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).
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.
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?
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