December 20, 2013

Be a Warrior of Winter Woes. ~ Tessa Torgeson

Iridescent, fluffy white snow gently falls from the sky illuminating the bleak valley, creating a gorgeous backdrop for the Holiday season.

Two days later, the wind angrily howls, spewing sleet, thus transforming our streets into sheets of ice. Cue Winter.

As a lifetime resident of the Midwest, I know the cadence of the seasons and appreciate the way they provide our lives with rhythm.

Yet I did not always appreciate winter. Nine years ago, I acutely remember shivering on the yellow vinyl chair in my doctor’s office trying to articulate the vacuous void growing within me—the despair, losing my concentration, motivation and sense of awe and wonder about the world, and my desire to live.

That day I became one of half a million Americans diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). For us, winter means being blanketed with more than snow; we are blanketed with melancholy, hopelessness, lethargy, oversleeping, weight gain and isolation. It is as though our circadian rhythms are entirely knocked axis.

Upon being diagnosed with SAD, a gratifying wave of relief poured over me to put a label on my struggles. I felt validated. The diagnosis felt like a refuge from guilt and shame that I was weak. It freed me from the weight of trying so many times to “just snap out of it” and failing miserably because I could not.

Those of us with SAD plummet to the Marianna trenches each winter. But at the end of the day it is possible to center ourselves. To see the light.

Here are some suggestions from someone who has been there herself.

1) First of all, take Vitamin D. The Institute of Medicine recommends between 600 and 800 IU per day, Dr. Oz recommends 1000. Those in Northern latitudes especially should consider 1000 IU. If you do not like swallowing pills, it also comes in liquid form.

2) Use a SAD (or artificial sun lamp). Along with Vitamin D, light therapy is the top prescribed treatment for SAD because it helps boost energy levels and alertness.

My doctor prescribed and suggested the Philips goLITE BLU because it’s blue light mimics the naturally occurring light on sunny, clear days. Plus, the goLITE BLU is compact and portable. I tote mine to work and bring it home on the weekends.

3) Svadhaya, or Self Study. Self-Study is the second limb of the eight limbs of yoga which includes by meditation and quiet introspection. Self-study helps us discover the root of our depression. It could be a sign that we need to make a lifestyle, relationship, occupational, or spiritual shift in our lives.

Prior to self-study, I used to want to amputate my depression like a diseased limb. Yet now I have cultivated compassion for my depression because it helps me empathize with others, be more creative, slow down, and lean on friends and family.

4) Look for the gifts that your depression provides. If nothing else, take it as an invitation for special self-care. Take a hot bath. Get a massage or facial. Get acupuncture. Develop a spa ritual at home that makes you feel special. Mine involves hot tea with honey, lavender lotion, slippers, and swaddling myself in blankets.

5) Take time for yoga. Even if SAD has depleted us of energy and we feel completely zapped, at least try delicious restorative poses such as reclined bound angle, legs up against a wall, child’s pose. Be sure to use plenty of props and blankets.

6) Sign up for a class, workshop, team, or set date with friends to get yourself out of the house, around people, and participating in a hobby. This winter I am playing a Wednesday night volleyball league with co-workers and looking forward to a February yoga retreat in lake’s country.

7) Find one, just one, outdoor hobby you enjoy. Try ice-skating (there are indoor rinks too if you absolutely despise the cold), curling (also possible indoors), sledding, snow forts, skiing, and snowboarding.

Ice skating always holds a special place in my heart because my dad plays hockey and my boyfriend and I bonded over ice skating when we first started dating. This winter my goal is to try snowshoeing!

8) Simple: Water and rest. Mother said it best.

Hopefully these tips can add some sun and light to an otherwise dark, long winter. What brings my fellow SAD strugglers of the world joy over the winter? I would be happy to hear.


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Assistant Editor: Daniel Garcia/Editor: Bryonie Wise

Image: Andy Barrow/Pixoto

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