“Winter depression” is a common thing to get “struck by” this time of year. And I’m not immune to either. Every year when the nights start getting longer and the days colder, I start to become a little more gloomy in my attitude.
I noticed it again when this winter came around and I started to wonder what the cause of this was. Last year I had experienced no such thing, so I thought I was “cured”. I had concluded that winter depression must’ve just been a symptom of a general negative mindset I used to have. And that it was now over because I had become such a positive person. But sure enough, this year it was back again.
I did some research, but I mostly found a bunch of articles about “Seasonal Affective Disorder”. Apparently it’s a serious syndrome which is supposedly affecting a big part of the population. Of course most of the scientific research about this is getting sponsored by the pharma industry. I dig their sense of humor though. “SAD” is a pretty funny acronym.
Since using “the season to be jolly” as an excuse to cram your mouth full of pills doesn’t seem like the smartest solution, I figured there must be a more natural way to deal with this.
Of course there’s the obvious one: Flying south every winter. I remember being especially un-depressed when I spent the winter skating on Venice Beach. Sure beats looking at the brown goo caked to the wheels of my neighbor’s car in Belgium and trying to see the silver linings by reminding myself that “at least it’s technically considered snow”.
But if escaping to the other hemisphere is not an optimal choice for you right now (location-bound projects, lack of money, etc.) you’ll need to tackle it some other way.
I started to look back at least year and what I might have done differently that made it such a fun winter. And then I realized what the true cause of winter depression was (spoiler: it’s –of course- not a “mental disorder” conveniently called “sad”.)
What is the root cause of winter depression? A strong resistance to what is. Failing to accept or face one or more aspects of the reality you live in.
I could trace that back to my thoughts this year and all the others. I found myself comparing the options of the winter with those of summer.
I wanted to go for long walks on the beach at night, but they would be rather cold.
I wanted to sit around a bonfire and play guitar with friends. But of course they are all inside or on vacation, and my fingers would be too cold to play a decent tune.
I’d sit in someone’s house being bummed out about all the things I wanted to do that I couldn’t do right now.
Then I got bummed about sitting inside and being bummed out. So basically, I was constantly resisting reality.
And when we resist reality, we’re not suffering from “SAD”, we’re just creating our own depression in winter in our mind. So I asked myself: What did I do last year that made me feel so good all winter? The answer was obvious:
Life is a constant cyclic process of expansion and contraction. From the breaths you take to fill every cell in your body with life, to ebb and flood of the oceans or even on a larger scale, the life cycle of a star.
The seasons are no exception to this. The animals know this when they gather enough food to hibernate in the winter. The flowers know this when they close in the winter to nurture themselves until they are ready to open again in spring or summer. That’s simply how life flows.
Now what happens when you resist the way life flows?
I was once swimming in the ocean on a beautiful day. I wasn’t swimming that far from the coast, but I had been swimming with the stream up until that moment. The flow of the ocean went away from the coast.
As I turned to swim back I realized that even though it was only 30 meters, it would be very hard. I was swimming with a lot of effort but didn’t seem to make any progress, the flow kept dragging me back.
I got scared and it felt really bad. I eventually managed to get on the coast about 20 minutes later, but the process was no fun at all.
That sort of experience is exactly what a winter depression is. Trying to go against the flow of life, and by doing so, turning your experience into something that’s indeed, no fun at all.
Just like the flowers and the animals, humans used to realize this. We’d live with the land. We’d have a time for planting and one for reaping the rewards. A time for celebrating and a time for lying low.
That was what made my winter so great last year. I just went with along with the season instead of resisting it and fighting against it.
Realising this, I changed my approach, and low and behold: I immediately felt a lot better.
Instead of being bummed out, I just consider this winter a phase of contraction now.
I’m spending a lot of time inside with loved ones. Writing a book. Watching a lot of the movies my friends recommended to me (because I never have time to watch them in summer)
I play board games and drink a lot of coffee or tea. I cuddle up under soft cozy blankets. I’m reading a lot more. Taking more time to blog. Working to raise my income. Saving lots of money from not going out that I can use to travel next year.
I’m spending this time looking back on the fun moments I had all year and feeling grateful for them, instead of comparing each current moment to those ones and feeling sad. I might even spend some time to explicitly seek out and thank all the people I had fun with this year. In fact, now that I read the sentence I just wrote, I’ll pause to send some texts and make some phone calls😉
If like me, you used to feel bad every winter, this is what you can do:
Accept each winter as a time for reflecting, being all comfortable in your warm little cave and allowing yourself to either be lazy and rest or work on personal growth / sharpening your skills. Other valid options can be enjoying the “peacefulness” of a snow landscape or migrating to a warmer location.
Then when spring comes you can use that fertile time, spending the energy you conserved all winter to take on some new ambitious projects, start stretching yourself, meeting new people, etc.
In the summer you can party it up, go wild, expand everything you’re working on to greater proportions, have sex in public places and show the world the beautiful flowering of your project.
Next autumn you can allow some of the things you didn’t enjoy about your life to die off. Allow your new relationships & friendships to become more serious. And start reaping the rewards of everything you’ve worked towards this year.
All of that, while getting ready for another fun, well-deserved laid back winter. And lots of delicious hot vegan cappuccino while your delicious hot love from spring/summer is waiting to cuddle up with you in front of the 128th re-run of Home Alone and the Sound of Music.
Once you start to accept this process as the natural rhythm of the seasons, it doesn’t seem like such a bad thing after all… Does it? 🙂