How To Stay Happy During The SAD Winter Season

Beat seasonal depression by making self-care non-negotiable through the holidays

For many Americans, the holiday months are a truly magical time of year, full of parties, shopping, family gathering, and presents. How can such a cheerful time also leave many stressed out, sick, overworked, and experiencing SAD (seasonal affective disorder) or seasonal depression? There are many factors at play here, however, we are “diagnosing” the root of the problem to a lack of balance. Take a look at your calendar between today and New Year’s Day, how many extra items do you count? Now, I’m not saying to crawl under the covers until January 1st, but making self-care a non-negotiable item on your to-do list, like grabbing the oxygen mask when needed on an airplane, is the first step to survival.

As a health coach, here are the steps to doing that and avoiding or surviving with SAD:

Set realistic expectations.
Who doesn’t love the magical picture that our culture perceives as the “perfect holiday season?” It’s a lovely scene to see played out in the movies, but everyone’s real-life magic shows up in different ways. Let’s take a moment to examine what makes that imagery of holiday magic so coveted. Could it be that what we really want is a reprieve from routine and the chance to celebrate the gift of human connection? How exciting to think that that can be done in simple ways any time of the year.

My story.

December of 2010 I found myself at the end of my rope, hitting “rock bottom” as they say. I decided I needed and wanted help so I checked into a treatment facility for 30 days and was devastated to not be with my family over the holidays. Years of stress, lack of self-care, unrealistic expectations, and unhealthy habits had gotten me to that point and I was so angry with myself and depressed. As the days progressed and the fog began to lift I saw that by taking care of myself I was giving my loved ones the most precious gift. Was that holiday season pictured on a Hallmark card? No, but when I let go and saw my beautiful life as a gift, flaws and all, I found the most real feeling of holiday joy.

So take time to remember what life is all about at the end of the day. Find the things to be grateful for, especially in less than picture-perfect circumstances; and above all, connect with your tribe in a true and joyful way.

Don’t over commit.
Now before you call me a party pooper, let me say that the Sears family loves to party! What you will see is a room full of laughter and simple joys. So how do you want your calendar to look? Try to only say “yes” to things that will feed your soul in healthy ways instead of drain it; and again, strive to find balance. If you end up in a less than nurturing situation, find ways to practice self-care in the midst. Ways to do this are:

  1. Take along a supportive friend

  2. Commit to only coming for an hour

  3. Balance it out with something that brings you joy

This is very important because if you are burnt out from your commitments, how will you have space to experience the joys of the season?

Kick the SAD blues through self-care.
The reality is that sometimes we are overcommitted, or have unbalanced expectations. What can you do to lessen the negative effects? You guessed it, take time for you! Now you may be laughing at the thought of trying to fit in yet another item on your to-do list, but remember, you can’t pour from an empty cup! You can make time for you by shifting your perception. Try to think of your self-care time (even if it's a little as 5 minutes) as your anti-depressant, anti-anxiety, and serenity-producing medicine. Here are ways to start your “healthy happy hour” habits:

  1. Awaken 15 minutes earlier than others in your home so you have quiet time before the madness of the day begins. Grab your coffee/tea and read something silly or inspirational

  2. 5-minute mind mute. Sit quietly and simply breathe.

  3. Shop with an uplifting friend who will help keep you in balance.

  4. Plan “walk and talk” time at your favorite coffee shop or nearby park. If you are feeling stressed or need to vent, let it out! It is much less powerful once it leaves your brain

  5. Try a nighttime yoga routine


Keep your internal pharmacy open.
Did you know that each of us has our own unique internal pharmacy? The lining our blood vessels has the ability to release medicine into your system through movement and a healthful diet. I know, I know, here I go again being a party pooper. Not that you have to work out for hours a day and only eat salads, but I am going to come back to that magical word……balance!

The high sugar, high carb foods associated with the holidays can be very tasty, but also very damaging to a person struggling with depression, in fact there are now studies showing sugar to be a depressant and very addictive. So envision your internal medicine bottles being open through healthy habits, or closed through unhealthy habits. How to open your internal pharmacy and make your own medicines is a unique feature of our new book, The Dr. Sears T5 Wellness Plan. Here are my top tips to stay balanced with your holiday eating:

  1. Don’t go to a party hungry. Drink a protein smoothie on the way.

  2. Never drink alcohol on an empty stomach, and always pair it with some healthy fats to decrease the sugar spikes. Because alcohol is a depressant, I advise to use in moderation or steer clear.

  3. Bring your favorite fruit or veggie dish to be sure there will be something healthy you like to eat

  4. Eat mindfully and savor the treats. Don’t stress over a few treats!

  5. Have an accountability buddy to check in with if you’re feeling like you are going to overindulge

Soak up nature's therapy. There is a new “buzz worthy” therapeutic prescription knows as Eco Therapy, which is simply soaking up the healing affects of nature by listening to the birds, smelling the trees, and experiencing the calm ripple of a stream. Although there may be times when the weather outside is frightful, try to step out in whatever way possible to connect with mother nature and open yourself up to her unconditional nurturing. What a beautiful gift this life is! Even if you find yourself struggling this season, please know that you are not alone, I have been there also. May each day bring the opportunity for acts of love and service.  

Emotions, Community, Advice

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres. We publish pieces written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Learn more or join us as a community member!