I absolutely adore the holiday season.
At this point, a full week into December, we’re knee deep in twinkling tinsel and red and green hued merriment.
The romantic in me wants to focus on the innate coziness of the season. The classic Christmas tunes piped into coffee shops and stores, warm sweaters and hot apple cider. Cozy blankets and cuddles while we binge-watch “Scandal” on Hulu. (FYI, these are all very real parts of my life. Something for which I am unendingly grateful.)
But… beyond the romance and the shiny lights, there’s a chilly, dark, and damp side to the season. Quite literally.
With Daylight Savings Time and the all-too-common dark grey skies in Seattle, there are some days that it feels like the sun never even had a chance to rise. In our apartment, which doubles as my office, any blue sky or sunlight that peeks through the clouds is blocked by the enormous cedar tree just outside our living room window.
We wake up in the dark, walk the dog in the dark, eat dinner in the dark.
Get a few days or weeks like that back-to-back, and you’re in for a palpable change in mood.
As the seasons shift, so too does our spirit. We spent the summer and early autumn gathering that natural, sun-drenched Vitamin D and enjoying the bright, crisp air and sunshine moods that accompany it. For many of us, the transition into the depths of winter brings with it an unwelcome guest: the blues.
Whether you experience a fleeting touch of the blues or are one of the hundreds that wrestle with full-blown Seasonal Affective Disorder (FYI, over 10% of all Pacific Northwesterners struggle with SAD), combined with the loneliness and unfulfilled expectations of the holidays, the journey into darker days and colder nights means a trip to the shadow side for many of us.
So, in the spirit of full disclosure and a deep and abiding desire for you to enjoy this season, I’m offering up a few of my tried and true tips for warding off the winter blues and all those unfulfilled expectations.
(Also, in the spirit of… full-er disclosure, if you are currently struggling with depression, getting connected with a trained and supportive professional goes a long way, believe me.)
Your first line of defense.
Taking care of yourself physically has profound effects. Your first line of defense in battling the blues (or anxiety and stress, for that matter) comes in a physical form. Eating a diet high in nutrients and low in processed junk lowers the body’s mood-altering inflammation and, in turn, powers its ability to fight off the blues. Making sure to move daily, even if it’s a 7-minute workout or 10 minutes of yoga at night, keeps all those feel-good hormones flowing. And cultivating a care ritual, like closing out the day with a book rather than another episode of Real Housewives or taking a warm bath and stretching before bed, goes a long way in supporting your emotional and psychological health, along with the physical.
Strengthen that first line of defense, love. It's the first step in the direction of merry and bright and light.
Bonus Tip: Supplement what’s missing. Especially during the winter months, our bodies aren’t getting the essential Vitamin D that they need. Find yourself a high quality daily multivitamin with a good source of vitamin D. You need it.
Surround yourself with things you love.
It sounds so cliche, but there’s nothing trite about this piece of advice. Surround yourself with things you love. Your physical space and all those places that you spend your time reflect into your internal experience.
For me, this means that I am surrounding myself with cozy reminders and little bits of love. I've placed a candle that symbolizes gratitude on my desk and hung my favorite sweater over the back of my office chair. A little love note from my husband hangs on the edge of my bulletin board and a long love letter I wrote to myself sits pinned on the wall next to me. I have my favorite playlist pulled up and blast it during breaks. I changed the sheets on my bed to inspire all sorts of cozy holiday warmth. Surround yourself with the things you love.
Hygge it up.
What the what?! HYGGE. IT. UP. This year, my sweetheart and I have been plugging into “hygge,” the Danish concept of surrounding yourself with gentle, comforting and soothing experiences and things.
What does that mean for you? Get cozy. Play music. Light candles. Cuddle and drink good tea. Snuggle with your pet or your partner. It's all about warmth and comfort and the sweet experiences that bring you joy. Hygge is the spirit of the season.
Along those lines…
Light up your world.
I wasn't exaggerating. Right now, we wake up in the dark, walk the dog in the dark, eat dinner in the dark. And it’ll just get darker and darker until the winter solstice in late December. This is the time of year when we look to add a little light into the world. Quite literally. Candlelight. Twinkle lights. Reading lights. (Anything but that harsh commercial lighting. That stuff steals happiness, I swear.)
It’s easy to live in the dark and to let our mood follow. Try combating it with warm light in your life. In our home, we've pulled the candles out of storage and framed our living room window - the same one whose natural light is blocked by the big cedar tree - in warm, twinkling Christmas lights. We're quite literally letting a little light into our lives.
Make plans. And don’t cancel them. I repeat: don't cancel them.
One of my favorite elements of the holiday season is its ability to cultivate connection. But between binge watching TV and texting, we’ve lost the motivation to get out and see people. Combine that with some windy winter weather and a darkness that comes early and hangs around late, and it can be profoundly disconnecting.
We are built for connection. So get out, make plans, and find people who will call you on your excuses when you try to cancel. Unless you're contagious or vomiting, resist the urge to cancel and binge on another season of House of Cards, okay love? Call your best girlfriend to take in a play or check out a local holiday event. Or - better yet - volunteer your time at a favorite local charity or community center.
Looking for something with a little less pressure than the holiday parties and gatherings? Take that book you’ve been meaning to read to your favorite coffeeshop and read it around other people. Emerge from the comforts of home to engage in connection, dear friend.
THIS. This, love, is the most powerful of all the tips I’ve got for you. Connection. It’s everything.