The leaves are starting to change, and that means fall! What comes after fall? Winter! What does winter bring? Snow, cold, and seasonal depression. Yay! This year we get an extra bonus too: a global pandemic. So here’s my best tips on how to survive COVID winter depression from someone who’s already depressed.
This post idea came about because of a tweet I saw. Someone was talking about how all the coping tips for winter, and specifically depression as a result of COVID, were just a regurgitation of the canned, demeaning “advice” thrown at people with regular depression.
You Can Survive COVID Winter Depression
I hate when people do this, but I have to give you some tough love for a minute: If you’ve survived this long, you can survive COVID winter depression. If you normally get SAD then you know you can do this too.
It’s not going to be easy, but you’ll make it. Just survive for 6 months and things will be a LOT better. Hopefully these tips can help it suck at least a little bit less.
A Bit About My Struggles
Before I get too much into this, I want to explain the background that I’m writing this from. I always have a baseline of depression. I don’t manage it with medication because it comes and goes in severity, and I have coping methods that work for me. Finally, I also have anxiety and (much improved) PTSD.
In the past I’ve been suicidal and have seriously contemplated suicide. I’m a lot better now due to changes in circumstances. But I know what it feels like to be there.
I also get SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) every winter. For some people, SAD makes them depressed or anxious. It affects me by sapping my energy, making me generally more depressed, and also by making me very restless and wanting change.
Oh and before you criticize, yes these are professionally diagnosed.
Enough about me. Here’s some ideas that might help you cope with COVID winter depression that have helped me in the past with my own depressive symptoms.
Let Yourself Feel Feelings
Like, honestly, things suck right now. Everyone is dealing with a range of emotions and some people are even watching loved ones die alone. It’s not a fun place to be and it makes perfect sense why you’d be feeling depressed right now.
You’re allowed to have feelings. And they’re justified.
If you don’t let yourself feel them you’ll wind up even more upset trying to keep everything inside. Instead, take time when you need to to let it out and cry, yell, whatever you need. You probably won’t feel better. But you’ll feel less bad than if you had repressed them.
Use Chunking to Pass the Time
Chunking is basically breaking something down into smaller parts, or chunks. I use it when I’m feeling depressed to help me cope better with my life. Sometimes I think of things in terms of days or weeks, other times it might be hours in the day. It all depends on my mental state at that moment.
For me, activities can really help lift my mood, and I often chunk my winter around fun milestones. For example, in the fall it’s only x amount of days until Christmas (my favourite holiday!), then in January when my SAD is really bad I count down the days until the first day of spring. From there it’s Easter, then my late April birthday, and before long I’m on the beach.
Measuring time like this really helps it feel a little bit less overwhelming.
Personally, I don’t need extended family or friend gatherings to make these occasions super special, so I’m not really affected by COVID in this regard. Well, other than a few of our Christmas traditions being missed, that is.
Take a Mental Break From the World
Self care blah blah blah take a bubble bath something something. Kidding! But seriously, you need to focus on self care, but the kind that people don’t talk about. I know that it seems like the opposite of depression advice (reach out!) but sometimes you need to pull away from people who are making things worse.
What I mean is logging off social media for a few days, especially when all the COVID talk is getting to you. You’re not a bad person because you have the privilege to do that. Your health matters too.
If you have toxic friends, create some distance. Right now toxic doesn’t look like it usually does, so this one might feel tough. For many people, seeing their friends not take the pandemic seriously is causing riffs. When things are hard, it sucks to have that extra layer added on when it comes to socializing.
Stand your ground on your own beliefs and take some time to shut out everyone for a little while.
Get a Solid Depression Playlist Ready
And while you’re at it, make sure you have headphones you love. I don’t know about everyone else, but I like listening to depressive music when I’m feeling depressed. I also use my headphones as a way to disengage and tune out everything that’s around me.
If you don’t feel like making your own, search for someone else’s. Maybe you’ll discover some new music. That’s something, right?
Try and Find Something That You Can Get Into
Ah, the depression commercials. You know, the ones where they show you symptoms and one of them is “lack of interest in things you once enjoyed”? You’ll probably get some of that this winter. Especially if things you enjoyed included doing anything out of the house or with other people.
This is tough but it’s really helpful if you can make it work: try and find something that you enjoy doing. That might be a hobby, a video game that you get really into, some new books – anything that makes you feel like you for a little bit.
Let Things Go
I don’t mean like, learn to let things go emotionally. I mean literally let. things. go. Like wear sweatpants every day. Or don’t dust all winter. Whatever it is that can get you through this, do that.
Obviously a gross or messy place is going to make depression worse, humans crave order after all, but if you ordered Skip five times this week but otherwise managed to function that’s a gold SAD star in my books.
You can wear hard pants, wash your car, or clean the attic sometime after this pandemic is over and you’re feeling better.
Take on a Project
If you’re able to, that is. Even a small project can give you the sense that you’re working toward something meaningful. A small sense of accomplishment didn’t hurt anyone, either.
Remember when everyone was doing quarantine projects to keep sane? Well you might not be able to learn to play the violin, but if you missed the sourdough craze the first time around now’s a great time to jump in. Another thing that helps me is cleaning/organizing/redecorating.
You’ll probably have to do your project in spurts when you’re feeling like doing something, and that’s OK.
Remember Winter Sucks
I’m not going to pretend like everyone wants to put on a snowsuit and get outside when it’s below freezing. I know I have to force myself out, even to play with my kids. We have nice warm homes for a reason!
If you go into this assuming that winter is going to suck, you won’t be disappointed. Who knows, maybe it will suck less than you thought. But it’s OK if you’re not very happy for the next several months. You don’t need to be, you just have to get through this.
If You Can’t Beat COVID Winter Depression, Don’t Join it
You can’t expect to magically get over your depression this winter any more than anyone else can get over there’s. But, accepting that you can’t fix it and letting it control your entire life are two different things.
Keep fighting for any normal you can, and don’t let go of yourself. Take it one month, week, day, hour, or even minute at a time but don’t. give. up.
We can do this.