We Should Talk About The Winter Blues

I don’t think I’ve ever shared it because I’m still learning to understand it and figure out the best way to cope with it, but beginning last year, I experienced my first true bout of seasonal depression.

For the remainder of this post, I want to refer to that as the “winter blues”, and this isn’t to diminish the seriousness behind depression and other mental health issues; I just want to open this up for everyone. Everyone experiences a bit of the “winter blues” sometimes, and I want us all to be in this in solidarity.

An entry I put in my journal the other day to describe the way I feel on a “winter blues” kind of day.

there are still some days where the sadness-the stillness creeps in – usually prompted by a feeling of inadequacy. on these days, no matter how bright the sun shines, the shades will be drawn for me, but these days are ok. i need them. they are like fuel for my body that has been pushed to every emotional extreme and brought back home again. it’s where we level the playing field between who i am and who i think i may be. so take me for a drive and roll the windows down, so i can see the world that still beats for me, the air that still blows through the trees – painted my favorite green at the golden hour. show me the people that walk by un-introduced to both my elation and suffering – they made it to today and i did, too. let me see life, but don’t make me go just yet. just a few more minutes of the quiet to stir the embers of my soul.”

I believe the winter blues can affect everyone…it may just do so in different ways. Someone who messaged me on Instagram explained it for her as “feeling down throughout the winter months year after year”. She said that where she lives, it gets dark very early and is generally kind of grey, and she and some of her friends find it hard to stay motivated in daily activities.

I totally resonated with this. 

Last year, around this time, I was in my little apartment all by myself, and I think that my surroundings (and spending so much time alone) contributed to my blues. It was an old apartment, and I didn’t get a lot of light in the main area of the place (living room and kitchen) because there was a large tree outside the window. Also, it was a big apartment for just little ole me, so I didn’t really fill it up. There was a small, dark purple lazy boy on one wall of my apartment and no coffee table and no light source in the living room except a small strand of string lights from Target.

(Not complaining…haha – the space was great for me and I was lucky to have it! But it wasn’t exactly cheery, open, or light.) 

I just remember a couple days where I got on the couch after coming home from classes….and I couldn’t get up. I had a weird, sad cloud that pressed down on my chest, and I sometimes couldn’t even turn on Netflix. I was just lying there, willing myself to get up and make dinner or trying to talk myself into going for a walk.

Some days, I would rally. I’d call up my friend and we’d go for a drive or I’d try to do something productive but relatively relaxed like clean my bathroom. But many, many days, I stayed where I was until it was dark, ate a can of green beans for dinner, and just went to bed early in order to get to the next day quicker.

It sounds dark, and sad, and maybe it was, but one thing I had to tell myself: it was temporary. 

A mantra I often told myself last year while experiencing high times of anxiety and depression was: “this, too.” It was short for “this too shall pass.” I’d scribble it on my notebooks at school, on scratch paper while doing crosswords on an airplane, and just repeat it to myself on difficult nights while I tossed and turned.

I think when I normally am reading a blog post like this and I reach this point, I wonder: “Well, when did it get better? When is the it-got-better part?!”

Don’t worry, friend. It did in fact get better. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, healing comes in waves. 

So a year later, I still have the winter blues. Some days the clouds of sadness are little wisps like on a relatively clear day, and other days they are dark, ominous storm clouds. And I would say that I feel this way year-round, personally, but there are definitely more “cloudy” days in the winter months due to lack of sunshine, the bustle of the holiday season, lots of forced extrovert time for an introvert (parties, family gatherings, etc.), and just that exhaustion that comes after a busy semester.

This year, I can confidently say that I’ve done better. I have to thank God for the season of life he has me in right now. I live at home with my parents, and usually at least one sister and/or cousin are with us, too. Cameron and I are no longer in a long-distance relationship, so even though he lives about 40 minutes away, he is very selfless to drive to see me 2-3 days a week. I usually spend a whole 24-hours at his place over the weekend.

But alas, there are still the days like the one I illustrated in my journal entry. I wake up with an irritation I can’t climb out of because the dark clouds are just already there, and I just have to spend the day walking under them, their constant deluge making it difficult to go through life’s daily activities. Breakfast is harder to make, productivity is low, and if it’s a day I have a million tasks to do – I have this constant panic in me. I want to turn around on the way to school. I want to get up and leave in the middle of class. I don’t want to go to that meeting or that appointment.

It totally happens and it’s totally ok.

I want to share a few things that have helped me:

I wake up gently. I’ve realized that the most anxiety-producing thing for me is to force myself to get up much before the sunrise, force myself into a workout, etc. I’ve started setting my alarm for a half an hour later, which turns out to be the perfect amount of time for a cup of coffee, some journaling, and a good breakfast before work. Find whatever is the comfiest way for you to wake up. Maybe set the coffee out, so you can brew immediately. Maybe have your favorite candle and a lighter by your bed, so you can instantly have some warmth and light. Maybe start doing a 5-min “wake up” yoga practice. Find what is going to be best for you.

I keep my schedule as open as possible. Not only do I know that during the winter months, I’ll need more time to accomplish various tasks, but I also want to make more room for fun. On a day where I feel crummy, I may decide to squeeze in a manicure or go grab a coffee and wander around the local bookstore. If I’ve jam-packed my schedule to the last inch, I won’t be able to seize these opportunities. So, I’ll probably be that person who answers “I’ll have to let you know in a couple days!” to social invites, but it turns out to be for the better. I need some open space for me to have some self-care.

Speaking of self-care, I really amp this up during this time of year. A morning and evening routine filled with comfiness and pampering are essential. I already shared a bit about my mornings, but in the evenings, I literally go to my room right after dinner. I light candles, get in comfy clothes/pj’s, and read, paint, or watch a favorite movie. I have almost two whole hours upstairs chilling in my room before I actually go to sleep, and I find I really love and cherish this time to uplift me. I am a homebody, introvert, and comfort-lover, so this works really well for my mood.

I create my own sunshine. This looks different each day: I may take a long bath, make a special recipe I love, visit my favorite library, decide to give myself a “half day” and stop studying around 1 or 2 in order to prioritize self-care or fun, I may wear my favorite dress just for the hell of it, I may have a movie marathon of my favorite films one night, I may buy myself a treat at Whole Foods, I may spend an hour on the phone with my best friend….the list goes on and on. Maybe write this reminder somewhere and never forget to “make your own sunshine”.

There are a few things I do each and every day to bring in some extra light to my day.

I drink plenty of water and eat lots of veggies and healthy fats, so that I stay in good health. Getting sick will only add to my winter blues, so I also am sure to take vitamins. I take Vitamin C, D, B12, and L-Glutamine. (These are what I’ve found I need the most after talking with doctors…you can chat with your doc and see what’s good for you!) The brain food I eat helps me to not be hangry and it’s a good mood booster to me to have a good meal.

I stay off social media for the most part. I only have the Instagram app on my phone. I no longer use Snapchat and I only go on Twitter on my desktop. This is really just a personal preference. I find when I’m sad, my knee jerk is to get on my phone and scroll for hours. I end up feeling more depleted. I can get caught in that comparison trap, so when I see people twirling through the fall leaves with a big ole smile, I can get that pang of guilt that I’m not happy enough or I’m not living a good life. (Totally false!) So I just have the Instagram app because I like talking to ya’ll there, and I still like to post pictures every now and again for my own memories.

I talk to my family/loved ones. I’ve texted Cameron practically every day for the past seven years, and this is definitely a source of happiness for me. Occasionally we chat when he drives home from work. This definitely gives me a boost! Also, calling my grandma always makes me happy because I love how happy she gets when I call her. I also just try to be more engaging with my family. I’ll admit, I’m pretty bad at this. I’m such an introvert and I just love being silent and being with myself, so I can walk around my house all day and not say hi to my family. (Which my dad will call me out on…haha!) So, if I notice one of my family members is home I stop to chat. It’s small and simple, but it makes me feel not alone and reminds me of the lovely things I have to be thankful for – my people! If you don’t live at home, try this with roommates, class mates, sorority sisters, or just your favorite barista.

Workout in the gym rather than outside. Ya’ll know I love running, but during my winter blues, I’m a gym person. In the gym, I can really sweat (because it’s not 40 degrees or less), and I find that gyms are actually bright little entities that can distract you from the outside world. Is it gloomy out? You probably won’t realize that while watching your favorite Netflix show on the elliptical. I’m not advocating that you should work out every single day at the gym for an hour to beat the winter blues, I just know that endorphins can make you happy, so it’s worth incorporating a couple times a week. Distract yourself by trying some new workouts or maybe even meeting up with a workout buddy!

Then, there are a few things that I do on a particularly “cloudy” day.

Drives! Even if it’s cloudy out, drives are good for the soul. I love playing my favorite music (pretty much any Bon Iver album or songs like his) and rolling down the windows. Cam is really good about taking me on drives even before I realize I need one. (And I’m realizing now that I’m sounding like a golden retriever…ha!) But seriously. Try this! On your own or with a friend. Bonus point if you grab a holiday drink.

I cancel. It’s ok! Some days require a sick day. Or a mental health day. All of my friends are so understanding, so I don’t even bother with a fake excuse. If I’m not feeling a coffee date or a show, it’s ok. They know it, and I know it.

I give myself grace. I go to bed early, I eat cereal for dinner, I don’t get to folding my laundry that day, I don’t respond to the three different Group Mes that I have for group projects, I don’t get as much studying done as I hoped, but you know what – LIFE GOES ON. There have been so many days like this for me lately with me having so many frequent headaches that I can honestly tell you the world will not end. I have had days where my whole schedule is thrown off and the next day carries on just as well. So DON’T worry.

Well, this has been a super length post, but I thought it was important.

I feel like there is so much more to say on this subject, so if you have anything to comment or any other questions, please leave me a comment down below and we can continue the conversation there.

Thank you for being such a light in my life just by reading and contributing!

I hope that your winter is filled with light, be it from your Christmas tree or from within yourself! It is there.

X,

Cristina

 

 

  • You are such an amazing writer, Cristina. I have days like this too. I just want to live somewhere where it’s sunny and summery every day! The fact that it’s so cold and gets dark so early is hard for me to deal with a lot of the time. It’s hard for me to be productive once the sun goes down so I always feel like I’m being too lazy and failing at everything in the winter. I can’t wait for it to be spring and summer again. I’m glad you are working through these months and I’m extra glad you’re no longer by yourself and that Cam is just a semi-short car ride away.

    • Cristina Mandujano

      Kayla Rivoli you are the sweetest and such a good encourager! Thanks for always taking the time to read and comment. I need to do that more often on the blogs I love (aka yours) – so thank you. I am definitely a sunny-days lover, too, and the second the sun goes down I just want to crawl into bed, and i think that’s totally ok. I’ve found that trying to schedule more appointments and tasks earlier in the day helps because then by dinner time I am done with my to-do list and don’t feel so bad for binging the Fosters on Netflix, haha! I’m glad you’re with Ryan, too! Boyfriends who can make us smile and feed us when we get crabby are very valuable! 🙂