I used to love gray, bare Winter days. I thought it felt like a monochrome painting or charcoal sketch. Nowadays, I really wonder at how I ever thought there was anything attractive about it.
For the past few years, my tolerance for Kentucky weather and general mood in Winter has gotten steadily worse. Last year I finally admitted to myself that I may very well have Seasonal Affective Disorder. I have not been diagnosed, and I don’t want to make light of anyone whose condition may be much worse than mine. So, whether it is S.A.D. or not, let’s just say that it sucks and I have had to put much effort into minimizing its impact.
On those nasty winter days, which seem to last from the day after Thanksgiving, at latest, until Derby Day (early May), I can be so down and exhausted as to be immobilized. It seems to stretch on and on. Last year I assembled a list of things that seemed to help me. Maybe some will help someone else.
This sounds like a no-brainer, but I had to remind myself all the time to step out of the office and get into the sun whenever it was available. If I woke up to a rare bright day, I rearranged my schedule to get out into the sun. At the very least, I would make treks to the window or outside and stand with my face turned toward the sun, soaking it in. The relief was palpable. Eyes closed, still squinting, it also got my face into a half-smile that fired off endorphins. Good stuff.
One of the first things I did was go out and buy some very bright compact fluorescent lights. I wanted to approximate daylight as much as I could. I was not concerned with energy savings. I lit the place up like an airport. My office area looks like you stepped into a tanning booth. The walls of my office are also lined with whiteboard material, so I get a lot of good light bounce. It really helps.
I also lit up my bedroom overhead fixtures, my kitchen, and dining areas. I still have lamps in the bedroom for when I want to dial it down for bedtime reading. But being able to walk into almost any room in the house and fire up the lumens made a huge difference to me.
I have learned the vital connection between staying hydrated and keeping my head about me. But I still drop that ball with ridiculous regularity. I can and should drink almost a gallon of water a day. I’m a big guy. Your needs may vary. But I can pretty much guarantee that, if you drink more, you will feel better.
This is a tough one for me. I have kids. When the kids are asleep, I get to unwind. I would find myself up till the wee hours of the morning, but still having to rise at a decent hour the next day. The six-hour-and-less nights caught up to me fast. I don’t always need a full eight, but it sure helps.
Another secret weapon. This does better than coffee for me because it also hydrates me. I just buy cheap Kroger green tea bags, which I boil rather weakly, actually. I only use maybe 1/3 cup of sugar for a half gallon, and I add one tea bag of any flavor herbal tea I want, usually some orange or other citrus. I can kill a gallon of that stuff daily, too. Because I make it weak, it doesn’t overload me with caffeine. Even so, I have learned to taper that off in the afternoon, lest it bump my sleep.
This is actually a more recent discovery. I have been terrible about getting out and about, seeing people. I tend to hole up and work. I forget how much time has gone by. I can spend two weeks without leaving the house, only recognizing it when my beard and clothes demand that I give them some attention. But being around other people shifts my perspective. Isolation ruins me. I have to remember that one this year.
When I was 19, I had a pair of Blue Blocker sunglasses. Remember those from infomercials? I loved those things. On a beach trip this year, I found a pair of amber-lens sunglasses at a truck stop. I forgot how they affected my mood. Even on a dark, dreary day, they turn up the feel-good colors. I will be trying these this Winter.
I have ADHD, so I am prescribed Ritalin. But I have learned that it tends to lose its effectiveness after a while. I have started supplementing zinc to replenish Dopamine, and it does seem to help. Staying hydrated is another huge factor in Ritalin efficacy.
Another recent revelation for me. A quick walk, especially when followed by as little as two or three minutes of moderate weight lifting, works wonders for me. I intend to ramp that up this year.
This list may save my sanity this Winter. It gives me a bag full of tricks that I can use to chase away the Winter blah. The biggest trick is remembering to reach into the bag.Sometimes, when you wake up to a crap-looking day, the toughest part is just remembering to drink your water, walk to the mailbox, and breathe.