able to get through any of these feelings without my therapist guiding me.
I also hope the tips I’m sharing can help myself as well, and I’m going to put every effort into staying connected with my inner workings while still feeling part of the world. If you want to share your own struggles with winter, please write in the comment section and let us all support each other.
I’m going to leave you with this video that never fails to make me smile:
Also published on Medium.