At the beginning of the year, I resolved to make 2019 my “year of self-care”. As someone who is constantly moving, working, and producing, I wanted to learn how to value rest, to cherish my free time, and to slow down. I wanted to learn how to take better care of myself both physically and mentally. There is no time that is more crucial for my own well-being than the winter, when my seasonal depression flares. I have managed fairly well this autumn, but now that we have few, precious daylight hours each day, I am starting to feel the drag of the winter blues.
Having learned from last winter, I am arming myself with little things that will help me over the next few months. I just have to remember frequency. It’s not enough to engage in the following activities or habits on a monthly or even weekly basis. Instead, I have to do them as often as possible, if not daily.
Light. I work odd hours, waking up before the sun rises so I can get to work on time. During the summer months, I drive to work during the sunrise. During the winter months, however, I am often already working at least an hour before dawn. Worse, the sun sets here anywhere between 4:30 PM and 6 PM depending on how deep the winter is, but sometimes I need to go out afterward for errands or rock climbing. And sometimes, daytime in winter is gray and dreary, and I don’t see the sun for 24 hours (or more).
All of this darkness brings down my mood and makes it harder for me to accomplish anything, even basic tasks like buying groceries. The solution? A full spectrum light therapy box. The one I own is a gift from my friend Brooke. It has been a huge help on dark days, both literally and metaphorically. Of course, I cannot bring it to work, nor can I carry it around with me outside the apartment. But as long as I’m home, I can turn it on during the early morning and evening hours.
Warmth. I crave warmth and heat as much as I seek light. My ideal weather is 70°F (21°C) or hotter, mild humidity, and the brightest, bluest sky. So when the winter comes and the temperature drops below 50°F (10°C), I bundle myself up. Wrapping myself up in multiple blankets, wearing cozy pajamas, and drinking hot cocoa or tea are ways for me to stay warm at home beyond turning up the heat.
However, I have more difficulty keeping warm outside. I detest wearing multiple layers of clothing, but I have to if I want to stay warm during winter. You would think that after 30 years of being on this planet, I would have figured out how to layer clothing in a way that is comfortable for me! I’m starting to think that I may have an easier time if I wear clothing that I actually love, instead of clothing I wear just because it’s what I have on hand. I’ll explore that in a future blog post.
Sleep. After turning 30 this year, I discovered that I am no longer as resilient as I used to be. Before, I used to be able to function just fine even after sleeping for 6 hours every night for consecutive nights. I would still need to recharge on weekends, but being able to function on 6-7 hours of sleep each night meant having more time in the day for chores, errands, personal projects, and hanging out with friends. Not anymore. In fact, my entire mental faculty and physical ability cease to function properly unless I sleep 7-9 hours every night. Since I wake up at 4 AM on weekdays, that means I have to get to bed between 7 and 9 PM the night before. This fact frustrates me deeply, because most people — including Dan — are only just becoming available for socializing at this time. I can’t socialize if I go to bed! But I can’t function the next day if I don’t go to bed.
The only solution is to make peace with this truth about my life. Unless something changes at my job, this is how it’s going to be for the foreseeable future. I need to accept that my day will start to wrap up at 7 PM and that I need to be in bed by 9 PM at the latest.
Video games. Yes, I know — video games do not exactly rank alongside sleep, warmth, and light as what many would consider a healthy habit. But for a perfectionist like me who always feels the need to be constantly producing or completing tasks, video games are a safe haven for my mind. Through games, I can lose myself in another world. For a couple of hours, I can set aside the struggles of my everyday life and complete tasks that are easy, fun, and instantly rewarding. I have to be careful, though. Even though I play games on Easy or Story Mode, they can still be challenging, especially puzzles. Therefore, I have to choose games based on just how good or terrible I feel. What I might normally consider a fun challenge in a beloved game can quickly become a frustrating, hate-generating obstacle.
Prioritizing video games as a way to relax my mind is going to be the hardest aspect of establishing a consistent self-care routine. I have a “work now, play later” mindset, and the work never ends. Forcing myself to put away the work for another day so I can destress in the moment will be difficult. But I have burnt out before, and I promised myself I wouldn’t do that to myself again. I have to give myself breaks. I have to remember to play.
If I am consistent and attentive about these self-care habits, I should be able to make it through the winter with a better state of mind than the one I had last year. I suppose the only way to tell is to keep a record of my mental state over the next few months, then look back on the experience once spring has come. We shall see what the new year brings.