Winter Wonder

By Polly Douse, MMFT

How do the colder, darker months impact you on a social, physical, and emotional level?

It was the winter of 2006, I had graduated from college the previous May and found myself biking through the cobblestone streets of Uppsala, Sweden in single-digit degrees. As a southerner, I had never experienced living in a winter wonderland of darkness. It felt like the first snow came around Thanksgiving, and the last snow melted by Easter. It was cold, it was dark, and I was fumbling through life trying to figure out how to live apart from my family, my country, and my college friends.

Before I go on, I must say that I do not condone the use of tanning beds. There is much research about how harmful they are to your body. I was 22 and very cold. When I discovered the tanning beds in Sweden, I thought I would give them a try.

My new friends instantly noticed something different about me, and in addition to having a slight tan, I would come out of a tanning bed with a bit of a buzz. I wasn’t cold. I felt warm. Being under the lights impacted my overall mood. I did not visit the tanning beds daily, but when I did, I felt happier. Everything seemed a bit lighter.

As spring finally started to poke through Sweden’s dark months, I found myself tilting my head towards the sun like a plant. I longed to feel the warmth on my face. I could feel energy almost filling my body.

Now, we’ve all heard of seasonal depression, and maybe some of you have heard about the winter-onset seasonal affective disorder, but what does that really mean for you? Do you struggle when it gets darker and colder? I am not suggesting that you have seasonal depression, but what if it is something different?

What does life look like for you post-pandemic during the winter months? Do you find yourself wanting to stay in and hibernate a little? Do you find it harder to go for a run or try a new yoga class? In Tennessee, we tend to experience rain and ice in the winter months, and I wonder how this impacts our emotional well-being, our serotonin levels, and our ability to be in community with those around us.

Alice Kelly with had some great ideas for combatting the New England winter that you may find beneficial during these gray months, and they suggested the following (and thankfully no tanning beds were involved):*

  • 7-8 hours of sleep
  • Plan hanging out with friends
  • Practice mindfulness in everyday activities
  • Move your body
  • Take yourself outside
  • Ask your doctor’s permission about using a light box.
  • Take a social media hiatus.
  • Most importantly, seek help if you are struggling. The national suicide and crisis lifeline number is 988. You can text or call this number any time.

It’s okay if you find yourself moving slower during the winter and wanting to rest and recharge. I encourage you to be gentle with yourself and make a habit to prioritize what you need during this season, and please stay away from tanning beds. If light does seem to impact you, consider talking to your doctor about a light box.

*Kelly, A. L. (2022, December 12). Strategies to maintain your mental health this winter. Harvard Pilgrim Health Care – HaPi Guide. Retrieved February 12, 2023, from

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