These Daily Rituals Help to Ward Off Seasonal Sadness

These Daily Rituals Help to Ward Off Seasonal Sadness

By Faith Cummings | Jan 13, 2021

Thanks to the extreme chaos of the past year, I’m feeling the fall and winter downturn particularly hard. I’ve had more 7:30 pm bedtimes than I can count and my top hobbies at the moment include eating and drinking warm treats, and lounging around in the coziest of attire in front ofa heater. Without the usual pull of holiday parties, toasting the season at bars with friends, and the excitement of my annual New Year’s Eve vacation, seasonal discontent is definitely rearing its head.

It turns out I’m not alone. Described by the Mayo Clinic as “a type of depression that's related to changes in seasons,” seasonal affective disorder kicks off for many of us around this time in the fall and winter months when daylight decreases and more time is spent indoors to steer clear of frosty temps.

In the past, my stay-happy rituals for this time of year revolved around leaving my home, so 2020 has required a total shift towards making indoor activities a source of calm.  As we await an end to this period of uneasiness (hi, vaccines!), here are the daily rituals I’ve been clinging to to stay grounded until spring returns.

Develop a comfy routine you can rely on when everything else is uncertain. 

If you’re a creature of habit like I am, then this is your time. Nothing combats uncertainty and anxiety like a really good routine, so prioritize creating one. Lately I start my morning by grabbing my phone and, for once, I don’t feel guilty about it. With all that’s going on in the world and being so cut off from my family and friends, my phone has become a lifeline.

Still, I keep that check-in short, quickly moving on to setting a peaceful tone for the day: I burn sweetgrass and light a candle to set the right mood, followed by a satiating breakfast and a nourishing drink (current favorites are a matcha latte and black spice tea). I do these things every morning without exception, whether my first meeting is at 9:30 on Monday or it’s Saturday, when I sleep in late before heading to a museum with a friend. I find this daily repetition to be super soothing, no matter what else the day has in store.

Plan things to look forward to, no matter how small.

I’m an optimist, but this year has made it tougher than ever to feel hopeful. With so much changing around us, I’ve found it impossible to think even two weeks ahead, but I’ve begun making a concerted effort to plan special moments to look forward to so that the days don’t simply blur together. For me, that’s meant reserving timed tickets to New York’s great museums weeks in advance, like the incredibly cool outdoor art center Storm King, scheduling Zoom dates with friends and family, and making time for self-care appointments like manicures, facials, and massages. All of these little moments add up to make the repetitious weeks more fulfilling.

Challenge yourself to a new hobby that isn’t tied to work.

Working from home has made it all too easy for work days to bleed late into the night, which isn’t the healthiest habit for our psyches. After a few months of feeling like every free moment should be dedicated to my career, I finally loosened up and used my free time to explore new hobbies, instead. There’s no shortage of ideas that can lead to personal fulfillment, whether it’s perfecting your cooking skills, teaching yourself how to play an instrument, taking an online class, or volunteering in support of different social causes and nonprofits, like I did recently with the Climate Reality Project. It’s freeing to focus on something that’s meant for your enjoyment only and not tied to climbing the career ladder.

Grasp on to gratitude.

Being thankful is an antidote for almost everything, but it’s not always so easy. I cultivate it by speaking aloud one thing I’m thankful for as soon as I wake up and when my head hits the pillow at night. I’ve found this repeated practice (are you sensing a pattern here?) is an easy way to commit to being grateful and has helped me regularly recognize how lucky I am, despite this rough year. This often means focusing on the friends, family, and coworkers who repeatedly show up for me, and I’ve found sending them small gifts or shouting them out on social media to be a really rewarding way to turn my day around. If ever I find myself flailing, I turn to this practice.

Photo Credit: Olivia Katz

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