Tips for Surviving This Time of Year?

For those of us who hate the cold/the festivities/the dark evenings, the clocks going back and the rain (my personal bugbears) I thought it would be nice to have a thread for useful tips to deal with it all, particularly for those who are prone to mental ill-health - whether mild or no.

I’m not terrifically helpful myself, which may be why I sink into a particularly bad (for me) depression this time of year. I’m recovering from a particularly nasty cold and spent the last two days at home with my own mind for company. Bleurgh.

So…good SAD lightboxes which are also affordable? Comforting recipes that are also healthy for body and mind? Excercise that’s season-friendly?

Anti-depressants have totally changed my life. In a good way. This will be my first winter since starting Fluoxetine, so check back with me in a few months and we’ll see how I did.

Exercising at the health club is good, too. Exercise releases endorphins, or something.

Failing that, one thing I’ve done is to utilize aromatheraphy to remind my senses of summer. The sense of smell is very strongly tied to memory (so I’ve heard), and the smell of cut grass, or of a lake, or of the ocean, does wonders.

I’ve found the tanning bed to be pretty effective for mild SAD. I don’t go often, maybe once or twice a month depending on the weather, and I don’t stay in anything like as long as the ladies who run the place recommend because they’ll have me burned to a crisp. I’ve heard people say the heat from tanning beds makes their mild arthritis feel better, too. A single tanning session around here is $4, so it ought to be within just about anybody’s budget to go every couple weeks even if you can’t afford a lightbox for daily therapy.

Being busy and having things to look forward to helps a lot, too. I’m always better in the early winter than in February and March, and I really think it’s because I’m busy planning, doing, and making holiday stuff, plus I have the trip home to anticipate. And the first bit after New Years I’m getting everything put away and planning for my birthday. But after that, it’s just a long, cold, cloudy slog until spring, unless we take a trip or have a party or something. Having a party is by far the more economical option.

I’m on citalopram, and I’m beginning to hate it for not making much difference - yet when I go off it, I feel like a crazy person.

That’s a nice idea. As is a tanning bed, CrazyCatLady! I want a ‘fake bake’, anyway - I bought this lovely dress recently that would look so much better if I weren’t so pale.

I went to Australia a few years ago in November on vacation, specifically to get away from the cold, the dark evenings, the rain, and the clocks going back. It was great. If I could afford it, I’d take a vacation like that every year. Hell, if I could afford it, I’d live there six months out of the year and in the US six months, so I’d never have to experience a day with less than 12 hours of daylight. Oh, and I’d live in a desert in both places (fortunately, they both have them) so I wouldn’t have to deal with the rain. Mr. Neville says he wouldn’t like living in a desert, though :(, and he says the cats wouldn’t like being quarantined :(:frowning: But I can dream, can’t I?

As for the festivities- go to someone else’s house for them, if you can, and don’t stay any longer than you have to. Keep your own house a haven from holiday music and decorations to the degree that you can. Other people who are sick of all the hoopla will want to hang out there by early December.

This may not be the kind of suggestion you’re looking for, but my doctor has recommended supplements of Vitamin D and fish oil (omega 3 FAs). If you’re not already taking these, you might want to talk to your doctor about it.

Exercise is great. It would be helpful to know whether you have space to exercise at home. Do you live somewhere were it’s possible to go outside for walks in the winter, with proper gear? Do you belong to a gym?

I have friends who swear by their lightbox. It’s worth the investment.

Is it still SAD if it’s triggered by the temperature as well as the day length?

I instantly go into a depression when it’s cold and cloudy out. Cold and sunny is okay, cloudy and warm is just another blah day, night doesn’t matter either way because it’s supposed to be dark. But grey and cold and stark… oh, God, I hate it. I mope and lie in bed, and try to pretend I’m not there.

You should mention this to your doc. If yours is like mine (e.g., very liberal with her pen), you should have no problem getting your dosage upped or getting another med to supplement it.

Only your doc can tell you that.

I’ve seen St. John’s Wort (an OTC herbal supplement) advertised as a tonic for SAD. I tried it and was all jittery, so I stopped. Prozac, OTOH…

I found taking a good multivitamin to be helpful, some of the time. Not all of it, admittedly - I crash all through the winter, and Christmas time is particularly bad for me. Which is when everyone expects you to be most happy and cheery. Gah. But when I could make myself remember to take it regularly, it did help even things out a bit and counteract some of the crushing tiredness.

I don’t recommend alcohol (having tried it, repeatedly, in the hopes that it might help. It just makes things worse…) and I’m told that exercise would be helpful. But you’re a better person than I, if you can make yourself leave the house when it’s yucky outside… Something inside, perhaps - some yoga, or swimming in an indoor pool, or something might be helpful? This year, I’m lucky enough to have been able to move to the Mediterranean coast, where the days don’t get as short, and there’s generally more sunshine. I’m slightly less insane as a result, fingers crossed that it will last throughout the winter. Not a solution that’s generally applicable, I realise, but short breaks in the sun if you can get them can be helpful…

Be careful with that if you’re on birth control pills. It can interact with them and make them less effective. An unwanted pregnancy isn’t likely to improve anybody’s mood.

ETA: St John’s wort plus SSRIs like Prozac might not be a good combination, either.

If you’re on any kind of medications, talk to a doctor or pharmacist before you start taking any herbs or supplements. Supplements can interact with medications or have side effects. Better safe than sorry.

Baking something simple is nice for cold gloomy days. It warms up the house and makes it smell good. Muffins are pretty simple, not a ton of utensils to wash up.

If you go walking in or near the woods this time of year, you should probably wear lots of bright colors, preferably Hunter’s Orange, so you won’t be mistaken for a deer and shot.

For the “cold” part, I highly recommend cashmere from head to toe.

Cashmere works for me because it isn’t heavy or itchy, so I don’t get that “bundled up and cranky” semi-claustrophobic feeling I associate with winters from my childhood. Its lovely fuzziness is also a sensory treat, which makes me happy. I was surprised how much of a difference it made in my mood to stay properly warm in winter. This time of year, inside at home, over my regular blouse and pants, I wear a loose cashmere cardigan and wide-leg pants, plus cashmere socks.

I get all mine on eBay, cheap and mostly used, sometimes in need of repairs.

My eBay search for cashmere cardigans (search tuned to exclude scarves, synthetics, etc.)
My eBay search for cashmere pants
Cashmere socks are harder to find cheap; I got 12 pair for $40 last year from “designersdiscountdiva” but they don’t seem to have them anymore. I suggest looking for men’s socks as well as women’s, since you can always shrink them in the wash.

If you can get it cheap enough so you’re not worried about ruining it, cashmere can take a lot more abuse than you might think. It can be machine washed in cold water and even no-heat tumble-dried, especially if you get one size big to start with. With an oversized piece you can even dye it, which is great if bright colors also help your mood, as cheap cashmere is often available in boring colors like off-white or slate blue. I recommend acid dyes from Dharma Trading Co, used on the stovetop, for this. I’ve found it’s a great mood-lifter, very satisfying, to transform an ugly-colored sweater this way, though it is a bit of a project to make sure you don’t “transform” anything else by accident! Lots of newspaper on nearby countertops is key.

If you want REALLY warm, get a cashmere sweater three sizes too big, and run it through warm-water machine wash with a double dose of liquid fabric softener and a hot dryer with a dryer sheet. You get a semi-felted, supersoft, superwarm result – kind of a Cute Overload* boiled wool. Works best with V-neck pullovers (crew-necks can shrink too much around the neck opening, and cardigans get all bunchy around the fastener strip).

If you can’t afford even eBay cashmere, but you do have some itchy wool sweaters around, try soaking them in a bucket of tepid water in which you’ve dissolved a big bottle of cheap hair conditioner (make sure you like its scent, 'cause your sweaters will smell like it for a long time, but it can be the 99¢ stuff). Leave them in for two or three days, then wash well in cold water.

Also: silk scarves around the neck for warmth, pretty colors, and protection from itchy winter clothes. Again with the eBay, or my favorite source of inexpensive but lovely scarves that coordinate well: Thai Silks. ($9.85 each [or maybe apparently even on sale for $7 right now? jeez] for tasteful iridescent silk chiffon in a nice length to loosely wrap around your neck once or twice, or to do that double-over-and-loop-through thing.)

  • Speaking of Cute Overload, I keep a whole list of mood-lifting bookmarks, including it and about half of the Lolcats family of blogs, for especially blue moments. No one needs to know…

Oh, and re “festivities”, I finally learned to carry earplugs with me for protection from CAROLS!CAROLS!CAROLS!OMGCAROLS!!! whenever I go shopping for anything – groceries, hardware, whatever – in November and December.

I feel your pain-I am sure that I suffer from SAD as well. Mine starts around the end of October-the cloudy skies and long nights really knock me down.
My solution is to get outside as much as possible-you have to get some sunshine, even if its cold out.
I also love the lights I put up at Christmas-something about the colored lights and tinsel helps dispell the gloom. A sunny day on the ski slopes also helps a lot.
My SAD starts to lift when the days start getting longer-by the end of February.
Stay well!

Sorry I keep adding things – I guess I’m thinking slowly today.

I like to play good-quality environmental recordings in the background while I work in winter – something with songbirds, or surf, or a stream works best for me. Not the kind with new-agey music, just nature noise. I like the longest tracks best, to cut down on annoying repetition (and if you buy them by the track, they’re cheaper that way too).

When I worked in a cubicle, I brought in some extra decor that helped: a couple of small lamps fitted with full-spectrum bulbs, and a fake window (really a window-sized mirror with mullions and a sill, like this, though I got mine cheaper in the “scratch ‘n’ dent” aisle at some craft store chain).

I suspect a lot of people feel this way, and that’s why winter festivals of lights and holiday traditions involving lights are so common (Diwali for Hindus, Hanukkah for Jews, Christmas lights for Christians, etc).

But if the holiday decorating has gotten to be more of a chore than a pleasure, there’s nothing saying you can’t scale back on it (the movie Christmas with the Kranks to the contrary, and it’s supposed to be pretty bad, anyway). Anyone who complains about another person scaling back on holidays should be regarded as volunteering to do the work of said holiday preparations themselves. This applies to cards, dinners, baking, parties, presents, and all other holiday traditions as well. Don’t exhaust yourself preparing for the holidays if you don’t really enjoy what you’re doing.

Fish is exactly what I start to crave this time of year and all winter. Sardines, anchovies,tuna, slabs of fin…

I have also started craving a hot bath every couple of days.