Beat the Winter Blues
by Jodi Selander
Originally published as a series of articles on The Placenta Blog, January 2009
The New Year has arrived, and here comes the post-holiday letdown. Many of us tend to slide into a funk around this time of year. Winter transitions from being quaint and festive to simply being cold and dark – and far too long.
These tips will help you avoid the winter “blahs” and keep you going right up through Spring.
I notice that I tend to withdraw when I start to feel down. I don’t want to go out, I decline social invitations from friends, and dread turning on the computer to a flood of emails.
This year, I will not let this start to happen. Luckily I have some great friends who understand my tendencies, and will drag me out to lunch or over for a glass of wine. (Hear that, ladies? You’re on call! Wine Night is coming up…).
If a playdate once a week is all you can muster, then go for it. But be sure to do at least that! Talking with adults on a regular basis will help you feel better, and not so isolated. No, the grocery store run does not count, sorry.
Taking this a step further, plan a fun night with friends. Host a potluck and invite everyone over with their kids. It will give you something fun to plan, and force you to get your house in some sort of order, which will help with the funk too. Or, if you’re particularly adventurous and really want to kick Winter in the keister, plan a Mom’s Night Out and go have a few cocktails (or bowling, or a movie – whatever qualifies as fun in your world).
Don’t retreat into your cave. Get out there! The positive energy from other people will give your flagging energy levels a boost.
In one way, this seems counter-intuitive. When I’m depressed, I tend to want to sleep too much. The girls get up before dawn (when does the sun come back, anyway??), and I just want to pull the covers over my head and stay there all day.
However, sleep is important for your brain function, and that needs all the help it can get to break this slide into a major funk. Go to bed, and get at least six hours of sleep a night, though eight would be better. If you have a little one who naps, go ahead and take a nap! Get your rest, and you will feel like you have enough energy to make it through the rest of the day.
Sometimes insomnia is an issue with depression. If you are having trouble sleeping (staying asleep or going to sleep in the first place), it can sometimes be a physical imbalance in your body. Coral calcium is helpful with restoring this balance, and has been shown to help with sleep issues. I give some to my girls every night (and will be taking it regularly myself, since I’m trying to do the things that are good for me).
My oldest daughter had lots of trouble with night terrors and I started giving her coral every night on the advice of a Master Herbalist. When my daughter takes it regularly, she does not have any trouble with nightmares. She does not fear bedtime anymore, and dubbed the coral her “Dream Powder”. I mix it in chocolate almond milk, and both girls drink it right down. I have a high-quality formula available at The Shop @ PBi, if you need a good source. If you don’t like the chalky texture in your drink, it is available in capsule form, with some extra ingredients. This blend is called Fortify, and I like the capsules better myself.
Whatever you do, don’t let yourself get worn down and wiped out. Fatigue will just help that funk get rolling!
When I am starting to get into my funk I like to retreat into my cave. I stay in the house, I don’t open the curtains, I don’t want to go anywhere. I want to stay in my sweatpants and t-shirt and vegetate. Very productive, I know.
Getting outside always makes me feel better. Fresh air, Mother Nature; it has a calming energy and a peaceful effect on the psyche. Get outside and take a walk. I know it’s chilly (or downright frigid), but I grew up in Minnesota and my mom would force us outside no matter what the weather was doing. We could only come back inside when that strip of wrist between our mitten and our coat sleeve was sufficiently red and chappy.
Your kids want to play outdoors, and they want to spend time with you. Instead of bundling them up and shoving them out the door, get out there with them. If you have snow, take them sledding. Those of us without snow don’t have much of an excuse. Let the kids ride their bikes while you walk with them. These days are short, so put some of that sunshine to good use.
At least open your curtains. Baby steps…
Laugh? But I’m depressed! Yeah, I know. So force it.
In the depths of a funk, I notice that I rarely smile, letalone laugh. My kids can be bouncing around me, laughing and playing and having a great time. I barely manage a grunt in response to an excited “Isn’t that funny Mama?”..
Get out of your head and back into the moment. By living in the moment I can find joy in the simplest things. This sounds like a cliche, but it is true. If you have children, they provide endless opportunities to laugh and enjoy life.
There is another benefit of this. As mothers, we set the tone and the energy in our homes. If we are depressed and feeling down, it affects our entire family. If we are upbeat and having fun with our kids, then everyone is happier.
This is going to be hard at first. I mean it when I say you might have to force it. But every time you do, you may just find that the positive feedback you get in return helps start a whole positive cycle flowing around you. Try it today and see what happens! Tomorrow, it might even be easier.
You are what you Eat
When I’m in a funk, food is a source of comfort for me and I go for it in a big way. This is so obviously counter-productive. I feel bad, so why not pack on a few pounds so I can be depressed about that too? This starts a whole negative feedback cycle that can be really hard to break free from.
This year, I am not going to do it! By eating foods I feel good about eating, it makes me feel good about myself and my choices, which helps the positive energy start flowing. Besides that, good foods help give you energy, make your body feel good and keep you running at your best.
I like to snack while I’m cooking dinner. Instead of trying to rewire myself and just contain this impulse, I munch on carrots or sugar snap peas. I’m not a huge fan of carrots, but I buy the ones that are already cut into chips – it makes them into a crunchy little fun food instead of *blah* carrots. (whatever helps, right?) I also eat a small portion of a high-protein food before I go to bed; cottage cheese, string cheese, veggies with hummus are my favorite choices. It keeps your blood sugar from falling so low during the night and keeps your metabolism up.
I’m not a big fan of cooking, letalone cooking “healthy”. By buying some things that are already prepared, it saves me extra angst over having to cook dinner. Our meals are simple, but cover the major food groups. My family eats meat, so we will generally have some form of lean protein like chicken, fish or pork. To make it easier, I sometimes get things that are already seasoned and ready to cook. Sweet potatoes (yams) are great; cook them in the microwave and eat them like regular baked potatoes. They are quick and easy that way, and the kids get to have a little raw sugar and cinnamon sprinkled on top. Add some veggies or a salad, and it’s a good meal that didn’t take much time to prepare.
My daughters love fruit, so they can have a banana, strawberries or apple slices for dessert. Top the previous two with a dollop of whipped cream and they think it’s a special treat. Cut an apple into small chunks, sprinkle with cinnamon, top with some oatmeal and drizzle a bit of butter on top. Microwave for a minute until the apples are soft, and it’s the easiest way to make individual little apple crisps for them.
Making good food choices and preparing dinner can sometimes seem overwhelming when you’re in a funk. It’s so much easier to call for pizza or hit the drive-thru fast food on your way home, but the ramifications go beyond that one meal. I don’t think anyone is proud of themselves for eating fast food; we all want to eat better. Start with simple meals that don’t require a lot of effort or ingredients. Anything you make at home is going to be healthier for you, so set a goal to eat at home two days a week more than you are currently doing. The positive feedback you get from doing so will help keep that anti-funk energy moving in the right direction!
I can hear the groans already… you knew I was going to get to exercise, right?!
Like anything else, doing the right thing is always more effort than not dealing with it. However, the benefits of this one single tip are huge.
* Your body functions better
* You get natural endorphins (a high)
* You feel good about yourself when you do it
* You start to look better, which helps to…
* Raise your self-esteem
* Have more energy to do the other things you need to be doing to stay out of a funk.
It’s pretty hard to feel bad about yourself on a day when you work out! This may be the hardest thing to start, but everyone has to start somewhere. It was *so* hard to get back to the gym, but once I started going regularly, it became something I need in my day. My whole day is better when I get a good workout in. It relieves stress, gives me energy, and is a welcome break from the mental tasks of mothering and working (the sheer logistics that go into scheduling a day can sometimes be overwhelming in itself!).
It’s not easy to find the time to go to the gym. Exercise has to become a priority. Consider it valuable “me time” that is not negotiable. Some other things may have to be put on the back burner; there are only so many hours in a day, and only one of you. Look at your day and see if you can carve out a chunk of time for something that is really important. Is there something you do regularly that is not contributing positively to your mental health? Can your partner be enlisted to take over some task(s) that will free up some time for you? You need this and deserve this, and your partner wants you to be happy and healthy. And, they will benefit from all that exercise as well!
If you start now, by the time summer rolls around, you’ll be out of the funk AND looking hot!
Celebrate Your Talents
What do you truly *love* to do? Sometimes when we become mothers, we put the “frivolous” things that we enjoy on the back burner while we take care of our families. While some of this is necessary, we don’t have to give up what we love doing just because we have kids.
Do you like to scrapbook? Did you take a few photography classes and then put your camera away? How about fiber arts (knitting, sewing, crocheting, quilting)? Or just reading a book NOT related to parenting?
I know that I put off projects because of the hassle of doing them with the kids around. If I wait until they’re asleep, then I have to drag everything out just to put it away again in an hour or two. But with a little creativity and determination, we can find the time to do the things we love.
Get out your camera! My kids are total hams and have tons of fun strking poses. Sometimes we just do photo shoots and laugh at the pictures afterward. If you like to do nature photography, it’s a perfect excuse to get outside with the kids, which is one of the other tips for staying out of a funk – you can even double up on the good vibes this way.
If you enjoy scrapbooking or other projects involving little pieces and things that kids shouldn’t get into, put all of your supplies into a single box or bin. Then when the kids go down for a nap or to bed for the evening, you only have to get out the bin and open it up to get started. Then you can shovel everything back in there when you’re done so it’s handy for the next time. It keeps your supplies together and the hassle of getting started again to a minimum.
If you like reading but feel you don’t have the time, find a great book and suddenly you will find the time! To take this a step further, you can join a book club which adds the socialization to the mix. But even if you’re not up for the “pressure” of a book club, just get into something you really like. You can always sequester yourself in the bathroom for a few minutes to get a couple pages in while the kids play.
Doing what you love feeds your soul and renews your spirit. While it may take more effort than it did before you had kids, it is important to nourish that side of your self. It is easy to get lost in mothering, housework and family obligations. While those are good things, and we find joy in them, it can throw life out of balance.
You are an important part of the equation, and you will feel better when you take the time for yourself. Your family will benefit from your efforts as well. Nobody wants a martyr for a mother – your kids love YOU, and that means honoring your talents and individuality.
I left supplementation as the last tip in this series. It is an important factor in preventing a mid-winter funk, but you should use them in conjunction with the other tips.
Here’s a list of the vitamins and herbal supplements that I take to help with my depression symptoms.
* Vitamin B. I take a vitamin that includes B12, Folic Acid and B6. This combination has been shown to help with depression.
* Omega-3 Fatty Acids. I take a high-quality fish oil capule – the Nordic Naturals brand is a little expensive, but very good. The fatty acids in healthy oils are supposed to help with depression, but they are good for your body in a variety of ways. I also take a good flax oil supplement, and a combination of Omega 3/6/9 fatty acid. I get the Trader Joe’s brand for those.
* Balance. This is an Herbally Grounded brand tincture that is used to help balance hormone levels. Physical and emotional issues manifest when our hormones are out of balance. This blend helps keep our physical and mental bodies in balance.
* Happy Juice.This is another tincture blend I use from Herbally Grounded. The herbs in this blend are traditionally used to naturally raise the seratonin levels in the brain, similar to an SSRI antidepressant medication. When taken regularly, this really helps with my mood. I even give it to my kids when they are having a particularly whiney or weepy day (which helps with my mood too!).
* Super Greens.Our bodies need greens to function at our best. It is hard to eat enough roughage during the day to meet our needs. Therefore, I drink Super Greens at least once a day to give myself a boost. If you can’t drink it, there is a great blend in capsule form too.
* Placenta! If you have placenta capsules left over from a recent birth, feel free to take those during this time of year as well. They’ll give you a much-needed dose of energy and help with your mood.
I hope you found these tips for Beating the Winter Blues helpful. It may take some effort to incorporate all of them into your life, but it is well worth it. I have struggled with depression for over 10 years, and this is the first year that I have done all of these things. This has been the best winter I’ve had in the last decade.
Best wishes to you on your journey. Come on Spring!!