Everything goes well until Christmas abruptly ends. When the strings of sparkling lights are removed and the Christmas cookies vanish, what is one to do? You attempt to leave your cozy bed but find only wind burn and low-grade frostbite. So, if you are anything like me, you return to your bed and retreat within the contents of your phone, scrolling through pictures of the happy people who live in California and Florida. You cannot remember the last time you saw sunshine. And, it seems, there is only so much happiness a hot steaming cup of coffee, sipped while the humidifier runs, can elicit in your life.
The winter blues. Seasonal sadness. Cabin fever. Or most academically correct, seasonal affective disorder (SAD)—a mood disorder in which people who have normal mental health throughout the year experience depressive symptoms during isolated seasons. It’s well known that the long and cold winter months do not treat us well—or rather, we do not regard them in the best lighting—and it’s fairly common for people to suffer from a multitude of mental health conditions during this time of year. Such conditions fluctuate from mood swings to consistent sadness to depression.
Signs and symptoms of seasonal affective disorder may include:
· Feeling depressed nearly every day
· Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
· Having low energy, all the time, every day
· Oversleeping or having trouble sleeping
· Changes in appetite or weight
· Brain fog
The U.S. National Library of Medicine notes that "some people experience a serious mood change when the seasons change. They may sleep too much, have little energy, and may also feel depressed. Though symptoms can be severe, they usually clear up." Although experts were initially skeptical, this condition is now recognized as a common disorder, with its prevalence in the U.S. ranging from 1.4% in Florida to 9.7% in New Hampshire.
While a typical case of the winter blues is usually not severe, it is nonetheless very important that you remember to take care of yourself and maintain the wellness of both your mind and body. We can accomplish this through many outlets of self-care. The University of Cincinnati’s Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS) is a professional counseling office that provides therapy, outreach programs, and even meditation rooms for UC students who find themselves struggling with mood swings, sadness, and depressive disorders. The doors of CAPS are always open, and not only to students in crisis, but students who simply need someone to talk to.
While we’re at it, let’s not forget that resources such as books can significantly lessen the struggle of the winter blues. Reading is my favorite form of self-care—always uplifting, always soothing, never boring, usually followed by the unmistakable sensation of pure accomplishment. A divine act of both learning and self-improvement. Here are my top picks for this somber season:
Shannon Kaiser explores the little (and big) things we can do for ourselves to enrich our mindsets and create our best lives, giving us the “fifteen principles for becoming more kind, compassionate, and accepting of yourself.”
This book by Cheryl Strayed, the woman who inspired the movie WILD, is half memoir, half letters of advice, and transcends the meaning of “self-care.” I buy it every time I see it on the shelf and give it to a friend, because it’s that good.
In 1993, Norwegian explorer Erling Kagge spent fifty days walking solo across Antarctica, becoming the first person to reach the South Pole alone, accompanied only by a radio whose batteries he had removed before setting out. This book teaches us that silence—the silence around us and within us—should be welcomed, not resisted. Settle lovingly into your aloneness; the lack of distraction is good for you.
A short story collection detailing the lives of unsteady and shaky characters, the latest from Ottessa Moshfegh masterfully crafts heartbreaking tales about people’s interior crises. You will leave this book with new perspective and the feeling of “oh, so my life isn’t so bad, then.”
Above all else, remember that it is normal to feel down during the winter months. Give yourself the help and care you deserve. And if your symptoms worsen, please see a doctor.
Written by Danniah Daher, graduate assistant to the graduate school office.