How to Fight the Winter Blues: A Full Frontal Attack (By a Girl Who Needs Her Own Advice)

For those of us who do not live in the land of eternal sunshine (I’m looking at you, Phoenix URIGS), this time of year can get pretty darn rough. As someone who has been clinically shown to be low on serotonin, let’s just say the sun going down at 4:30pm IS NOT HELPING at all.

Over the past few days I have slowly but surely felt the encroaching of the bulbous gloom monster attaching itself to my brain and bones. I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (yes, it is really a thing)…and as funny as the acronym SAD seems, it really isn’t that funny. In fact, it gets pretty rough. It really is quite sad.

seasonal affective disorder 2_v_Variation_2

If you identified with the title of this blog post at all you’ll know what the bulbous gloom monster (my not-so-friendly friend the BGM) likes to tell you on days when the sunshine is minimal and the nights start early.

BGM: “Claire, listen, you need more than 8 hours of sleep. Let’s try 10, maybe 11. If you don’t get it now you can take a marathon nap later.”

BGM: “Every carbohydrate in sight? Yeah, you’re going to want to follow those cravings and eat ALL of them. Particularly white, starchy, fluffy things with no nutritional value.”

BGM: “The slightest annoyance? Yeah, how about we have your brain register a “2” (someone bumping into you at the mall) feel like about a “10” (someone just told your best friend she’s ugly and laughed about it in front of you).

BGM: “Working out might help, but you should probably just sit there and do nothing productive. That would be a good use of your time. Grab a blanket. Cozy up. No need to move.” 

Or, for those of you who want just the facts, jack…here they are, thanks to WEB MD:

Symptoms specific to winter-onset SAD, sometimes called winter depression, may include:

  • Irritability

  • Tiredness or low energy

  • Problems getting along with other people

  • Hypersensitivity to rejection

  • Heavy, “leaden” feeling in the arms or legs

  • Oversleeping

  • Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates

  • Weight gain

It should go without saying that the BGM is speaking nonsense, but his words start to sound all too real as the shorter days of winter roll around. We listen to his instructions only to battle him to the ground and do what is best for us spiritually and physically during this long season. God has given us amazing tools in His Word and in modern research about how the body responds to different aids so that we can do all we can do feel better. 

Let me tell you (if you don’t already know), it is a very strange thing to feel winter depression coming on, to know that it wants to take you down.  But… it is a gift, too, because that means we can do something to fight it, AND FIGHT IT WE SHALL!!!!

My first preference was to move to Hawaii for 5 months, but, since that’s not an option…. here are some real ones.

I’ve split these up into two categories, one called UPWARD and one called INWARD.  Essentially both are about your spiritual life, since we are whole people created by God- everything we do has an impact on our spiritual/emotional/physical natures. for the sake of this post, however, UPWARD is going to focus on spiritual disciplines, and INWARD is going to include a few more practical/physical steps to take.

UPWARD

1) PRAY

How-to-Pray

When I was diagnosed with depression a couple of years ago, one thing that I refused to let Satan convince me of was that it was okay to stop praying. Half of the time I had no idea what to say, but I continued to cry out to God and press into Him. I knew that in the midst of my inconsistency and struggle He was always faithful and good. No matter how out of control I felt, He was always in control and wanted me to turn to Him. He promises in His word to hear us when we cry. Let that be enough, even if all you can do is cry! The Bible gives us an amazing collection of what are called Lament psalms, and they give the people of God words to speak to the Lord when they are in trial. Here are just a couple of portions of scripture that might be helpful to you in this time:

  • The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. -Psalm 34:18
  • Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. -Psalm 43:5-6
  • Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens. -Psalm 68:19
  • My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. -Psalm 73:26

Most importantly, don’t forget to just take time and be with God. Just sit with Him, listen to worship music, praise Him for who He is. The best thing you can do when you feel a bit lost or down is to meditate on who God is. He is the God who loves you!

2) STAY in Community!

shutterstock_106922246community

God’s people were never meant to “go it alone,” no matter what they are dealing with. Make sure to surround yourself with people who know if you’re struggling, and ask them to help you. Maybe that means just letting a friend know that this time of the year is harder for you. Ask them to text you every so often to check in and make sure you’re doing okay. If you get a text while you’re elbow deep in a bag of potato chips or sleeping in for another hour, God may use them to pull you out of the doldrums for the day and choose a better plan! Never feel like you are supposed to be able to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps or “do better.” That is how people end up isolated and feeling even more depressed. DON’T DO IT!!! It is not cool AT ALL to pretend to be strong and really be struggling. Find people you can be real with.  Make sure you keep worshipping, going to church, and being with God’s people. Let them lift up your spirits, and lift you up in prayer!

3) READ the Word

Bible-Reading

Basically, consume it. Don’t let a day go by where you aren’t reading the Word of God, no matter how poorly you feel. It’s your daily bread, and you won’t survive without it. Satan would love to distance us from the truth of God’s word and fill our heads with lies about our identity, our worth, and our feelings of hopelessness and “stuck”ness. If you’re gonna battle, you have to do battle with the best weapon in the world. 

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” – Hebrews 4:12

“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh.  For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ…” – 2 Corinthians 10:3-6 

So yeah, I’d say that’s going to be essential for battle. I mean, can you do that stuff on your own? Didn’t think so.

Here’s the best part: The Bible tells us who God is. When you fix your eyes on Jesus and take your eyes off of yourself, it’s amazing how He will change your heart- which is His ultimate goal, to give us new hearts, not necessarily new feelings about things. God is making us more like Jesus. I believe He uses everything in life, even the winter blues, to do that- but we have got to lean on Him and keep choosing to press in. He wants to give you grace upon grace. I promise.

4) WALK in the Spirit

Legs walking

Let’s all just pause and realize that if we are believers in Christ, the Holy Spirit resides in us.

What does that mean? Nothing short of this:

But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. – Romans 8:11

Wait, HOLD UP. Please read that again. Yeah. LIVE IN THAT, WHY DON’T WE?!?! Woof. 

For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” – Romans 8:15

God your Father chose you in love. The Holy Spirit helps you call Him by the name He wants you to use- “DADDY!”

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. – 2 Cor 1:3-4

Only the Holy Spirit can make God’s comfort real to us. And we HAVE HIM! He ministers to us daily!

Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to His people to tell them the truth about who God is. Walk in that truth.

INWARD

I’ll keep these short and simple, because they aren’t complicated. They are simple in theory, but harder to do when you’re feeling down. Make every effort you can to do every little thing that might help- it really adds up.

1) Eat Your Veggies and Avoid Simple Carbs: Simple Carbs cause a post-consumption crash much like sugar does (because your body digests white starches very similarly to how it digests sugar). Healthier choices can really make a big difference…what you eat matters!

2) Buy a Happy Lamp: Yes, it’s a thing, and the more wattage the better. It might feel strange to plop yourself in front of a lamp and sun your face for a bit, but there are a ton of great options free of UV rays that really do help people feel better. I just ordered one from Amazon and will be faithfully sitting in front of it for 20 minutes when I wake up every morning while I do my devos. It will look funny, but if it helps, who the heck cares!?

3) Go Out and About: Fight the urge to stay inside and do nothing, even though that’s what the monster is telling you. Ask a friend to grab tea (not coffee, see below), try something new like a workout class, take a hike. It’s good to get in any sunshine you can, and it’s good just to know there’s still a world out there that is moving and grooving- go get into it!

  • 3b) If you really want to feel better, go serve someone else. Help your elderly neighbor with her grocery shopping, help at a soup kitchen, hand out sandwiches in the park, leave a $20 bill in the mailbox of a friend with no note….the possibilities are endless!

4) Put DOWN THE COFFEE: This might seem devastating to some of you, but for me, it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make. Caffeine of any kind has been shown to lower seretonin, and for those of us who struggle with winter blues it’s probably already an issue, so don’t make it worse. Recently I have fallen in love with rooibos teas (naturally decaf), so I’ll be turning to Tazo instead of Folgers.

5) Be Intentional about your Sleep Schedule: Your body is longing for consistency, but when the winter months hit and you don’t want to get out of bed, it gets tough to stay on a regular schedule. Inconsistency in sleep is one of the biggest predictors of sadness among people who don’t even struggle with depression, so for those of us that do, it’s even more important. Plan to go to bed and wake up every day at the same time. Do the best you can with this, but aim for within half an hour of your goal times. Your body will thank you for it!

6) Move your Body, Body: Technically it hasn’t been scientifically proven that exercise helps fight winter blues, but moving our bodies is always a good thing- God gave us the ability to walk, run, dance, and lift- so why not do it!? You may find a new hobby in the process, and by getting your heart rate up you can fight the lethargy that long dark days can bring.

7) Read for Encouragement: A few of my recommendations for those struggling with depression (year-round or seasonal) that have helped me or people that I have loved: Spiritual Depression by Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Christians Get Depressed Too by David Murray, Depression: Looking Up from the Stubborn Darkness by Ed Welch, When Life Goes Dark: Finding Hope in the Midst of Depression by Richard Winter.

I hope you found some of these helpful.

I’m praying for you. Pray for me too. You are kept safe in the love of Jesus.

"Under His wings I am safely abiding,
Tho the night deepens and tempests are wild;
Still I can trust Him—I know He will keep me,
He has redeemed me and I am His child."

William O. Cushing, 1823-1902
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