Seasonal depression is hard, painful, and often, lonely... [but the] God who calls us to freedom will lovingly hold us, walk beside us, and lead us, step by step, prayer by prayer, and paintbrush by paintbrush toward increased freedom.
This probably comes as no surprise, but many of us are feeling sadder and more fatigued and apathetic than ever. Numerous people are probably battling residual effects of all the grief and uncertainty endured over the past few years: job layoffs, social isolation, the increased hostility caused by vastly different yet fiercely held perspectives and ideologies, or the loss of loved ones. Such experiences can challenge the joy and peace of the most optimistic and cheerful among us. For those suffering with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of depression connected with changing seasons, however, the results can be devastating.
Perhaps you know this from personal experience or have witnessed this type of pain in someone you love. If so, here are 8 self-care tips that can help counter what some refer to as “the Daylight Savings Blues":
1. Avoid assigning blame.
One evening around this time of year, I phoned a young woman I knew was struggling. Shortly into our conversation, she said, “I know I should have more faith.” I was immediately saddened to think that, not only was she going through a painful season, but she was blaming herself for it as well. Worse, she assumed God was upset with her. She assumed because God didn’t feel close, that meant He wasn’t.
I knew the opposite was true. Scripture tells us that God “is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34:18, NIV). James 4:8 promises, the moment we take one step toward Him, He is already moving toward us. This is true whether we feel His presence or not.
Yet, I could understand my friend’s confusion. The church, in our ignorance, hasn’t always handled mental health issues well. Our shallow “Sunday morning platitudes” and misuse of Scripture have wounded a lot of people, in fact. Although we mean well, whenever we respond to someone’s pain with a cheerful, “Count your blessings,” or “Look at the bright side,” we risk perpetuating the lie that depression is self-induced.
A person can’t talk themselves out of the winter (or summer) blues, nor is this a matter of the will. SAD is a complex and often debilitating condition involving disrupted circadian rhythms, melatonin levels, and decreased serotonin, all of which affect one’s mood.
2. Recognize you aren’t alone.
A statistical study in December of 2020 showed that nearly half of the respondents in numerous states reported feelings of depression and hopelessness. This was especially true for adults between the ages of 18 and 39. According to the World Health Organization, this condition is so prevalent, it’s the leading cause of disability in the world.
The problem is that our photoshopped, TikToking culture has become adept at hiding our pain. But that doesn’t mean we must believe nor perpetuate the lie.
And regardless of how others respond, we can trust that our God sees us (Ps. 33:18), loves us (Romans 8:37-39), understands us even more than we understand ourselves (Ps. 139:1; Hebrews 4:15), stands beside us (Ps. 139:5), and will never leave us (Ps. 94:14).
3. Find your safe people.
When we’re hurting, we all need a friend like Ruth from the Old Testament. Scripture tells us that she, her mother-in-law Naomi, and sister-in-law Orpah all lost their husbands. They were not only grieving the deaths of loved ones, but without men to provide for them, they suddenly found themselves in a desperately impoverished state as well.
Considering this, Naomi urged her daughters-in-law to return home where they could receive support from their relatives and potentially even find new husbands. But Ruth refused, pledging to remain at Naomi’s side as a faithful friend. Ruth was a companion who, based on what we read, never felt compelled to cheer Naomi up or chastise her for her embittered words. Instead, she listened without judgment, and she remained.
Such patient and loyal friends can help add glimmers of light to an otherwise bleak season.
Unfortunately, some individuals respond poorly to other people’s pain. Two weeks after giving birth to our daughter, I flew to Washington state to visit friends and family. It rained nearly every day while I was there. The lack of sun, sleep, and fresh air left me feeling lethargic and gloomy. A statement from someone close to me added anxiety to my sorrow. “She’s such a good baby,” the individual said. “If you can’t handle her, something’s wrong.”
Perhaps the person spoke out of frustration. It’s challenging to spend time with someone who is sad, after all. But her words made me feel like a failure and told me to keep my inner battle to myself. Looking back, I now realize that I was battling a minor case of Postpartum Depression. I needed support and encouragement, not criticism.
When struggling, surround yourself with those who can throw you a life preserver or will simply sit beside you, not those who will add weight to your already sinking heart.
4. Add light to your world.
I don’t mean the light of Christ. If you’ve trusted in Christ for salvation, you already have that radiating within you. Your environment during the winter months, however, isn’t likely as bright. The days are shorter, often grayer, and therefore, darker. As alluded to previously, the decreased sunshine can wreak havoc with our brain chemistry and sleep patterns, both of which affect our mental health.
Light therapy can help counter some of these mood-dampening effects. Brighten your house or apartment by keeping blinds and curtains open. You can also purchase solar lights or a light box (which tends to shine brighter). Studies indicate these devices, when used for fifteen or thirty minutes in the morning, can greatly improve mood disorders.
5. Listen to praise music.
Initially, this might feel hard. Singing, or even listening to, praises when we’re sad may be the last thing we want to do. But music touches us on a deep and profoundly spiritual level. Songs centered on Christ provide the added benefit of helping us connect with Him. Plus, because most lyrics contain truth, they help us fight against the mental lies that often multiply when we’re feeling down.
6. Get creative.
Numerous studies have revealed the therapeutic value of participating in creative endeavors. When we complete a task, such as coloring a page, designing a necklace, or carving a figurine, we flood our brains with dopamine, a feel-good neural chemical. Our actions evoke a sense of “childlike play” which in turn helps alleviate stress and elevate our mood. As we get “into the zone” as some call it, we simultaneously calm our minds, which tends to encourage the contemplative thought that helps us process our emotions.
Initially, when your world feels dreary, you might find it challenging to pick up a crayon or paintbrush. Doing so becomes an act of the will; self-care tools you implement. Try keeping some coloring books and markers on hand—activities you can engage in without thought. You don’t have to illustrate a replica of the Sistine Chapel for your artistic endeavors to have value. It’s the act of creating, more than the finished project, that provides mental health benefits.
7. Schedule-and keep-fun activities.
When I’m feeling particularly stressed, discouraged, or sad, it helps if I have something to look forward to. This can be something as big as an upcoming vacation or as simple as trying out a new coffee shop. I also find the break in my routine and the new environment helpful.
Depression often makes us want to isolate, to remain home, and to do nothing. But this will only make us feel worse. I’ve found sadness and anxiety tend to multiply when we’re alone. It might feel challenging to climb out of bed and actually step outside our homes, but it’s important that we do so. As my daughter often says, “This is one of those 'fake it until you make it' situations.”
8. Get help.
How would you respond if you noticed a leak in the pipes beneath your kitchen sink? Most likely, you’d call a plumber. The sooner you did so, the easier it would be to deal with the problem. The longer you delay, the bigger the mess. The wood below would begin to rot. Eventually, mold could grow and then multiply throughout your home.
Life can be that way sometimes as well. Ignoring our depression won’t make it go away, and while there are numerous self-care tools we can engage in, there might come a time when we need the wisdom of someone more educated and experienced in mental health issues than we are. God has placed numerous gifted and well-trained counselors, His called and empowered children, across the globe to help others experience increased freedom. These professionals can help you make sense of your tangled thoughts and teach you coping mechanisms that will help you to thrive on sunny and cloudy days (figuratively and literally speaking).
They might also encourage you to speak with your doctor about potential medical interventions. They may suggest melatonin to help you get more consistent sleep. Everything feels harder when we’re tired. Maybe they’ll suggest diet changes or medication. Everyone is different and what works for your neighbor or friend might prove ineffective for you. A counselor and physician can help you explore options until you discover the next best steps in your freedom journey.
Seasonal depression is hard, painful, and often, lonely. When sorrow hits, we might be tempted to think that we’ll feel down forever; that joy and peace are forever out of reach. But that’s not true. The God who calls us to freedom will lovingly hold us, walk beside us, and lead us, step by step, prayer by prayer, and paintbrush by paintbrush toward increased freedom. That’s His heart for all of us, and though the journey might feel insurmountable, we can trust our victorious God to strengthen us for the battle and to fight against the darkness on our behalf.
Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/James Robinson
Jennifer Slattery is a writer and speaker who hosts the Faith Over Fear podcast. She’s addressed women’s groups, Bible studies, and writers across the nation. She’s the author of Building a Family and numerous other titles and maintains a devotional blog at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud.com.
As the founder of Wholly Loved Ministries, she’s passionate about helping women experience Christ’s freedom in all areas of their lives. Visit her online to learn more about her speaking or to book her for your next women’s event and sign up for her free quarterly newsletter HERE and make sure to connect with her on Facebook and Instagram.