Self-Care for Seasonal Depression

Tiny house in Reykjavik

Right now as I type this I am wearing doubled-up socks & a shawl & I am using my Magic Bag as an ergonomic wrist pad & I am chugging green tea like nobody’s business.

My hands are like little ice cubes, anyway.

It is getting dark so early. And there’s this chill.

I notice that some things are going on in my brain that haven’t happened in awhile. A moment of panic before walking into a crowded room. That nagging feeling hanging over me that I realize is actually sadness, or even fear, detached from any concrete cause. A desire to go back to sleep before the morning is even over.

These are small things, for now. But I have a couple of seasons Actually-Really-Diagnosed Seasonal Affective Disorder under my belt & I am pretty sure I recognize the welcoming committee.

Cloudy plant marker, source unknown.

Hello, SAD season.

Last year I spent a lot of time doing the work that would help me feel better.

This year, I have my fingers crossed that I can find ways to stop it from getting so bad to begin with. I want to write about my plans now, so that if everything goes horribly awry later on this winter I can help myself press the reset button. That being said, I know that depression isn’t something that you can just decide to overcome with a lot of hard work – there is some degree to which I’m stuck with whatever my brain chemistry wants to do, & I get that. Fully expecting the occasional can’t-get-out-of-bed kinda day.

Self-Care for Seasonal Depression

  1. Get shit done. Over the last few weeks I’ve felt a self-imposed pressure to finish big projects, meet deadlines, get organized. I know I won’t feel up to big stuff when just basic life skills seem overwhelming, so I want to get ahead wherever I can be.
  2. Access as many resources as possible. I made an appointment with my nurse practitioner & I will totally see about any free counselling or etc. I feel so lucky to be in a place where I can access some good, free healthcare. If you have this access too, I hope you use it to the extent that it helps you.
  3. Move my body around. I’m serious about keeping up with the jogging, & when it gets too cold or snowy for that I will think about a gym membership, if I can hack it. But even a long walk or a laptop dance party will do the trick.
  4. Get some damn sun. Going outside in the daytime – gonna try it.
  5. Stay warm. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I feel like my SAD is equally affected by heat as well as light. I love a good cuddly extra-layered outfit but I also need to remember to wear slippers at home, drink more tea, take baths, use a hot pad, whatever. When I get too cold the first thing that happens is that I get mean, and then I get super unproductive. No thanks. I resolved to turn the heat up enough in the house that I can be a functional adult, even if it ends up being more expensive.
  6. Be aware of the sugar & carbs diet. Carbohydrate cravings are a real symptom of seasonal depression & I am not gonna tell you that I will stop eating them, but I know I feel good in a more stable way when I drink a lot of water & eat a lot of vegetables.
  7. Be aware of the beer/caffeine cycle. In the summer, if I drink a lot, I get a hangover. In the winter, if I drink a lot, I feel despondent & I panic. Same thing happens with too much coffee. I’m stocking up on herbal tea, okay?
  8. Read a lot – but not only sad books. Every winter I end up on a Margaret Atwood binge & then I end up with no hope left for the world. Reading is the best & I love learning stuff but too many depressing stories in a row is – wait for it – depressing. Sometimes I like to read self help books & take a lot of notes – generally a “take what you like  discard the rest philosophy works best.
  9. Make things. When I feel crappy it’s easy to passively consume media & sleep a lot but I feel way better when I actually Do Stuff. Making things gives my brain something to focus on & is a visible marker of productivity. Doing a creative thing just feels better.
  10. Cute animals. Cute animal videos. 
  11. Call my parents. They, like, believe in me. & they like to visit. & they are nice.
  12. Talk about shit. The best thing I ever did for managing my depression was to be open enough about it that I was able to connect with people who are going through the same things. Sometimes being able to name what is happening & know you are not alone is so fantastically helpful. I have slowly stopped seeking close friendships with people who refuse to get it about mental health stuff. Being able to trust the people around you is such an amazing thing.
  13. Experiment. The other day I had the thought – what if, instead of buying lipstick and beer when I want to spoil myself, I bought plants?


12 responses to “Self-Care for Seasonal Depression”

  1. allthesoftplaces says :

    I love this entire post. Iris, you are awesome. I should also start planning out my self-care for winter sadness/apathy. Depression is a tough thing to keep at bay, but these are some bang-on tips. I also need to stop reading sad books/stories. hah. <3

  2. alagarconniere says :

    IRIS THIS IS SO GOOD. today i was feeling the same, and imagine, it’s like 5 degrees colder here and gets darker just a wee bit earlier than where you live! here, sun set at 6:10, and in ptbo it says 6:40.

    i talked a bit about this with simon and sarah when i saw her in mtl last week.

    my things:

    getting out of the house as much as i can, for fun.

    today i rode my bike for almost TWO HOURS just enjoying the leaves and the sun and the graffiti near the bike path. simon and i are going to try to take walks after work more often instead of just settling in with the desire to cocoon in our house… which is also nice, but often leads to us both feeling depressed as the winter comes.

    also have you seen anne emond’s most recent comics?

  3. Byrdie Grey says :

    Thanks so much for this post! I have a history of apathetic, depression-like mood swings in the winter and I’ve never had a term for them, but it sounds like SAD. The irritability when cold or the weather is gray, the extra long sleep that never seems to give me energy, the withdrawal from social interaction, all of it. And yet in the spring and summer and pretty outgoing. These all sound like healthy, non-pharmaceutical solutions that would work for me. How did you find a doctor that supported self-care rather than just shoving you an anti-depressant prescription?

    • bossyfemme says :

      Well – I did take an antidepressant last year and if I feel the need to this year I will. That being said, I have definitely discussed things like light therapy and exercise as treatment methods with my nurse practitioner… and honestly, the clinic I go to is the only place accepting new patients around here, so I just kind of lucked out.

      • jill tilley (@jilly_tilley) says :

        Do you go to the VON 360 clinic? I have my first appointment there Monday. do you like it there overall?

      • Deb says :

        I love VON 360. They give great support and are open to all lifestyle and health preferences. They don’t push treatment plans and they are very frank in their discussions. I’m glad I live downtown and that they serve the community.

        Thanks for this post – mental health is something we need to talk about more. And the winter sucks when you don’t like being cold and dark.

  4. emmamulligan says :

    Have you thought of tagging posts like this as “seasonal affective disorder” and “depression”, too? From what I understand, it allows searches to find your post when these things are entered, and I think a lot of people could use your advice :)

  5. Andrea says :

    Hello, this is my first comment here. I drop by occasionally and I really enjoy your blog.
    I feel a lot sadder in autumn and winter, too.
    I try and drink a lot of ginger tea (pour boiling water over a couple of thin slices of ginger, add lime juice (about a teaspoon), drink as hot as possible).
    It’s amazing stuff, it warms you up, keeps you healthy, heck, it even helps against period pains.
    Your list is really really good. Cuddling my dog, tidying, re-arranging furniture, decorating and, oh yeah, loads of vegetables are also part of my take on fighting seasonal sadness :)

    Good luck and best wishes from Germany

  6. Stagename says :


  7. lori says :

    Thank you for the reminder. Nothing helps me more than coping ahead!

  8. rebecca elisabeth says :

    I’d like to add my own bit of gratitude for the reminder. Last September I moved from California to England, and that first Winter was really, really rough, not helped much by a horrible housing situation–there was ice on the inside of my bedroom windows! This year I’m going to do my absolute best to keep all of these strategies in mind.


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