Winter is here and it’s a second pandemic winter, no less. ‘Tis the season of shorter days, longer nights, and, if you live in a northern climate, six months of dirty snow and grey skies.
For those of us who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (aka “Winter Blues,” a type of depression that revolves around recurrent seasonal patterns), the winter months can include a disconnected, depressed mood, low energy, weight gain, overeating and craving carbohydrates, sleeping much more than usual, lack of focus, and other mood changes.
After many years spent learning to survive (even thrive) during the winter months, I’ve learned that it’s most important for my SAD-affected self to: move/exercise, get extra Vitamin D, catch some rays, connect with others, and stay engaged with my senses and body. In general, I try to maintain a sense of well-being and coziness.
Here are some go-to SAD-combatting options for the winter-blues sufferers on your gift list.
Help your favorite SAD-sufferer expose themself catch some “rays,” especially if the place they live is short on the natural kind, with a full-spectrum light lamp or box. Some researchers link seasonal depression to melatonin, which causes sleepiness and fatigue. Since light affects the biological system in our brains that regulates circadian rhythms, it’s possible that less sunlight in winter can affect our psychology and cause mood changes–and this natural or “full-spectrum” light can have an antidepressant effect.
I definitely find these lights to have an energizing effect; after a brief session, I’m more alert and the cobwebs in my brain are swept away. (Placebo or not, I’ll take it.) Here are the full-spectrum lights I’ve grown to love having in my home.
An alarm clock that gradually brightens my room with soft light in the minutes leading up to my set wakeup time
A Verilux desk lamp that I use to bask in fake-sunlight over my morning coffee.
This year, I have a floor lamp on my gift list, just to round out my full-spectrum light options.
If you live somewhere that lacks sun during winter, it can be tough for your body to get enough vitamin D exposure to synthesize what it needs for vital processes like building and maintaining strong bones. (The Institute of Medicine recommends that healthy adults get 600 IU of daily vitamin D.) But, foods like fatty fish (tuna, mackerel, salmon), cheese, and egg yolks can add vitamin D to your diet, or you can also supplement with vitamin D3 in capsule or gummy form. Since my levels are low, my doc advised has me taking an extra 1,000 IU per day. I like gummies, since there’s evidence that they’re a better way to absorb the vitamin. Here’s more info on choosing a Vitamin D supplement.
This cult-favorite French black tea, made by luxury Parisian tea company Mariage Freres, is inflected with notes of vanilla and bourbon, making it the perfect winter-morning indulgence.
Golden milk’s become popular in the U.S. lately, but it’s a variant on a traditional warm, soothing Indian drink haldi doodh (turmeric milk), historically used to prevent against common ailments like colds, inflammation, and upset stomach. These days, cafes offer all variety of lattes golden-milk drinks, but if you want to DIY, it’s basically a tablespoon of turmeric in half a cup of piping hot milk, tea, or water. To step it up, try this Golden Milk Superblend, which adds on flavorful ingredients like maca, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom and black pepper.
Sometimes it can help a SAD sufferer to lean into and investigate the feelings they’re having, in order to better understand what’s happening in their brain–and realize that they’re not alone.
Last winter, not one but THREE friends bought me Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times, a gorgeous meditation on hibernation, rest, and giving yourself time to repair. It changed the way I thought about winter as a fallow period, as is also found in nature.
And, Dr. Norman Rosenthal wrote Winter Blues: Everything You Need to Know to Beat Seasonal Depression, which is perhaps the best-known book on SAD.
The books of Buddhist mindfulness meditation teacher and therapist Tara Brach can help SAD sufferers navigate the ways that anxiety and depression can affect their lives. I’d recommend Radical Compassion, since it teaches ways to focus on warmth and kindness to yourself and others. She also offers a funny and thoughtful (free) weekly dharma talk and meditation, in podcast form.
The Danish cultural concept of hygge means creating a warm, cozy atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with good people. Since Danish winters are long and dark, Danes use hygge to combat darkness (think candles, mulled wine, blankets, oversized scarves). The Danes are some of the happiest people in the world so why not try out their methods on your winter-blues giftee?
Kneipp Mineral Bath Salts in Deep Breathe include pin and fir, so they can lay back and pretend they’re forest bathing.
Whether your giftee attends caftan parties or not, this elegant Natori charmeuse caftan will make downtime feel more elegant.
If the sleek, refined silhouette of this Monarch Plush Lined Microfiber Spa Robe looks familiar, it’s because this brand is used in many luxury hotel lines.
This Natori robe is on the plusher side of things — its sherpa lining makes it feel like you’re literally being wrapped in a hug.
One of the few pandemic upsides for some of us was a societal shift away from “hard pants.” (Vogue may claim we’re dying to return to formal clothing like pencil skirts, heeled mules and pinstripe suits, but they’ve got advertisers to please and I call bullshit.) Anyway, if your Eeyore-like giftee needs warm pants for casual outings, I love these Sherpa-lined sweats. They’re not super fashionable! But they’re snuggly and warm and I feel no pain when wearing them — even in subzero weather.
These cozy, Pudus vegan slipper socks are approved by PETA, for your animal loving pals.
Other ways to improve the hygge in your giftees life–and help them lean into the hibernation–are to inject cozy elements into their home. Think cute, custom throw blankets, colorful area rugs, and plush slippers that’ll make them feel like a starlet in a classic film, traipsing around their boudoir. See below.
This low-pile shag wool rug is basically a dupe of one at West Elm, but is less than half the price.
An Anthropologie-like faux-fur blanket in zillions of colors.
It’s super annoying but movement and exercise is literally proven to help relieve stress and anxiety, (both of which can increase SAD symptoms). So, gifts that encourage gentle forms of movement might help your SAD giftee out — as long as they’re given in the spirit of joy and not diet/weight loss (ugh.) Additionally, I’ve found that my symptoms are helped by literally anything that I do that connects me to my body, particularly because my first instinct when the cold weather and grey skies arrive is to want to curl up into a ball on my couch.
Yoga with Adrienne (and her sweet pooch, Benji) were a balm for many of us last winter, and her YouTube channel offers many classes for free. She also offers courses on her website for “Pay What Feels Good” rates. Yoga mats don’t last forever, and this pretty green color may help lighten your SAD pal’s mood.
Peloton stationery bikes took off during the pandemic and there’s no denying that their leaderboard feature is amazing for making users feel like they’re part of a community class. I opted for the cheaper Sunny bike (also with a magnetic belt drive) and used the Peloton app. Same fun variety of classes, but I saved about a grand.
Sometimes getting out of dodge and hitting a warm-weather destination with a beach or pool or sunny desert makes all the difference. Help the SAD sufferer in your life flee their cold, grey ‘hood and escape to some sunshine with a Southwest Airlines gift card.
Please note: If the above remedies don’t help, and their depression lingers, they may want to seek out therapy, particularly cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which can help sufferers replace negative thoughts and feelings with positive ones. Winter Blues author Dr. Rosenthal says CBT “has the most going for it” when it comes to seasonal depression.
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