What’s cold, icy, really uncomfortable, and sometimes makes you sad? Gosh darn winter, that’s what. You can spare me your affinity for skiing, freshly fallen snow and curling up by a warm fire because I will swiftly counter with wet socks, slush, and lack of sunlight. Sure winter has its moments, but I find that its short days and bone-chilling temperatures are enough to push me over the edge. This may be especially true for many of you who have to suffer the indignities of winter while also trying to cope with your grief. Grief is an emotional tundra as it is, then winter comes along and paints the landscape frigid and grey to match your mood. Winter can also exacerbate the problems grievers are vulnerable to, like isolation, depression and poor self-care. Perhaps I’m negatively biased because I’ve lived through winter in cities like Syracuse, NY and Erie, PA. However, I prefer to think this makes me an expert, which is why I’m going to take the next few minutes to espouse all the reasons why winter is the worst, especially for grievers.
1. Lack of Sunlight
A lack of sunlight, or the length of the night in some cases, can cause an increase in melatonin and a drop in the neurotransmitter serotonin and Vitamin D. All of this can throw your mind and body out of whack and leave you feeling tired, irritable and blue. Tip: Do what you can to get outside, open the blinds, and hold on until daylight savings time.
2. Cabin Fever
Cabin fever is not a technical diagnosis but it is a well-documented phenomenon (think early US settlers who spent long winters alone in their cabins). Cabin fever describes a state of restlessness, depression, and irritability brought on by spending time in a confined space or remote area. Where grief is concerned, being stuck inside provides you with ample time to ruminate on difficult thoughts and emotions, and to replay unpleasant memories with little distraction. Tip: It’s good to spend time focused on your grief, but also find constructive ways to occupy your mind like puzzles, movies, games, organizing, home repairs, calling a friend, creating art, or writing in your journal.
3. Social Isolation
The predisposition for grievers to withdraw combined with cancelations, problems with transportation, and a desire to avoid the cold and snow can amplify your risk of falling into a cycle of emotional and social isolation. Isolation and loneliness can have a negative impact on your physical and emotional health, which we discussed in detail in this post. Tip: Get out and go to a mall, store, support group, or place of worship. When possible, push yourself to keep plans even if it means braving the cold.
4. Not moving enough
You already know that even a small amount of exercise can have a marked impact on your physical and emotional health. Obviously, in winter your options for getting out and moving around are limited. Snowy roads, icy sidewalks, and the cold make it virtually impossible to find many opportunities for exercise. Tip: Even though taking an hour-long walk outside might not be possible, look for alternative opportunities to get at least 20 minutes of exercise a day. Try walking outside for shorter intervals, do exercise videos on YouTube, plan an indoor workout routine, or join a gym.
5. Food and mood
Studies show out eating habits change this time of year. The rationale behind this increase is debatable as some researchers believe primitive impulses drive humans to stockpile calories in anticipation of short days and cold weather, while others think there’s just more opportunity to indulge in the winter (holidays, time spent inside, and the nostalgic connections associated with food). Regardless of why you eat, certain foods can have a real impact on mood – for better or worse. Foods that supply our vitamin and nutrient needs and minimize our blood sugar spikes are important to our mental wellbeing. Tip: Remember that food is what fuels our bodies and brains. You know your body and brain best, so focus on getting the nutrient-rich foods that make you feel good. And remember that food and health is not about size. We can be healthy and eating for our mental wellbeing at any size. Many of us have internalized feelings about weight and those can be tough to shake and can make thinking about food and mood complicated. Check out this resource on intuitive eating for health at every size if you could use more support.
6. It’s cold
That’s all. Being cold is torture.
7. You’re sad
For some, the holidays present a storm of grief triggers followed by months of feeling blah (see all of the above). It’s possible that the events of November and December have set you adrift on a long grief wave that won’t recede until the spring thaw. Tip: Believe that things will get better and check out our section on coping with grief.
8. You’re SAD
Winter-onset seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a subtype of major depression that is characterized by symptoms that emerge in fall or early winter and recede during the spring. These symptoms may start out mild and become more severe and include things like irritability, tiredness or low energy, problems getting along with others, hypersensitivity to rejection, heavy feeling in the arms or legs, oversleeping, and appetite changes (craving carbs). It goes without saying that SAD can complicate one’s ability to cope with grief and other hardship. Tip: If you think you might suffer from SAD read more about it here and talk to your doctor about your concerns.
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