Navigating the Winter Blues: A Grandmother’s guide on how to combat seasonal depression
As the beautiful autumn season slowly loses its color, the winter solstice is nearing, and the days are getting shorter while the nights begin to stretch more and more. And with the long cold nights and freezing winds and rain of the Netherlands, a feeling of fatigue and loneliness begins to creep up. Commonly known as winter blues, seasonal depression or, in the scientific world, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), the phenomenon is widely recognised as a side effect of a lack of vitamin D, which we absorb through our skin through the sunlight.
Some people are more prone to seasonal depression than others. But this doesn’t change the fact that almost everyone is in some way or other affected by it. The most common symptoms of seasonal depression are low energy levels, sudden mood changes, a feeling of hopelessness and bleakness, changes in sleep patterns and changes in appetite.
Having experienced seasonal depression during the past 5 years myself, I tried looking for some solutions and seeking advice from those who have faced harsh winters and could give valuable insights. First, I talked to my grandmother, who has lived through many harsh winters herself and is, therefore, familiar with cold and dark days. She told me some tips and tricks that helped her during the winter months.
The first piece of advice she offered was to drink a lot of tea. And by a lot, she means around three teapots a day. She told me that it is vital to stay hydrated when it is cold outside and that drinking cold water can be uncomfortable during winter; thus, she prefers to drink a lot of tea. Even when leaving the house, my grandmother always takes a thermos flask wherever she goes. Furthermore, she added that green and black teas are perfect for the morning and at noon because they contain caffeine and help you wake up or stay awake, while herbal and fruit teas are good for the evening when you want to relax. However, she also said that drinking hot tea right after coming inside from the cold or right before going outside into the cold should be avoided as the sudden temperature change can irritate the throat.
The second piece of advice she gave me was to close my eyes and turn my face towards the sun because daylight can be scarce. One of the main reasons that we are more irritable during winter is the lack of vitamin D that we partly get through our skin from the sunlight. Thus, natural sunlight is a powerful mood booster, and even during the coldest months, taking a moment to feel the sun’s warmth can make a significant difference in combating seasonal depression.
However, the most valuable thing my grandmother told me was to meet up with friends and socialise A LOT during the winter months. Although we might not notice it, because of the cold weather, we tend to spend more time at home during winter and less time outside, meeting up with friends and doing sports, which often leads to loneliness. Thus, my grandmother put a lot of emphasis on the importance of social interactions. Meeting up with friends provides a source of warmth beyond the physical, whether it’s sharing a cup of tea and chatting, going on day trips, or just having a meal together.
As I did my research, there were a lot of articles about seasonal depression that were tied to the Inuit people in the northern territories of Canada, Alaska, and Siberia. As these people have the longest nights on earth, sometimes stretching over a whole month, there were also several articles about how they combat the seasonal depression. One of the main points of each article was that the Inuit people see the winter as a time to slow down and prefer to pass their days (or nights) resting and spending time with their family during winter while working hard in the summer. I think we could implement some of their views into our own daily routine.
This leads me to the last point my grandmother mentioned. Many people feel a sense of fatigue during winter and have difficulty waking up because our hormonal balance changes due to the dark, which makes us more sleepy. According to her, the best solution is not to force yourself and to give your body time to adjust. So don’t be harsh to yourself and allow yourself to sleep, wake up later if you can, or if you can’t, try to go to bed early, take the afternoon nap your body desires, and like the people in the northern territories, just rest more than usual. You will find that it will make a big difference.
As we adopt these practices into our lives, I hope we can find solace and strength in the wisdom passed down through generations, turning seasonal depression into a season of warmth and comfort.
Writer: Ruxandra-Sofia Golubas
Editor: Csenge Nagy-György
Visuals: Csenge Nagy-György