Rethinking SAD: Creating A Winter Oasis

photo by Brad Waters

photo by Brad Waters

A departure from my usual career themed blogs, my latest at Psychology Today tells my own story of how I developed a mutual respect for the season of SAD. Does your mood or productivity change during winter months? Learn ideas for creating a winter oasis

“One thing I might find more frustrating than the polar vortex is the annual onslaught of mainstream news articles about seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Only because it’s the same advice year after year: exercise, buy a sun lamp, and have your doctor check your Vitamin D level. Okay, did that, still feeling kind of crappy. So now what?

I think what bothers me the most is that the articles often contain cutesy phrases like “knock out depression”, “put the smackdown on SAD”, or “beat the blues.” I don’t know about you, but when I’m feeling lousy I’m not exactly in the mood to jump in the boxing ring to deliver depression a TKO punch. And when we treat our “bad mood” like it’s the enemy, we might just be setting ourselves up for a long and difficult bout in the ring.

I believe our culture tends to make a fundamental error when it conceptualizes negative moods as intruders we must stave off. I believe we can do much better at seeing our whole spectrum of moods as parts of ourselves to be witnessed and experienced. What if we reimagine mood as more like a dance partner than a sparring partner? Allowing all of our moods to show up at the metaphorical dinner table, not as uninvited guests, but as wise elders with lessons to share.

Our moods and emotions are intertwined with the world around us, and the environment within us. I think of them as infinite invisible threads weaving together our behaviors with our memories, associations, connections to our environment, and relationships with one another. Each thread serves a purpose, has a story.

I recall one winter over a decade ago when I was feeling particularly mired in the long gray season. That was the winter I truly learned what it meant to witness and honor all of my moods and the messages of my body, as opposed to hating those parts that felt like suffering. I learned to witness and dance with the discomfort of a depressed mood without judging it so harshly for showing up on the floor.

This was the dance: Over the course of that winter, I worked with a counselor to redefine my rigid beliefs about winter and find a rhythm I could move to—personal ways to give meaning to the season. First, I learned how to witness, honor, and appreciate aspects of winter rather than blanket the entire season with resentment. Then, to notice and appreciate the messages my body was sending, and to give myself permission to accept a slower, gentler pace. Finally, I learned how to incorporate symbolic objects into my home that reference what I love about warmer seasons and long for in the winter. This, a process I now refer to as creating a winter oasis…”

Please click over to my Psychology Today blog to read the 4 steps for creating a winter oasis