Using Light to Fight Off Winter Blues

 

Practical tips to help you overcome winter blues.

When I was a child, New Year’s Eve was one of the bluest days of the winter. I remember feeling sad that a year was ending, because I hate goodbyes. Cold weather is my nemesis, and I knew the worst of it lay ahead (with no Christmas celebrations to offset the blahs). My mom worked in a tax office, so my sister and I would be alone much more often beginning January 1. All those reasons had logical explanations—but I didn’t know there is a name for what I was experiencing until I was in my 30’s.

I have seasonal affective disorder (SAD). It’s a form of depression that afflicts around 10 million Americans every year, especially in the winter months. The long, dark nights combined with shorter light periods often trigger depression-like symptoms.

I have endured several seasons of depression in the past, and mental illness runs on both sides of my family. I am genetically predisposed to have this problem, year after year.

But I have found ways to fight off these heavy winter blues that strike each November and last through March.

In a series of four posts, I’ll describe the tried-and-true ways I’ve learned to handle SAD, without the use of any medication. I’ll also include faith-based encouragement for each suggestion.

An important note: If you have been experiencing depression symptoms every day for two weeks, please see a doctor right away. These tips are meant to help those of us with mild to moderate cases of winter blues and SAD, not clinical depression. It’s important that you receive the professional help you need (like I did in the past).

Practical tips to help you overcome winter blues.

Part 1: Light Therapy

As I write, today’s high is a balmy 15 degrees Fahrenheit. I am happy to be sitting here at the computer, with my favorite sweater and a fuzzy blanket keeping me warm. But after lunch, I bundled up in my full-length wool coat, walked 100 yards to the top of the driveway, and checked the mailbox. Why? Because a few minutes of sunlight exposure is one of the best ways to fight off winter blues.

This time of year, sunny days aren’t common. Those pesky low-lying clouds drag my mood downward. It’s like a switch flips to “off” inside me if clouds block the sun too long. So, I watch the forecast for peeks of sun, and take short walks through my bare woods during the day to absorb its goodness.

I don’t even bother to put on sunscreen. I turn my face to the bright afternoon sun and soak it in for just a few minutes. The light is better than any vitamin I can take—though I take those too.

Experts recommend light therapy to treat SAD. You can invest in a light box, or you can try sitting by windows as much as possible during daylight hours.

Soak In The Light

The home I grew up in had few windows. The light on winter mornings and afternoons was grey and dull, and I remember standing by the windows as a child, desperately searching the sky for peeks of sun. I told myself I would have bigger, more numerous windows in my own home.

When my builder husband designed our home, I insisted on lots and lots of windows. Fortunately, he secured great deals on our gorgeous Andersen windows. Even with a discount, the windows comprised nearly 15 percent of our overall budget. I didn’t care. I knew I needed the light to fight off winter blues, and it’s a decision I have never regretted.

We have a wall with floor-to-ceiling windows in our living room. Today I stood by the window wall, soaking in the light. It powers me through those grey, cloudy days.

What if you don’t have lots of windows? I have a unique solution. I’ll share it with you, if you promise not to laugh.

I keep my Christmas tree up until March.

In early January, I strip off the red and gold Christmas decorations and replace them with white and silver snowmen and snowflakes. The tree doesn’t “scream” Christmas that way.

Evenings are the hardest for me.  My winter blues punch me in the gut as soon as the sun sets, way too early for my liking. The white lights of my snowman tree truly cheer me until the days get a little longer. And hey, we don’t really invite anyone over until spring arrives, so it doesn’t matter. My family has adjusted because they know I need it. It’s a cheap, easy, medication-free way to receive more light therapy.

Practical tips to help you overcome winter blues.

While I’m soaking in the light at my windows, I thank God for sending Jesus to be the Light of the World. I praise him that someday, we will have no need for artificial light sources, or even the sun itself, because the light of God’s presence will illuminate us all.

One of my favorite songs is perfect for my meditation time in front of my window wall (or my snowman tree). It speaks of God’s light and my deep, constant need for it.

Friend, if you’re struggling with the winter blues, I hope this post has helped you. I’d love to hear from you in the comment section below. Join me next Thursday for another post in the series for more ways to fight off winter blues. I’ll leave you with a prayer today:

Lord in Heaven, I am more fragile than I wish to admit. I am so dependent on you for every aspect of life. When I feel blue this winter, help me to remember that you care about everything that matters to me. I trust that you are protecting me and watching over me every minute. I know that you love me and want me to depend on your strength in my weaknesses. Help me seek your light so I can heal inside. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Questions for you:

Do you deal with winter blues or know someone who does?

Have you tried light as therapy? If so, how did it help you?

Jesus is the Light of the World. How does this fact inspire you?

If you liked this post, I would appreciate your shares on social media!

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  • StephenLizzy Ainsworth

    That’s so interesting, we certainly don’t have that issue in sunny QLD Australia where I live, even in winter. I love windows but the house we are renting at the moment is very dark inside unfortunately. If we are ever able to build windows are definitely part of the equasion!

    • Sarah Geringer

      Hi Lizzy…good to hear from you! Hope you can get out and enjoy the sunshine down under today. I’m grateful that it’s sunny–but cold–here in the Midwest USA. Blessings to you!

  • Melissa Gendreau

    Sarah these are great tips! I recommend light therapy to all of my clients with SAD. I love the Christmas tree idea. I have also recommended people change screen savers to sunny Summer scenes and/or add pictures/posters to their home of the same type of images. Sometimes seeing and imagining you are in the images can trick your brain into believing you are truly there.

    • Sarah Geringer

      Your comment means a lot to me, Melissa, since you are a counselor. I will be changing my screen saver today based on your excellent tip. Thank you so much!

  • Beautiful, vulnerable post, Sarah! Love it! A few years ago, my daughter decided we both had this disorder or something similar. We thrive in summer months when the daylight is long and the temperatures balmy. I’m just not a winter girl. 🙂 All your tips are awesome and I’m thankful for your authentic writing. Blessings and hugs on this cold day. Here in my neck of the woods it’s currently 7 degrees.

    • Sarah Geringer

      Happy Friday to you, Karen! Your kind words are like a warm hug today! Sending one to you too…it’s 18 and sunny here today, but I’m looking forward to the upper 40s next week!

  • One of the requirements for any place we live is enough windows to make the home light. I open all the window coverings the minute I get up. Since I’ve never lived where it is dark and gloomy for an entire season, I don’t know struggle with these issues, but I probably would.

    • Sarah Geringer

      Hi Debbie! That’s a great tip. Since I live in the woods, the only window coverings are in the bedrooms to block out light so we can sleep. I love the views all day long. Still, I open the blinds ASAP in the morning to get as much light as I can! Blessings to you, friend.

  • Liz

    HA! I love it… I would keep my tree up year round, but my hubby would think I’d lost my mind! Love the way the lights look on it! Blessings!

    • Sarah Geringer

      My husband isn’t WILD about the tree staying up, but as long as I do all the work to put it up and take it down, he doesn’t complain much. OK by me!

  • Lureta Ector

    Thank you for sharing this powerful post Sarah…I know someone who really needs to read this and I have passed it on. Blessings.

    • Sarah Geringer

      Thanks Lureta! I hope it blesses and encourages the friend you know. Blessings to you!

  • Esther Dorotik

    My daughter would have the tree up all year, making it a Valentines, summer, and every other holiday tree. Thank you for transparency on mental illness. This is a touchy subject that many shy away from it. As someone who is highly affected by family members with mental illness, I greatly appreciate your boldness! Blessing, Sarah, and enjoy that tree through March!!

    • Sarah Geringer

      Hi Esther. Thank you for your kind comments. My trees are on today in this foggy, grey weather and are certainly boosting my mood. I plan to keep writing about mental illness for several weeks, and I hope my posts encourage those who understand the struggles. Praying God’s blessings on you today, friend.

  • This is such a common problem for a lot of my friends and their relatives, Sarah. So I’m glad you are giving some practical insights about what has worked to help you in this regard. I like windows and lights too. I have one window that I hung another salvaged window that I strung with antique looking lights around the perimeter and turn it on every evening. It just gives me that little boost that my Christmas tree (now down) gave me during the holidays. Thanks for these ideas and I’ll be pinning your post to Pinterest!

    • Sarah Geringer

      Thanks for sharing this, Beth. Oh, I love your idea of the antique window and a string of lights. Lots less work and space than a Christmas tree, and also very lovely. More practical (hint: yummy) ideas will be shared this Thursday!

  • I deal with depression, and have throughout my life, and I know it gets worse during the winter months. I work all day in a building so hardly see the light of day. Great suggestions and I look forward to reading more.

    • Sarah Geringer

      I have had a few jobs where I worked with no windows, and that was a recipe for disaster, for me. I know you struggle with depression, and I hope this series offers you some encouragement, friend!

  • Bettie G

    Thanks for these great tips, Sarah. I really don’t like the dark days of winter either, so I was so happy when we moved into our home that has such a bright south-west facing living & kitchen area. That sun really does make a difference–just as the Son makes such a difference in our hearts too. I pinned this series today; looking forward to more!

    • Sarah Geringer

      Thanks so much for pinning, Bettie! I hope you like my new post on eating right. Blessings to you!

  • Susan

    Sarah, I can go just so long without sunshine…last week was hard on me during our recent Arctic Bomb. Your posts are always so well done and informative. xo Thanks for being such an encouragement.

    • Sarah Geringer

      I can only imagine that crazy 18 inches of snow in New England!!! Ice is headed our way tonight. Even though I’ve been a Missourian for 40 years, I just can’t get used to the ice. Blah. But the sun is supposed to come out tomorrow. I haven’t seen it since Saturday or Sunday, and I’m READY!

  • jennifer smith

    This sounds much like me……winter blues? Seasonal depression? Not sure…but using light(s) to help seems easy and definitely something to try. I love the light! Maybe I actually “need” it more than I realize.

    • Sarah Geringer

      Hi Jennifer! It’s been grey and cloudy here for five days in a row, and it’s really taking a toll. I plan to stand in front of my lit tree today and take in the beauty. The sun is supposed to shine tomorrow, and I’m waiting on pins and needles for it!

  • I am not diagnosed because I have had trouble getting insurance, Sarah but I so feel ya. And I am glad you write about this, because God is using people such as yourself to rehearse truths in my heart that I am not alone (Kari Jobe song!!) and God is with us through it all. I love that you leave your tree up. We leave ours up well into Jan too but I may copy cat you lol…

    • Sarah Geringer

      I don’t mind at all if you are my copy cat 🙂 We have Medishare, which isn’t insurance per se, but I try to use it only for stuff I can’t treat at home (like strep throat). That’s why I look for at-home remedies which really work. No, you are not alone, dear friend! I’m glad we are here to support one another.

  • Amy Benham

    This is amazing! I never really knew that there was a name for what I felt! I have battled with depression for years the winter is the worst!! I crave the sunshine, but being in GA and from FL I am not a huge fan of the cold. Who are we kidding, I hate the cold!

    As I read your post I remembered a time as a child were I just stood in front of my bedroom window just soaking up the sun and singing. Joy and peace flowed. I feel the same even now if I can get in a few minutes in the sun. We live in a camper right now so the window with sun are hard to find.

    I can feel this year being more of a struggle. But God is so good and faithful! He brings me sun when there was none forecasted. It is going to be a hard winter, but soon spring with come. I can already tell that the sun is starting to creep back high in the sky.

    Thank you so much for posting this! 🙂

    Hopping over from #SundayThoughts

    Praying for you!

    Blessings,

    Amy @ The Quiet Homemaker

    • Sarah Geringer

      Hi Amy! I’m glad my post encouraged you. I am so glad the sun is supposed to shine today after several grey days in a row. I will stand in front of the window and sing like you did as a child! Blessings to you today.

      • Amy Benham

        To you as well! 🙂

  • I hadn’t heard of SAD before, but I know that natural (and sometimes artificial) light will lift anyone’s mood. It’s wisdom to add natural remedies to our standing on Scripture for the abundant life He brings. Have a great weekend! 🙂

    • Sarah Geringer

      Hi Kelly! I’m so glad the sun came out today after almost a week! It made a big difference in my mood today. Blessings on your weekend too!

  • I’ve looked into lightboxes-so confusing and haven’t tried it yet! But love the idea of getting out more. I just started doing this and it’s great to hear I’m not alone! Bundling up and soaking in as much sun as I can is something that has helped me this past week too! I’ll have to try sitting by windows more-always thought I’d need to be outside for the sun to be effective! Thanks for sharing your heart and these insights <3

    • Sarah Geringer

      I am feeling blessed today because it’s sunny and in the 50s. Last week it was grey and in the teens for highs. Soaking up the sun today is really helping my mood!