Beat the Winter Blues: Managing Depression without Relapse 

For most of the country, February is still a solid month away from the first wisps of spring, but in California, the 70-degree weather is often a far cry from a harsh, depression-inducing winter.  

Nevertheless, the fact is that many people struggle with the blues around this time of year, even in Southern California. With the passing of the holidays and the dying rush of inspiration for positive change that comes with New Year’s resolve, many feel their energy and drive dwindle as the newness of the year wears off and the mundane again becomes the status quo for a months-long stretch.   

Are you struggling with the winter blues this year? Are you worried that it could be a trigger for relapse? It’s a viable concern; very often, people in recovery who struggle with difficult emotions may feel that their only recourse to feel better in the absence of positive coping skills is to drink or get high.   

Here’s what you need to know to protect yourself from relapse due to seasonal depression  

It’s a Real Thing

Yes, everyone has normal ups and downs, but if your “downs” are lasting for two weeks or more, if they are impeding your ability to function in life, or if they are causing you to consider relapse as an option, then it’s time to get help. Depression is a real disorder, and it can be debilitating and even deadly. Suicide can be the end result of untreated depression, and a return to active addiction can lead to death as well. If you begin to struggle with this issue or if it seems that someone you love is, don’t ignore the problem; instead, take action.

Start at Home

There are little changes you can make in your life. At first, these may not seem like a big deal, but they can have a huge impact on your mood and energy levels. Here are just a few to get you started:  

  • Focus on restorative sleep. Restorative sleep isn’t spending all day in bed or napping whenever you feel like it. Rather, it is what comes when you implement a regular sleep schedule – going to bed and getting up at the same time every day – and get the right amount of sleep for your needs. If you are already doing this, you can improve the quality of your sleep by making sure your sleep space is quiet, dark, and cool. You might choose to use white noise like a fan or aromatherapy to further improve your ability to relax and stay asleep. It is also important to avoid stimulating activities before going to bed (e.g., TV, tablet, or phone use; exercise; heavy eating; smoking; etc.) in order to help your body be relaxed for bed.  
  • Eat well. When you are not feeling happy, your response may be to indulge in “comfort foods,” often high-fat, high-sugar foods with little nutrient value, or to avoid eating as much as possible. This will only contribute to low energy levels and malaise. Instead, try to eat lots of different fresh produce every day with lean protein and good-for-you fats. Cut out or cut down on high-sugar, processed, and/ or fried foods whenever you can.  
  • Laugh. If you are watching TV a lot, choose funny movies and TV shows to help you keep your spirits up. Avoid the true crime episodes, hospital dramas, and heavy films that will only weigh you down emotionally. Instead, find things to laugh about for better health. 
  • Get outside. Exposing your skin to sunlight will increase your absorption of vitamin D naturally. The amount of time you will need to be outside with skin exposed will vary based on your skin tone and how covered up you are, but regular sun exposure can help you to feel better. In Southern California, there is no shortage of that – plus, it’s free. 
  • Get moving. When you work out regularly, you will you enjoy the endorphins that kick in when you get your heart rate up for a while, and over time, you will find that your energy levels increase as do your stamina and your ability to metabolize food efficiently. All of these things will also help to improve your quality of sleep and your physical health, which will boost your mood.  

Ask for Help

If you have tried a number of these things, kept at it for a while, and experienced no real benefit, or if you are struggling so much with depression that you cannot even find the energy to really put any of these into practice with regularity, then it is time to seek professional care.  

This does not have to involve an in-depth residential treatment program or even an intensive outpatient program, as long as you have not already relapsed. If you are still sober, start talking to a therapist who understands both depression and substance abuse and how the two can intersect when they co-occur. Consider some alternative therapies – like outdoor and adventure therapies, animal-assisted therapies, and art therapies – that will allow you to explore different aspects of how you are feeling without relying too heavily on conversation.   

Additionally, you can layer in holistic treatments as well. Bodywork and massage, yoga, meditation, tai chi, and others can all help you to find a place of calm and balance in your life and learn how to make that the norm.   

Would seeking out treatment for depression help you to avoid relapse in recovery?  

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