Tanya Ruckstuhl LICSW
In the gloom of a Seattle January, it’s vital to keep our inner sun ignited. Seasonal Affective Disorder, with its attendant low levels of energy and flattening of enthusiasm, affects many to some degree.
Do you find yourself hitting the snooze button and rolling over? Do you look out the window and scowl?
People in Seattle, we need a whole battalion plan of fun to battle the winter meh’s. What is fun? I’m talking about tiny bits of delight, not the roller coaster of joy. Fun is subjective, subtle and easily attainable.
Visualize Picturing the golden sun in a clear blue sky is uplifting. Imagine a garden in the late spring; recall the delightful riot of blooming peonies and lily-scented hyacinths. Visualization is not just for woo-woos. I know a clinical social worker working with professional athletes in Chicago. He has injured players picture themselves practicing and playing the game while in their hospital beds. Just by visualizing, these players are able to retain muscle tone and skill level. Think of visualization as the opposite of catastrophic thinking. Instead of using your imagination to freak yourself out, visualization is using your imagination to improve your reality. Conscious use of visualization is effective, free and has no unwanted side effects!
Progress The therapeutic value of a feeling of progress cannot be overstated. Sure we are all aging and the mortality rate is a solid hundred percent, but here you are, alive and able, so do something to make your life even a tiny bit better/prettier/healthier/more interesting. Each winter I repaint bits of the ceiling and walls that are marred. This weekend my boyfriend and I spent half a day making a week’s worth of healthy breakfasts and lunches from scratch to save time and money during the work week. Learning anything is a slam dunk for creating a sense of progress. With the internet, learning has never been so abundantly available. As an example, the DuoLingo app offers free daily language lessons that take just five minutes and allow you to choose from all the major world languages. I’m currently working on my Spanish and will learn French next. And you don’t need Wi-Fi to learn: Find someone who knows something you don’t and ask them questions.
Travel Depending on destination and level of luxury, travel costs vary from modest to major. If you can afford it, go to the sun midwinter for a blue sky break. Stay somewhere you can walk outside every day for an hour and get your vitamin D recharged. If that’s too much for your budget, take a weekend getaway with your partner or friends and go somewhere to connect with loved ones and shake up the routine. If you don’t want to commit to a whole weekend, get outside of the city and go east to the mountains for a day of snowshoeing or sledding or skiing. Take in the beauty of snow blanketing the landscape and feel the refreshing chill of high altitude winter air.
Experience Novelty Anything new and different wakes your brain up and makes you feel alive, which happens to be exactly the opposite of how Seasonal Affective Disorder makes you feel. Think of novelty as the umami flavoring that makes life delicious. Again, we’re talking little bits of newness here, not enter the witness protection program and move across the country. Discover a new show on Netflix or Amazon that makes you laugh, cry or think. Throw a party for a truly ridiculous reason (The Winter Olympics watch party! National Pie Day!). Spend an evening listening to a new album, or internet-stalk your favorite musician and listen to their side bands. Make a paper-mache mask. Take a class that you would have loved as a child. I’ve taken classes on hip hop dancing, ceramics building, jewelry-making, mosaics, writing, interior decorating, cooking, and painting. Remember adults take recreational classes for fun, not to create an amazingly impressive product, so dump your perfectionism before you go.
Get Physical Attend to the mammalian needs of your body. The basic three are: sleep, exercise and food. It’s easy to have not enough of the first two and then try to make up for feeling lousy with way too much of the third. Make a plan to get to sleep earlier. Block out time on your schedule to get regular, healthy movement. Do a little prep each weekend by making or buying readymade meals for the work week so you can have food that sustains you without inflating you. Drink more water and less everything else liquid. Have sex. Really! Schedule it if need be. Sexual activity increases both self esteem and dopamine.
Finally, consider this general philosophy: Nibble on as many different sources of self care as you can dream up. Consider emotional nutrition akin to dietary needs for variety and enjoyment.