This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. Please read my disclosure for more details(Last Updated On: February 18, 2019)
This winter has been extremely difficult for me. I am living abroad and it was my first time spending Christmas alone. Being an expat and far away from friends and family made the winter blues even harder to bear!
Growing up, I was used to getting a decent amount of sunshine even in the winter months while I was living in Canada. However, here in Switzerland, we can go days with just cloudy or rainy weather. The clouds tend to form quite low and we have to go up in the mountains just to get a taste of sun.
Needless to say, the winter blues are quite real. Every year around December or January, I find myself feeling tired, lethargic, demotivated, and overall quite numb. I wouldn’t say I feel “sad” per se, but there are days where my mood and energy levels are noticeably down. There are also other days when I just have random mood swings and lay in bed crying all day for no real reason.
In this article, I will offer some strategies to tackle your winter blues. These are just some of the activities I used to make the winter blues a bit easier to bear!
Personally, I believe in treating depression naturally without taking medication. Of course, don’t take anything I say as medical advice. If your symptoms are prolonged and unbearable, I definitely recommend that you seek medical advice!
What is seasonable affective disorder (SAD)?
Seasonable affective disorder (SAD) affects 6% of Americans and a lesser form affects another 14%.
Some common symptoms include:
- Feeling sad or having a depressed mood
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
- Changes in appetite — weight loss or gain unrelated to dieting
- Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
- Loss of energy or increased fatigue
- Increase in purposeless physical activity (e.g., hand-wringing or pacing) or slowed movements and speech (actions observable by others)
- Feeling worthless or guilty
- Difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions
- Thoughts of death or suicide
Seasonable affective disorder tends to affect people during the winter months in the Northern hemisphere due to the reduced amount of sunlight.
Ways to cope with the winter blues or depression
1. Practice gratitude
Practicing gratitude means to be recognisant of all the good you have in your life. I am naturally inclined to focus on the negatives and to disregard all the amazing things that have happened to me in my lifetime.
Practicing gratitude helps me to change my mindset to focus more on the positive things that bring me happiness.
I wrote an article about how to practice gratitude daily and this is what I do on a daily basis. It helps a lot!
Whenever I am feeling a bit stressed out, I will meditate. I will take some time for myself and sit quietly, close my eyes, and focus on my breath. Even only doing five minutes of meditation gives me a huge boost in energy and positivity.
Prolonged meditation yields many positive effects such as reduced stress, enhanced self-awareness, improved sleep, and more.
To get started with meditation, I recommend simply sitting down and focusing on your breath. Counting the number of inhales and exhales you do helps me to stop thinking about other distractions. I usually count to around 100-200 breaths in one session.
If this bores you, you can always consider getting an app like the Calm or Headspace. I usually meditate without any recordings because I find them distracting.
3. Find hobbies that bring you happiness
I have so many hobbies! I am multi-passionate and I get bored easily. At any given time, I’m usually learning 3-5 new skills!
All of these hobbies bring me joy because I love doing them. I love that there’s always room for improvement and that with each day, I notice myself improving ever so slightly. This small progress keeps me motivated and helps me lift my mood!
Here’s a list of a ton of frugal hobby ideas for you to try. They’re relatively inexpensive and great fun!
4. Talk to someone
Talking about your depression and bonding with another human being helps so much! I am lucky that I have close friends who can relate and understand what I’m going through.
I also speak to my boyfriend quite regularly about this and he is sympathetic to my situation. He himself is not depressed and he is living very close to his family and childhood friends. Our situations are extremely unique and it’s nice to be able to talk about my mental issues without fear of judgement.
I admit that initially, I had a hard time voicing my feelings. I had gone through a few months of therapy before I really made any progress. If you prefer to stay anonymous, consider an anonymous chat room or hotline. They’re free and everyone is there just to help you out!
I also recently discovered the 7 Cups app (it’s free) and it allows you to chat individually or in a group chat about your problems. There’s also a paid option if you want to talk to a trained therapist! I highly recommend this app!
5. Do a random act of kindness for others / volunteer
Similar to practicing gratitude, giving back helps you to appreciate what you have and to feel good about yourself. I love volunteering because it shifts my mindset and helps me to appreciate what I have.
Volunteering helps me to shift my focus on the negativities in my life to the positivities in helping others. I feel so fortunate to be healthy and wealthy enough to be able to help others out. I get to see others who are in less fortunate situations than I am in and who are still content with their lives.
6. Express your love and appreciation
Telling someone you love and appreciate them will bring them joy which will in turn help you feel more joyful as well. When I am feeling down, I tell my close friends and family how much they mean to me. It feels strange but after you let it all out, you do feel a whole lot better.
I do a lot of reading and right now, I’m mostly reading self-help / personal development books. Here’s a list of books that I particularly love.
This is my favourite book and you should read it if you want to think big and not small: The Magic of Thinking Big by Dr. David Schwartz
Journalling is big. I always write my thoughts down and it helps me to process what I’m going through. Journalling helps me to understand why I’m feeling a certain way.
I love doodling and I love writing. This blog also serves as my online journal, although I don’t reveal all the intimate details online.
I’d definitely recommend that you start journalling. I use Moleskine journals, they’re my favourite.
You should also consider starting a blog as a side project. It’s super fun and a great way to document how you’re feeling while helping others!
9. Disconnect from social media
As much as I love knowing what my friends are doing, I find social media to be toxic sometimes. I’m constantly playing the game of comparing myself to others and wondering why I’m not good enough. Also, I tend to get caught up on follower count and likes, which doesn’t really mean anything if you really think about it.
I’ve started limiting my time on social media. I removed everyone from my Facebook feed so that I only see news from companies that I’m following. I am hardly on Instagram or any other platform besides to make a post once in a while. I am not actively stalking other people’s social media profiles because it brings me down.
On the other hand, keep in mind that social media can also be uplifting. I love following accounts about people and their journeys to a better life. I love following accounts related to yoga, ballet, and travel!
It’s fine to use social media but just use it with caution! As long as you’re not comparing yourself to others and feeling bad about yourself, then social media can be a good tool.
10. Reassess your goals and be easier on yourself
I tend to be extremely hard on myself and my goals. I love goal-setting and I intentionally set relatively difficult goals to motivate myself. However, I sometimes burn myself out.
I have a huge goal of making a full-time income from my blog and sometimes I get disappointed that I haven’t done anything to work towards my goal. Then I just open up my email and write an email to my list, or post a picture to my Instagram and I feel a whole lot better for at least “showing up” and taking a small step, albeit a small one.
It’s okay to take some time off from working towards your goals. It’s okay to take a break. It’s also okay to revise your goals and make easier more attainable ones.
Be gentle and kind to yourself <3
11. Make plans / book your next vacation
Make plans! Studies show that you feel happier when you have something to look forward to!
I’m already planning my next trip so I can get myself out of this rut!
12. Go out in nature / take a walk
I try to plan to do some sort of outdoor activity during the hours of sunlight. If I’m super lazy, I will at least make the effort of leaving the house to buy groceries. Even the five minute walk is enough to change my mindset and lift my mood, ever so slightly.
If you’re lucky and surrounded by nature, you should definitely make it a habit to surround yourself more with nature. I find that it calms me. I live near a lake with mountain views and I’m going there often to boost my mood. Also, if you live near a park, beach, or forest that is great too!
13. Get more (sun)light
Obviously this might be difficult if you have a job and can’t get outside during the day. You can however try to take a walk during your lunch hour for instance just to get some sunlight.
I actually decided to a buy a new lamp for my room. I found the lighting in my room was horrible and it was really causing me to get depressed if I spent too much time indoors. I get a super bright lightbulb from IKEA and it’s helped me to feel less sleepy while I’m at home! I also feel more awake whenever the light is on!
I’ve never tried it myself, but I’ve read good things about light therapy lamps. You can buy super bright lights that mimic sunlight and use it as therapy. I’ve never tried it myself, but I’m hoping to try it soon!
14. Take vitamins
Sunlight gives you vitamin D. If you’re lacking sunlight in the winter months, then consider taking vitamin D supplements. It’s recommended to get at least 1,000 and 2,000 IU daily which is equivalent to about 20 to 30 minutes of sun exposure (without sunscreen) three times a week if you have fair skin. If you’re getting any less than that, vitamin D supplements might help you make up for the lack of natural vitamin D in your body!
Lastly, I recommend exercising! Exercising releases endorphins which help you to feel good! Also, if you play sports in a team, it could help lift your mood by being surrounded by teammates. You can also make new friends that way!
My first winter alone as an expat was one of the toughest periods of my life. I am glad that I used the majority of the tips I talked about in this post. For me, the most effective strategies were reading self-help/personal development books, talking to friends, and occupying my time with cool new hobbies.
I wish you the best of luck and if you can’t find someone to talk to, you can always talk to me :)!!
You may also like
- List of Positive Affirmations To Say Everyday
- Expat living: Four expat challenges and how to overcome them
- 6 Things I Miss About Home After Living Abroad As An Expat
- How Much I Spent In One Year Living In Switzerland
- How To Spend Christmas Alone If You Live Abroad
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