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Live Instagram: Beating the Winter Blues

Tis the Season to be “Just OK”- With Rachel Chazen

The winter blues typically create a real shift in mood for most people! And given that this is the 2020/21 winter of covid, that hits a bit differently and a bit harder now. We teamed up with Rachel Chazen, LCMFT to talk about ways to beat the winter blues. This recording took place prior to the Holiday season. However all of the content still holds value as we face the remaining winter months.  Watch or Read on for tips and ideas to be “OK” during the winter months.  

How to be ok with the changing season, winter blues, seasonal slump and struggles on top of COVID-19. 

What are your tips when working with clients and talking about COVID depression and seasonal depression, daylight savings time… what is your first tip? 

(2:30) Very first thing is to remind people that you are not alone.  We are all going through this.  There is typical anxiety depression, pandemic anxiety and depression, election anxiety and depression and now add on seasonal anxiety and depression…and that is a lot all at once.  It totally makes sense that popele are having a hard time.  My first response is to let people know you are not alone.

(3:30) There is not a goal of happiness people need to obtain during all of this.  We need to change the measuring stick and the expectation because the world has changed and things are different during this time.  

There is a biological component of winter blues. 

(4:00) Our bodies need vitamin D and our bodies function on light and dark cycles. So, it is not just “in our heads” (sidenote: I don’t believe in that phrase) but it is a scientific biological reaction to light and dark.  When it is dark outside our bodies generally go into shutdown mode and become more lethargic.  It feels very different for the body to start to shut down at five o’clock verses 9 pm.  

(4:40) Also with the seasonal change comes the holiday’s that comes with its own set of stressors.  Like financial and social obligations.  This catches up with you especially since we haven’t had a break since summer.  You also have kids going on break and college students coming home.  So there are a lot of changes and new stressors.  

(5:10) The Financial stress is a big thing.  This year especially might look different than even past years.  The stress to buy gifts for everyone in your family is hard and maybe this year it looks a little different and you do a family secret Santa to reduce the pressure.  

We have to figure out what works for us at this time and that might look different than it has in the past. 

(5:40)  It is a very unique year where people are in different situations than we have ever been in.  We all have family traditions and expectations that we have been raised with and we have to figure out what looks appropriate for now.

With that idea of things looking different comes grief.  The things that you are used to aren’t going to look the same and it is healthy to allow yourself some space to feel sad or disappointed about how things looking different.  Those feelings are not the same as Seasonal Depression. It is so important to allow yourself to feel the disappointment from missing out on family time or missing out on traditions is necessary to acknowledge so you can be able to accept what is right now.  

Separate the sadness of grief and seasonal depression.

(6:30) There has been a theme in sessions about just that, the loss of normalcy.  I said this back in September with back to school and I’ll say it again seven eight months in, it was sad then and it is still sad now. What we grieved in the fall is different than what we are grieving this holiday season.  Just because it has been this long doesn’t mean we should be any more “used” to it.  It is a new grieving process every time we grieve something that is different and it also accumulates over time and it doesn’t get any easier over time. 

woman staring out the window looking sad during the winter

(7:15) I also think in a lot of ways this feels extra hard right now because we knew what it felt like in the beginning to hunker down and feel isolated and some people let go of that over the summer months with being outside more, and now it seems like we are going back in to the isolation and where we were at the beginning.  And that is really hard as well as the fear of what is coming and the anticipation of that seems really scary.  At the beginning everyone was creative and baking bread and now everyone is drained of that and defeated and not wanting to go back to that.  

The thought of one more zoom meeting or zoom family activity is for sure draining.  We have a lot of ideas about how to get creative and stay healthy with all of this. 

Redefine what it means to have a healthy routine during the winter blues

(8:35) A routine doesn’t mean you have to do the same exact thing every day. Routine is that you have consistency in your life and that your body is well adjusted and that you have as much energy as possible.  And that might look a little different from day to day or week to week.  

So, it is important to set some goals in the beginning and figuring out how to reach those goals in a way that makes sense for you.  Of course, we start with basic needs: sleep, healthy eating, physical activity.  If we can get those basic needs in first then the other goals come a little easier.  If any of the basic needs are lacking then it makes everything else a little bit harder.

(9:30) Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs.   At the basic level you need food and shelter and if you don’t have those foundational needs met, then all the other stuff is affected.  You have to start from the bottom. When it comes to goals making sure those core components come first.  

Sleep Routine Tips

(10:00) If someone says “I need to get up earlier” the first thing I ask is “What time are you going to bed?”  You mentioned the new apple feature on your phone.  There is a new “bedtime” feature that helps you schedule your sleep and wake needs.  It will alert you to wind down to prepare for bed.  

(10:35) So in order to get up earlier it starts with the night before.   And in order to get restful sleep you need to know what is going into your body and the energy you’ve put out in order to have a productive day one.  

(11:05) A lot of teens argue “why do I need to go to bed early if I am just getting up to do Zoom?” and I don’t think it is necessarily the amount of sleep but more the quality of sleep.  It is also different for everyone.  Some bodies thrive on less sleep than others. It is also important to know what helps you get a restful sleep.  This might mean putting down the phone before bed, putting down all electronics, doing some kind of mental relaxation beforehand.  The idea is how can you optimize a relaxed sleep so that you can have the most energy for the next day. 

(12:00) I really like apps for this and right now I really like on called Ten Percent before I go to bed.  I really like their sleep options.  

It’s really interesting because in DBT we have a skill for reducing vulnerability to intense emotion by paying attention to your physical vulnerabilities and building a healthy routine around that makes so much sense.  

Body Movement Routine Tips

(12:22) Body movement and figure out things to keep us motivated.  And this is so hard right now, especially for people who like to exercise outside.  The winter really closes the window of light and time to be outside.  It is also about recognizing that we are not operating how we previously did and things are different.

(13:00) Also knowing what your body needs and being mindful of how you structure your day.  It might look like scheduling exercise during the day rather than after work.  This could look different because of COVID and working from home.  You may need to adjust your scheduled to work outs during the middle of the day.  

People have said they feel like they have to stay logged into work all day long to overcompensate and show hey I am working. Often people who have the conversation with work or their boss and say I want to be productive and be as productive as possible and in order to do that I am going to take this break and then come back.  They are met with so much support because people want people to operate well and perform well and we can strengthen that by asking for what we need.  Which can be tough.  

Having a work out zoom buddy can help hold you accountable.  Also setting up challenges with friends can also be helpful in holding you accountable to working out. 

(14:50) Socially distanced 5ks.

Create your own fundraiser as you normally would and raise money for a good cause but instead of running together you choose your own route in your neighborhood and run on the same day as friends but on your own route.  So you are still feeling apart of a team as you run. 

Healthy Eating Routine Tips

(15:15) The other part that is difficult to do when you’re at home is healthy eating.  We are at home all the time but people are doing less meal planning now than say at the beginning of the pandemic. So it is important to take time to meal plan.  

The other part of this is snacking.  It is important to consider what is energizing to you during the day and what is slowing you down.  This looks different to each of us.  Mindfulness is key here.  Knowing when your body has its highs and lows.  When do you have your food coma and maybe that is the time when you need to get out and do some exercise?  This will help counterbalance the slumps.

(16:25) So much of this is important for us to do all of the time and not just in the winter. During the winter it is all the more important because there is so much that is not in your control and so we need to work more at these things that are within our control.

Check in with yourself and what is or isn’t working

(16:45) Check in from time to time and see what is and what is not working. Look at your goals weekly or monthly and see what is working.  Using a habit tracker or accountability partner can be helpful for this.  

“Knowing we are not robots and we are not always going to be doing the same thing all the time and we need to check in.” – Rachel

Building goals is a trial-and-error process.  Just because you set a goal does not mean you have to keep it.  Try it out see what works see what doesn’t and tweak it.   That is how you grow. “If you set a goal and it is not working that doesn’t mean you have failed.”  – Laura.  Rather it means you are learning and any data is useful.  I see everything as data to better know what works for you and what doesn’t.  

Also, what works for you for awhile might not always work forever so it is important to regroup sometimes.  

I find myself using the phrase “Just be patient with yourself.”  We are all just doing the best that we can.  And right now, does not look like what it has always looked like and it is really hard.  It is hard to prepare for the loses ahead when we don’t even know what it will look like.  The unknown is scary and hard to anticipate.  

Be open with others about your winter blues

(19:00) The only other thing I will say is to keep the conversations open.  So often we feel like we have to put on a face and say “I am fine” when we aren’t.  The reality is everyone is dealing with this so we can reach out to our friends and family members or talk to our support groups and we can just check in and say I am having a really tough time and rely on people around us which can be really hard sometimes.  This could really be a breath of fresh air allowing others that same space to say I am not ok right now and not have the pressure to feel perfect. 

When you take the first step of vulnerability and say “this really sucks and I am having a hard time” it makes it safe for someone else to say “yeah, me too”.  It takes one person to make that first move of vulnerability and it is ok for it to be you. 

Set boundaries with how you give your free time to others.

(19:50) The other side is being able to set solid boundaries and being comfortable enough to communicate those and respecting and sticking to those boundaries.  This means sticking up for what is best for you and letting others know what that looks like.  A meme says it like this “Just because your not busy doesn’t mean you’re available to other people.”  This is a great perspective on setting boundaries and making time for yourself. Especially with family this year we aren’t traveling as much and calculating whether or not to take the risks.  The conversations need to happen and it is going to look different. 

Redefine Traditions

(20:50) For some people the holidays are so stressful and so this year provides a time for people to do something different.  So, figuring out how to do traditions in a way that feels comfortable for everyone.  This might look like coming up with a holiday playlist to share so everyone can listen in their own homes, or all using the same recipe to cook the same dish. This allows you to still have connection even though you might not be in the same space together. Another idea is to agree to watch the same shows, for example watch all the holiday episodes of Friends or The Office or other favorites.  Pick something you have in common or enjoy and do it from a distance.  

Change Things Up

(22:00) Having different things to look forward to.  People this year decorated for the holiday’s earlier so they had something to look forward to.  This can happen again in January or February to decorate or rearrange things so you have something to look forward to.   This can also help you stay jolly, stay festive even after the holidays.  Changing your Christmas tree to a different themed tree…ie. This is my fall tree, this is my winter tree, changing the colors can help you keep a positive mood.  

Changing décor or furniture in your home is a way to provide change and keep things fresh.  With that said it is important to recognize there is a privilege with that.  It is not cheap to buy decorations and furniture for different seasons but you can also just move and change what you have without buying anything new.  

Try to always have at least one thing to look forward to.

(24:00) It is so important to have something to look forward to all the time.  This involves having good communication with the people who are in your day-to-day life or the people you want to do things with. Good communication with these people helps get everyone on the same page.  This could be as simple as printing out a calendar or having a calendar you can see and putting things on it that you can look forward to.  It does not have to be huge big things.  It can be a simple date night in or craft night or scenic drive over the weekend.  It’s just about having something different in your week and something you can look forward to.  You don’t have to have a reason to do something a little different or a little fancy.  It can just be because you want to.  You don’t need an excuse to make life a little festive.  You could even have a “get dressed up night” for no reason.  

“It’s about having variety in the routine as well.”   Even if you have a standing date night or work out routine its about adding variety so it stays interesting and motivating to you.

Try something new and exciting that you have never done before.

(26:00)  We so often say “I don’t have time for that” and now we do!  This could look like starting that new hobby or taking a new class, diving into a new healthy habit.  This a great time to try something new. BUT Remember to be patient with yourself if you can’t.  There are so many things out there and it is just a matter of finding it. Talk to others about what they are trying.  Letting people know you are getting stuck and get ideas about what they are doing.

Indoor Activity Ideas

(28:00) Baking and cooking.  Try cooking around the world.  Try a new recipe each week.  Crafting. Organizing. Decorating.  Cleansing.  Binge Watching Shows, movies.  You could also do superlatives.  Watching all of a movie series.

This looks different and just means finding what works for you.  Maybe you revisit Zoom activities or puzzles.  All the activities we did early in the pandemic can be brought out for round two.  

Outdoor Activity Ideas


Outdoor bonfire with friends.  City Bonfires is a local company that provides little fire with s’mores kits.  Scavenger hunts, Virtual 5K, scenic drives.  Considering the weather is so important here.  Look ahead at the weather so you can plan. Be intentional with your planning so you can fit in outdoor activities when the weather is best. Holiday lights are a great drive through activity.  Drive around different houses, neighborhoods and communities.  Local road trips or just a drive.  Your drive does not have to have an end destination.  Hikes.  Explore local parks.  Getting outside in any way you can.  Layer up and get outside.  There is so much so close in this area.

Giving to Others will help you feel better yourself.

(35:40) In the DBT manual we talk about the idea of giving back as a way of contributing to someone else’s happiness. This actually is a way of reducing your own stress. There is a stress relieving connection in doing something for others and feeling better yourself. 

Fundraising.  Donating goes hand and hand to clean out your closet.  Volunteer by giving your time.  Spreading awareness of your favorite cause.  So many people are alone right now so sending care packages can help bring people together.  Appreciating everyone who is working for our communities: healthcare workers, essential workers, delivery drivers.  Go out of your way to do nice things for others.  It not only helps make others feel good but it also makes you feel better.  Pay it forward by buying coffee for the person behind you.  Helping someone else can help you get out of your funk or your bad day.  Making a simple phone call to a friend not to talk about yourself but asking about them is one way to get out of yourself and be there for a friend.  

Remember to Create Balance with your waves of motivation.

(39:25) Everything we are saying just comes back to balance.  How can we give to others, give to ourselves, and know what we can take on is so important?  Being able to communicate and know if you can not take on someone else’s stuff right now that’s ok too.  And if you do have the capacity to take on someone else’s stuff that’s wonderful but everything we are saying are just ideas and are meant to get everyone’s creative juices going.  

(40:00) The biggest message I hope people get out of this is Whatever you need to be OK and that theses are suggestions and ideas and it does look a little bit different for everyone.

Often these feelings and motivations come in waves.  You might have a wave of motivation and want to do a lot of different things.  Then you might have a wave of wanting to just sit on your couch and do laundry and be in my sweat pants all day long.  And both are OK.  To our earlier point, it is helpful to have something to look forward to. Maybe what you have to look forward to is the day on the couch in your pjs.  Maybe you really look forward to pajama day.  Its all about mindset.  

The flipside of this is when you don’t feel good about this and you stay in bed all day long and you don’t feel like you.  When the things that used to make you happy don’t then you may have crossed a line and need some help to take care of ourselves.  This is so important to distinguish.  There is a big difference in looking forward to pajama day versus not being able to do activities of daily living like getting out of bed, showering, brushing your teeth.  It’s important to know when extra supports might be necessary and when to push yourself.  

Use the DBT Skill of Opposite Action

(41:30) The funny thing about sadness is that it tells you to isolate.  That is just what the emotion sadness will tell you to do and the more isolated you are the sadder you will feel.  It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  It is when you do the opposite of what the feeling tells you to do, like getting up and being active will you start to feel better and stop feeling sad.  So, check and see is the day in pajamas a day you plan and look forward to or is it more impulsive and something you don’t even think about and it is just happening to you on accident.  The later is more concerning and worth taking care of, noticing and do something different about.  

So when it does cross the line and you are starting to worry or your friends or family member is worried about you, it is important to know what you can do and where you can get help.  Hopefully all the ideas we’ve shared here will help you get ahead of it and keep people feeling “OK”.  

Tis’ the season to feel ok.  You don’t have to feel great.  You can just be OK and change your expectations.  We can almost expect a hard time because we know this is not going to be what we normal do and how winter normal is.  And again, that is OK and might even be good.  

If you find yourself needing more support to get through the winter blues OR want to learn more DBT skills as referenced here, reach out to Montgomery County Counseling Center

Therapy can be as short-term and seasonable as you need it to be. No amount of struggle is insignificant. Don’t suffer the rest of the winter long!

Check out our awesome clinicians and then reach out to us to get started!

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