As soon as we turned the clocks back last weekend, I started hearing the comments from clients and friends alike. “I hate leaving work in the dark—all I want to do is go home and pull up the covers.” It’s that time of year when the blues can start, and it’s hard to stay energized and motivated. I usually start to get more calls about this right around now too, with the holiday season looming. When it’s not really freezing yet but everyone remembers how brutal the New York City winters can be. Even if there were difficult issues faced during the summer months, many people start to feel them hit harder when the darkness creeps in earlier and the fun summer activities are a distant memory. Whether you have an actual diagnosis of Seasonal Affective Disorder, or are experiencing increased feelings of sadness or depression for any reason, there are many ways to help yourself. Even though it may feel difficult, it’s a good plan to start combatting these feelings right away, before negative feelings heighten. The winter blues may feel even worse in New York City because of the specific issues of our urban existence. Many people go right from their buildings into the subway underground and then to a cubicle without any windows. Many New York City apartments lack sunny and open views, too. Even when the sun is out, we can feel deprived of the positive feelings of daylight. But life in the Big Apple can actually be filled with joyful moments that feel more hopeful and connected. Here are some simple—but important—tips to help during this time of year:
1) Take a walk in the natural sunlight. Even if it’s cold outside, bundle up and walk in the park or areas where the buildings are lower. Studies show that your spirits can be lifted when you move your body outside in the winter sunlight, staying active. You’ll increase your endorphins and lower your anxiety, too, which will help boost your mood overall. If you can’t be outside, try to sit near windows whenever possible. Even though the subway is usually quicker, try taking the bus for a change of pace. If you can, exercise near a window. Keeping active will help you stay on track.
2) Imagine some joyful experiences that you can have during the winter. We all know that winter will arrive every year. Now is the perfect time to think more positively about the things you like about the season, and then picture yourself doing them. Do you like ice skating but think it's too expensive or touristy? Lasker Rink at the northern end of Central Park is a less crowded alternative. Positive thoughts are key when you’re feeling blue. Create some rituals or plan some winter activities with loved ones so that you can look forward to these events.
3) Pay attention to your body. Eat cleanly. Try to eat fresh, seasonal food and take supplements, like Vitamin D if you’re not getting enough natural sunlight. Experiment with spicy foods or herbs that boost your immune system, such as turmeric and ginger. The healthier your body, the better your brain and mood function. Of course, speak with your doctor before taking any supplements. Try to eat mindfully. Take a moment before you eat to experience more fully the food you have chosen. Take time to relax and savor the experience.
4) Try some holistic tools, like hypnotherapy, a powerful method of emotional healing and empowerment. I completed training in Heart-Centered Hypnotherapy, which can bring about a state of deep relaxation and peace. Other tools to consider are guided imagery, meditation or yoga.
5) Bright light therapy, through the use of light boxes, is a proven treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder. Spending 30 minutes a day in this type of light can help improve your mood dramatically. For better sleep patterns, you can use a Dawn Simulator year-round to help your body wake or ease into sleep more naturally through a timed lighting shift for dawn or sunset. You can also enhance your home environment through an ionizer, which can keep the air fresh and allergen-free for better health and relaxation. When you are sleeping better and more comfortable at home, you will feel better in general.
6) Inspire yourself and find avenues to express yourself creatively, all year long. Finding meaningful activities that help you feel rejuvenated and valued will help you feel better. Try activities like meditation, journaling, creating art or volunteering for an important cause. Create a Live-It (rather than a Bucket) List to challenge yourself and set goals. Believe in yourself and your capabilities.
7) Most importantly, be kind and nonjudgmental of yourself. Banish negative self-talk. Enjoy your own company or seek out activities with people who believe in and care about you. When you are feeling sad, there is a tendency to isolate. These are the exact times to say yes to otherwise enjoyable invitations and keep up a schedule or routine.
In my sessions, I create a safe place to explore thoughts and feelings, offering specific tools to improve your feelings of self-confidence and overall well-being. Of course, feeling blue can happen any time of year, and aren’t always a sign of seasonal affective disorder. If you are experiencing sadness, irritability, difficulty concentrating, changes in your sleeping and eating habits, a reduced level of energy, or feelings of hopelessness, seek the help and support of a therapist. You don’t have to go through it alone.