The NHS estimate that seasonal affective disorder (SAD) affects around one in 15 people in the UK between the months of September and April. However, many more people experience associated symptoms in less severity, which include low moods, difficulty sleeping, lethargy and anxiety. This is what we tend to call the ‘winter blues’. Whether it’s miserable weather, lack of light or simply the cold of winter that’s getting you down, there are plenty of mechanisms you can use to stay mentally and spiritually well throughout the winter season. We’ve teamed up with some leading experts to come up with the complete guide to staying healthy and positive during winter.
Set some realistic goals
The winter can be a de-motivating time of year, when it is much easier to get home and curl up in your pyjamas than to keep busy. Becoming lethargic and inactive can lead to a lack of personal fulfilment and the feeling that life is passing you by. This is why setting yourself personal goals is so important. But be gentle with yourself – set realistic tasks. As Geoff Woods from the spirituality website The ONE Thing points out, “a lot of times, people make a list and then they just start taking action based on whatever task is easiest.” He says:
“What we recommend is taking that list and applying priority to it. If you could do one thing, what would be the one thing you could do, such that by doing it would make staying spiritually and emotionally well during the holiday season easier?”
Whether this is taking up yoga, writing an article or simply going to bed earlier, completing a challenge will give you a real sense of achievement to carry you through the winter. Geoff also comments:
“Oftentimes people say that they want to stay emotionally well. But what’s the why behind it? What’s the long-term pay-off for you? Holding that pay-off in your mind to drive you through your every day will help you.”
Work through your feelings
Jim Tolles from Spiritual Awakening Process says that although the winter blues can be a difficult experience, it also provides us with “an opportunity to investigate the feelings that make us feel poorly.” He recommends many kinds of spiritual tools such as meditation, breath work, and journaling, saying: “it’s nothing magical, but it takes self-discipline and a willingness to sit with pain at times. Letting go of painful issues and illusions can lessen the blow of any winter blues you might feel and improve your general experience of life for the rest of the year.”
He continues, “Any time or season when an unhappy feeling comes up, go towards the feeling. Embrace it. Sit with it. When you resolve issues that emerge during the winter months, you can turn an annual low point into a season of transformation.”
You may find that you need guidance with processing your feelings and understanding why you are experiencing the winter blues. If this is the case, a psychic reading or spiritual consultation is a brilliant way to gain insight and support from an expert who can take you through the various stages of coming to terms with – and ultimately overcoming – your winter low.
Once you understand the causes of your seasonal low, you can begin implementing spiritual practices to improve your mood throughout the winter. Geoff Woods explains that the technique he chose to use when he felt the need for spiritual development was meditation. “I knew the one thing I could do was to start meditating and make that a habit,” he says. However, he explains, “the mistake most people make when they want to start any habit including meditating is they bite off more than they can chew. They’ll say ‘I want to start meditating for ten minutes a day’ when they have no track record, no history of ever being able to meditate for ten minutes a day consistently.”
Mediation is one of the first things people decide to do if they want to experience spiritual growth, but meditating successfully is more difficult than it might seem. Geoff describes how he began by aiming to meditate for just a minute per day, saying: “I set the bar for success at a minute, that way I started to build momentum, because most people fail because they set the bar too high, and when they come in under it they feel like a failure.”
Take it slowly with meditation, ensuring that you are truly centring yourself and clearing your mind of the feelings that may be contributing to your seasonal low. Quality is much more important than quantity here: just a minute of focused mediation will be more spiritually healing than ten semi-concentrated minutes. Remember to know your limits and build on them gradually, as Geoff reiterates, “the key is can do. It’s not want to do, think you should do or must do, it’s what you actually can do.”
Although it’s important not to allow yourself to get in a rut during the winter, the cold, dark evenings can provide the perfect time to recuperate. As Bodhipaksa from Wildmind says: “When the temperatures plummet and the days become shorter, we have a perfect opportunity, as we retreat indoors, to connect more deeply with ourselves and with others. Some winters I’ve gone on meditation retreats for a week or two — sometimes in solitude, and other times in the company of others — meditating deeply and experiencing stillness. Other years I’ve stayed at home, spending more time on reading, reflecting, and spending time with family and friends.”
There is great value to be found in occasionally taking it easy during the winter after the busy social calendar of the summer and before the Christmas rush. Whether you do this through reading, relaxing or enjoying a cup of coffee with friends, stillness will reinvigorate you if taken in moderation. As Bodhipaksa suggests, “This is recreation in the purest sense, where we “re-create” ourselves and our lives. Winter for me is a time to spiritually regenerate, and for nursing and nurturing the flames of my core values. As Camus wrote, “In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.”
With more time spent indoors during the winter, we are left with plenty of scope for trying out new things. As Katie Dalebout, author of Let it Out: A Journey through journaling comments, “the winter is a great time to hunker down and create. I love that about the winter, I don’t have to feel bad about spending more time inside writing and reading with a cup of tea.” Be it drawing, painting, redecorating, writing, knitting or any other hobby you enjoy, make the most of winter to learn new skills and enjoy being creative. The act of creating something of your own can be incredibly motivational and bring a big boost to your mood.
Connect with Mother Nature
Although there are benefits to be found by staying in and stimulating your imagination during winter, it is important to get outside, too. A lack of connection with nature can make us feel claustrophobic, lethargic and uninspired. So even if the weather isn’t fantastic, make sure to get outdoors. Bodhipaksa says, “In Winter, the outdoor world has a more serene and reflective quality to it. There’s a Zen-like simplicity to nature in the winter months. There’s less detail to distract us, and of course fewer people, and I find I spend more time on beaches in the winter than I do in the summer. This spiritual benefit of communing with the stillness of nature is beautifully summed up in Wallace Steven’s great poem “The Snow Man,” where he writes of the one,
‘…who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is…’”