With an Arctic blast bearing down across the U.S., I know I’d like nothing more than to cozy up inside with a blanket, some tea and my warm little bulldog. Then again that’s always the thing about January. It’s not until the end of February when I’m depressed and moody that I realize I’ve been isolating myself.
Depression loves to get me alone, just like a bully. Away from my friends and family for a couple weeks and surrounded by white winter clouds, I become an easy target for doubt, boredom, self-deprecation and loneliness.
Anyone who suffers from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) knows the pattern, but those of us with depression may not be so in tune to how the weather is affecting our mental health.
It starts out innocently enough. I begin taking shelter from whatever blizzard or Arctic blast drops temperatures down to the teens, or even worse a wind chill of zero degrees. I avoid going out to dinner or drinks. I order in like all the other New Yorkers do in inclement weather. I go out for necessities and, once when the cold gets in my bones, I head right home. Nothing can make me feel alone in the world quite like winter can.
Dreary weather begins to play another part. While the city keeps getting sacked by snow and ice, it’s often veiled by a gray sky. I never know what an important role sunshine plays until I haven’t seen it for a while. The days are shorter and the sun is gone long before quitting time
The gloomy weather and the sadness work in tandem:
- I had a blasé day at work, and now I have to commute home in a snow storm.
- I’m running late, and I have to defrost and scrape the ice from my car.
- The show I was looking forward to didn’t DVR, and the sky is as gray as my mood.
- The heater is cranked, but I’m still cold. I might as well get back into bed and sleep the day away.
By the time I realize my depression is thriving, I’m out on winter island, away from the support and outlets that I need. If you’ve ever felt the weather had an influence on your depression, here’s a few tips to follow when the cold sweeps in:
- Make an effort to see friends and loved ones. Sure, this is what you always try to do, but winter requires more effort. It’s too easy to stay in when it’s sleeting outside. This goes for your friends, too. Everyone tends to isolate during the winter. Take the chance to see your friends and loved ones when you can, even if you really want to stay planted in front of your space-heater. It may be inconvenient, but you’ll thank yourself later.
- Brave the cold. Get out of the house and have some new experiences. It’s easy to binge-watch season after season of your favorite show. Everything is beamed straight to our TVs and iPads these days, but the easiest thing isn’t always the right thing. Life goes on out there, even in the winter. Go out to a new art exhibit, treat yourself to some live music or even a movie. It’s important to feel like you’re still a part of the world, a member of a community.
- On the sunny days, get the drapes open. Take what you can get while you can get it. Not all of us are ready to buy sun lamps, but just having some bright, natural light in your home can change your attitude about the whole day.
- Acknowledge the fact that your environment influences your mood. That doesn’t mean self-diagnosing SAD — everyone is affected by the environment to some degree. There are some things we can control about our environment. Try sprucing up the place. Rearrange your furniture, reorganize your living room or put a fresh coat of paint in the kitchen. Set the mood with some fiery or playful music, like the Beach Boys. Put on a movie that reminds you of summer fun.
- Share the fire. If you stay in, think about having someone over. Cook a pot of chili and host your parents or your neighbor. There are a lot of things we do alone that we could be doing together.
Bad weather is depression’s paradise. Winter-colored glasses have us seeing all the negativity in the world. It can be hard to tell in the end what came first, the sadness or the gloomy weather. No matter how it began, it’s important to intervene. It’s never too late to turn isolation around.