It’s February — the month when winter begins to wear out its welcome. Even though the days are getting slightly longer, the weather is still cold, snowy and icy across much of the country. Nasty winter weather, combined with seemingly endless dreary, overcast days, can make even the most cheerful person feel drained and unmotivated.
There’s something about this season that can bring out the winter blues in just about everyone. However, people in detox and recovery might find these cold, gray days even more of a challenge than the average person. The urge to turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms to get through the isolation and boredom of winter can be strong, but understanding what you’re up against and learning a few simple ways to beat the winter blues can help you cope.
Recognizing Seasonal Affective Disorder
Did you know the lethargic and depressed feelings most of us recognize as the “winter blues” have a clinical name? Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a form of depression that ebbs and flows with the seasons.
SAD can happen at any time of year, but for most SAD sufferers, it most commonly begins in the late fall when the days begin to get shorter and a chill appears in the air. Because we get fewer hours of sunlight in the winter, it can cause our body to produce less serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that affects mood.
Common SAD symptoms include:
- Lingering feelings of depression nearly every day
- Lower energy and motivation to do things
- Lost interest in normally enjoyable activities
- Weight gain
- Difficulties concentrating and sleeping
SAD symptoms usually present as relatively mild, and begin to intensify as winter progresses. In the most severe cases of SAD, you may begin feeling worthless or even have thoughts of suicide.
Preventing the Winter Blues From Jeopardizing Your Sobriety
Accepting that SAD is a real — but short-term — issue is an important first step toward managing the winter blues. Since the seasons can have such a significant impact on mood, they can play an even more outsized role for someone who is in detox or recovery from addiction.
If you aren’t proactive about managing the winter blues, you could be putting yourself at a higher risk of relapse. That’s why it’s essential to develop an arsenal of healthy coping strategies.
- Develop a schedule: When you have no structure in your day, it’s easy to succumb to the lethargy and spend all day in bed. Write out a schedule that accounts for each hour of the day, and fill it with activities such as going to work, exercising, meal times and social activities.
- Talk to a therapist: Counseling can help you work through emotional problems and manage your cravings. The benefits of therapy in recovery are well-documented, and can help decrease the chances you will experience a relapse.
- Go outside: Even if it’s cold or overcast, going outside is a worthwhile mood booster. Spending time in the great outdoors exposes you to more direct sunlight, which can increase levels of vitamin D. Being surrounded by nature is soothing and helps reduce feelings of anxiety and depression.
- Meditate: Meditation is an excellent and all-natural way to improve your mood, and you can do it from anywhere. Set aside 15 to 30 minutes each day to focus on your breathing and slow down your thoughts.
- Get up early: Since lack of sunlight causes SAD, setting your alarm for an earlier time helps maximize the available hours of sunshine in your day.
- Exercise: Exercise should be one of your top priorities as you work on recovery and restoring your physical and mental health. Choose activities that will get your heart rate up, like dancing, brisk walking, swimming or cycling. Relaxing activities like yoga and tai chi can also be helpful.
- Spend time with others: Plan social activities with friends and family. Arrange an “adult play date” that gets you out of the house, such as meeting for dinner or attending a concert.
Keep Your Recovery Going Strong
No matter how isolating or bleak the winter season may feel, relapse is never the answer. Understanding how SAD affects you and planning for obstacles can help you get through winter without putting your hard-earned recovery at risk. If you can conquer addiction, beating the winter blues is within your reach. Contact Ken Seeley Communities to learn more about our detox and rehab programs. Our licensed and accredited facility is in sunny Palm Springs, CA!