Out of the four seasons I experience where I live, it’s safe to say that winter is my least favorite of all. That’s not to say I dislike it – on the contrary, I enjoy most aspects of what winter brings. I have fond memories of holiday seasons, being a homebody during the cold nights and enjoying a little snow every now and then. But some of the things that make winter an enjoyable time are the same things that make it extremely difficult to manage my anxiety and depression. And while the other three seasons offer brief respites at the very least, winter often feels like a never-ending set of blistery days and frigid nights. It’s a challenge, but every winter I learn something new about how my mental illness functions – and today I’d like to share what I’ve learned this winter.
Before I continue, I should say this won’t be a post about seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD is brought on from seasonal changes and shifts in the weather, which isn’t where I’m going with this (but you can learn more about SAD here). My challenges remain the same as always; the fun of winter is that it creates new situations to trigger my depression and anxiety that I rarely deal with outside of this season, which make them feel like they’re new obstacles. But I’m hoping that after this winter, my attitude might change for the better.
The winter season teaches me something new every year. Two years ago, I learned that I need to mentally prep for winter – actually taking time to acknowledge that my mood would be different went a long way toward managing those feelings. Depression will still come and go, but being surprised by these feelings is one more obstacle that gets in the way of managing my symptoms. Last year, I learned how important physical exercise is to my mental wellness routine, regardless of exercise. Whether it was a five-mile run or a ten minute stretch, physical activity always improves my mental wellness. While it won’t rid me of my symptoms, temporary relief is very helpful in the long run.
Now, to this year. I’ve always been under the impression that the winter creates obstacles to good mental health. Short days, cold weather, less social activity – these are all common reasons for why people feel off during the winter. I assumed that’s why I was struggling too, but this year found another possible explanation. What if the mental health challenges during winter are actually the same ones I have year-round?
The biggest challenge that winter creates for me, and I think many people, is that I feel isolated. But in focusing so much on the details, I never stopped to notice that the obstacle is the same one I face year-round. Feelings of isolation is a constant battle for people who live with mental illness. It doesn’t matter if its ice and snow or a sunny day; if I feel isolated, that only creates one feeling inside. I thought winter created new obstacles. In reality, they’re the same obstacles I always have, they just look different in winter.
Armed with this insight, I hope that as winter continues I can treat my challenges the same way I always do. They aren’t unique, they aren’t special and it’s possible to overcome the obstacles they create. Now if I can find a way to stay warm all the time, maybe I can actually enjoy the winter months. I can dream, can’t I?