10 Ways To Beat The Winter Blues

10 Ways To Beat The Winter Blues

How To Smile Like a Snowman This Winter!

Does your snowman wear a frown?
A lot of people are affected by the Winter Blues, known medically as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This condition is most likely caused by the reduced amount of sunlight in the late fall and winter months, and it causes many people to feel very depressed without any outside stimulation to cause it. Does this sound like you? If it does, I'm here to help with 10 ways to make yourself a little happier this season.

1. Get outside.

Since you are spending a lot more time indoors, now is a great time to immerse yourself in a new hobby. This can even be your new year's resolution! Find a passion that gets your excited and keeps you occupied for hours. You won't have any time to think about the things that get you down.

3. Journal

Writing is a great way to get out those pent-up emotions. Instead of talking to someone about your problems, which can only extend the time you think about your troubles, or keeping them to yourself, mulling them over in your mind for hours, write down your thoughts. It supplies the release you need by sharing your thoughts, but once you've written them down, the conversation is over and you can move on. Additionally, journaling is a great way to achieve your new year's resolutions - keep a log of your eating, finances, and anything else you want to improve.

4. Increase Your Intake of Vitamin D

Speaking of eating healthier, increasing Vitamin D in your diet can be a great way of supplementing that luck of sunshine. Vitamin D, normally soaked up through our skin from the sun, can greatly contribute to your mood elevation or depression. Vitamin D can be found in fish, eggs, and dairy products made from whole milk. If you don't think you're getting enough in your diet, consider asking your personal physician to do some blood work - if you find your body's lacking, consider taking a Vitamin D supplement. Make sure you choose one from a reputable brand and take it as instructed to reap the greatest benefits.

5. Volunteer

Volunteering is a great way to increase your own joy while helping someone else as well. It's proven that helping others makes us feel better about ourselves - it gives us a sense of community, importance, and usefulness, and it can be a a great way to meet other people and better the world around you. This is an especially good idea for anyone who is feeling lonely this winter. You'll be working with others and meeting other people who you can build relationships with that will keep you feeling happy and loved all through the year.

6. Declutter Your Surroundings

Don't wait for spring cleaning to get your organize your belongings. A cluttered environment can increase anxiety. Take a day to clean up the house and give yourself room to breathe. Donate items you no longer need. Gift items you think someone you know would love. Make yourself a spot where you can sit and relax when you need a moment of peace.

7. Cook a Hearty Meal

In the winter, we tend to have some unhealthy eating habits. Some, because of depression, tend to eat to little, while others eat to much. Meanwhile, there are plenty of sugary temptations to wreak havoc on our diet and digestive systems. A great way to solve this problem, and improve your mood, is to take this time to cook yourself a hearty meal. It will keep you from snacking unhealthily through the day (if you're a chronic eater), or it will force you to actually sit down and eat a nutritious meal (if you tend to stay away from food when you're in a bad mood). Make sure the meal is high in protein, vegetables, healthy fats, and carbohydrates with a high fiber content so you feel satisfied. Cooking is a great hobby that can be fueled into a way to beat depression, while eating the delicious food increases your serotonin levels, making you happier.

8. Exercise

Exercise increases your endorphin levels, which makes you a very happy person. Additionally, it makes you healthier and can help you achieve that new year's resolution you've been working on for years now. Take the time to do a 30 minute workout each day and you'll love the results.

9. Enjoy Free Activities in Your City

There are lots of indoor events that happening in your city during the winter to keep you entertained and get you out of the house. Check your local libraries page for special events. Look up local museums to see if they are featuring a gallery free-of-charge or having a free-admission day. Check if your local community college is having any free concerts. Get out and about and enjoy the world around you.

10. Drink Lots of Water

This is quite possibly the most simple and most important thing you can do to improve your mood. A dehydrated body is an unhappy body. Make sure you are drinking at least 64oz of water a day, every day, not just in the winter. You'll find yourself having more energy, a happier mood, and a healthier body.

The winter blues can turn what would otherwise be another beautiful season into dreaded, dreary months. Take some time to elevate your mood and enjoy life around you - every moment is precious, and you deserve to spend it smiling.

Cover Image Credit: Wikimedia commons

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I Baker Acted Myself At 21 Because It’s OKAY To Ask For Help

The ability to Baker Act myself, knowing that I would have a place to be safe from myself and my poor decision making literally saved my life.

For months my mental health took over my life. I let sadness, anxiety, and constantly fluctuating moods dictate how I felt, thought and functioned. I was not living a life I enjoyed, but my mind told me I deserved nothing more than what I had, so I continued in my darkness. I worked so hard to hide my struggle from the world; I felt that because I had so many positive things going on in my life, I wasn’t allowed to talk about the constant heaviness residing in my heart.

I had been accepted into the graduate program of my dreams, moving forward to study what I love, in the beautiful city of Boston.

I was maintaining my 3.86 GPA and still on track to early graduation.

I had a few good friends and a job that I made decent money with.

I had a family that would have done anything to help and support me.

And I saw all of this.

But the cloud that was my mental illness told me I didn’t deserve any of it.

I have been struggling with my mental health for about 15 months now, and every second has been a true roller coaster. With the help of a mentor I will always be grateful for, and some great friends by my side, I realized that while I was doing well in the realm of physical health, I was severely lacking in mental health. This journey began in January of 2017. From January until about July, I continued on with my regular life, not addressing any of my issues and venting daily to my mentor and friends, not knowing how to move forward and feeling so afraid to admit that I needed help.

During these few months, I stopped attending soccer practices for my college team, I stopped leaving my dorm room unless I was going to class, my boyfriend broke up with me, and I stopped eating regularly, losing about 20 pounds because of that. Everyone could physically see the changes happening in me, but I just wasn’t ready to get help, and I was so afraid of what would happen to me if I started medications or started therapy: would people treat me differently? Would people think less of me? Would I actually feel better? Or, would I feel worse from the “shame” or “embarrassment” that I had learned followed mental health treatment because of the huge stigma in our country?

Throughout this time of uncertainty and through my diagnosis, I had developed very negative coping mechanisms. Like I said previously, I stopped eating; this got to the point that even looking at food made me gag. I also developed a highly impulsive draw towards getting tattooed. This goes hand in hand with impulsive spending and self-harm, and for me, was the perfect way to drown my feelings while simultaneously feeling the intensity and pain I so desired. When this wasn’t enough, I also began to self-harm on my hips, stomach, and wrists to feel something and to let go at the same time (follow-up story on why I am in NO way ashamed or embarrassed by my scars to come!). Things were getting out of control and I knew it.

Eventually, I made the decision, with the very strong recommendations from my mentor (I will forever be thankful for you GA), to tell my parents what was happening and seek out help. I started seeing a psychiatrist and a psychologist and started medications for what would be diagnosed as Major Depressive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and a Cluster B Personality Disorder: Borderline Personality. I have definitely struggled with my diagnosis, and continue to do so today. I was so happy to be feeling better, but I hated knowing I was literally “ill” and had no control over it. I was glad that there was a name (or a few) for what I was feeling, but I hated that I needed medication, and help from so many people, to feel "ok."

My treatment worked for a few months; I did see results as I started to feel happier and more energetic, I was sleeping better, and I had an actual desire to live my life, not just suffer through it or prematurely end it as I had in the past. I was working on accepting, and even advocating for, mental illness, health and awareness. But something went awry. I stopped taking my medications, stopped eating again, re-started cutting, and stopped attending soccer practices; all of this was made easier for me because of the two concussions I suffered in the Fall of 2017, which completely sucked and were so painful, but also gave me an "out" from regular life. If I didn’t want to leave my room or eat for days, I would blame my concussions. If I didn’t go and watch my teammates practice, I could blame my concussions.

The two concussions, which collectively lasted for 9 weeks, made everything worse for me and were very difficult to deal with; however, they were an especially hard blow to my treatment and the strides I had made with my mental health. During this time, I was still dealing with my breakup, and there were several awful rumors spread about me, started by my very own teammates. I also struggled to decide whether or not I would be postponing graduation because of my two concussions or continue on and fight to pass my six courses.

I fell into a complete downward spiral; I couldn’t tell up from down and I was drowning in my mental illnesses. I knew that if I went back to my doctors, they would prescribe me something that would help me ease back into regular life, but I didn’t want to rely on anyone but myself. I foolishly believed that I could overcome these chemical imbalances in my brain and ingrained personality tendencies all on my own (Spoiler alert: I was very VERY wrong).

From then on, I spent my days in sadness, anger, and constant anxiety. I wanted someone to help me, but I didn’t know how to ask and didn’t think anyone cared enough to step in. I wanted to call out to anyone and beg them to help me but felt selfish for asking for anyone’s time or any attention at all. My brain made me feel like I was completely alone and worthless, and one day I decided that I didn’t need to be on this earth anymore. With me gone, everyone would be better off, I wouldn’t have to grow up and deal with the stresses of adulthood, and I could stop worrying about all of the relationships I had been intentionally ruining for months.

I was going to catch up on all of the doses of medication I had missed in the 6 months of me fighting this battle by myself so I couldn’t feel any remorse or pain, and then I planned on taking a blade to my wrists to finalize my decision. There would be no surviving that. So, about 4 weeks ago, I drove myself home from school and decided that I was ready to take my own life. Writing this article today, I could not be happier that this plan fell through.

As I walked in the door, I heard my dad rustling through his things getting ready for the gym. I greeted my two cats with hellos and walked into my room, locking the door behind me. I was shaking with anxiety and from crying, and could barely see straight. I was fumbling around looking for my blade while trying to decipher which medications I was going to mix to make sure I would rest easy. Right at the moment that I was finally able to calm down, I felt so ready. So sure of my plan and my self-hatred, and that my existence was worthless.

I had already written out my notes to the few people I thought would question me and apologized for the mess I was sure to leave, and I walked into the bathroom. I had gotten in the shower and began to self-harm before I took any of the medication, as a way to calm down before I went through with my plan.

About 10 minutes later, I got a notification on my phone. The notification was from a meditation app I had downloaded months before as a way to try and positively cope with my emotions (which I still have to this day and still fail to completely surrender to). The screen showed me a message that spoke about being strong and surprisingly, THAT was the sign that allowed a moment of clarity.

The first time I was suicidal enough to plan my suicide, my mentor casually said to me “you’re stronger than that,” and that statement resonated with me; I replayed her words until I didn’t think that taking my own life was the right choice. The fact that these were the same words being shared with me now gave me the one rational thought I had had all day, breaking through the cloud that was working against me: I said to myself, “call a friend”.

From there, I got out of the shower, put away all of the things I had planned on using to take my life, packed a bag of clothes, and drove to my school campus. On the way, the only thing that kept me from turning around and going back to my plan was thinking of all of the people who had spent so much time and effort on me, working with me to survive my mental illnesses; it would be so unfair for me to have wasted their time, effort and love. I kept repeating this to myself, and eventually met my best friend on campus, who would then drive me to the hospital so I could Baker Act myself. I was immediately checked in to the psychiatric ward. I had to change from my clothes into a hospital gown and was inspected. My wounds were dressed and I was put in a bed and given something to sleep.

The ability to Baker Act myself, knowing that I would have a place to be safe from myself and my poor decision making, literally saved my life. I knew that they would be able to help me regulate my emotions and my thoughts and that I would be in a safe place away from all of my triggers and negative outlets. I was in the hospital for 4 days; it was the longest 4 days of my life, but I wouldn’t be here without having that experience.

Being in the adult ward, I was mixed in with so many other individuals who were mentally distressed or ill; it was an eye-opening experience, to say the least, and I truly realized that I was lucky to have the resources and the support group I had waiting for me at home. I would be able to continue my fight against these illnesses, and I was absolutely NOT alone in it. My parents were superstars dealing with all of this and still are very supportive, helping me to rebuild my relationship with them that wasn’t very open in the past; my friends don’t treat me any differently and continue to check in with me, making sure I’m doing well and feeling their love; and my mentors still support me and advise me, guiding me down a path to success.

I have accomplished so many things in the short time since being Baker acted, and I know that this is the universe reassuring me that I do need to be here, that I am worth something and will make the positive change that I oh so desire to make for the world.

Getting help doesn’t make you weak. Let me say that again: GETTING HELP DOESN’T MAKE YOU WEAK. And you will only thank yourself and those who supported you through it once you do get the help you need. You may stray from your treatment, and you may need to fall down a few (hundred) times before you realize that your mental health is important and serious, but you WILL realize that you need to make a commitment to being kind to yourself.

If you are reading this and my story resonates with you, I am truly sorry. I wish that no one else in the world has ever felt as low as I felt, or as alone. But I am so extremely proud of you for being here to read these words. Keep fighting, please. That is something you will never regret.

Until next week friends!

Cover Image Credit: Oles kanebckuu

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Thank You, Junot Diaz

"In the treatment world, they say that often you have to hit rock bottom before you finally seek help."

On Monday, April 9th, 2018, Junot Diaz published his essay “The Silence: The Legacy of Childhood Trauma” on the website for “The New Yorker” magazine. The essay recalls Diaz’s chilling experience of being raped by “a grownup [he] truly trusted” as a boy of merely eight years old in the Dominican Republic. He then went on to struggle with mental illness, a plethora of loves lost, and picking up the pieces his rapist left behind. He also goes into how the trauma influenced his short stories and novel. I won’t summarize the essay, because it is Diaz’s story and is one worthy of being heard in his voice, not lump-summed in mine.

Take thirty minutes to read it if you haven't, then come back to me. Trigger warnings for sexual abuse and assault, depression, and suicidal thoughts or actions.

I am privileged to say I’m not one of the one in six women who are victims of sexual assault, but I know some of them. And I’m certainly not one of the one in thirty-three men who experience sexual assault, but I even know a handful of them.

Diaz’s article opens in such a moving way, where he places guilt by omission on his already heavy shoulders. He goes on to think of how many people he could have helped if he had come to terms with his assault sooner, made it public sooner, admitted it to someone just a bit sooner. But he has no reason to feel guilty because sexual assault isn’t something anyone should have to come to terms with, it’s something that should never happen. Period.

Anytime a guy has admitted to being a victim sexual assault to me, it often was brought up in an incredibly uncomfortable “no homo” joke that was awkwardly laughed off and glossed over, the subject quickly changed. The gravity of this person’s admission takes too long to sit in, and by the time it does, it feels as though a window for bringing it back up has come to a close. My heart aches for anyone who has experienced this scenario, as a victim or listener, male or female.

I hope that with Diaz’s bold move to share his story on as wide a platform as “The New Yorker” along with the status he holds as a best-selling, Pulitzer-winning writer and MacArthur Fellow, his essay will allow other sexual assault victims to find the courage to raise their voices against their attackers. I hope that even if incarceration is next to impossible and revenge unneeded, such as in Diaz’s case, these victims find peace after their pain. No one on this Earth deserves to walk through life with even one percent of the pain Diaz experienced after that fateful day forty-odd years ago. The first step to that is to speak. Yes, it sounds terrifying to confront such trauma but to address it is to take the first step to dismantling its power over you.

Speak up, speak out, and speak loud.

If you or someone you love is a victim of sexual violence, you are NOT alone.
RAINN’s Hotline is available 24/7: 1-800-656-HOPE(4673) and more resources and statistic, like ones mentioned above, can be found on RAINN.org.
Cover Image Credit: Breana Pietrosanti

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