When I moved from sunny southern California to Prague last year, I was ecstatic. After all, I’d just traded suburban sprawl for a stunning medieval capital.
Then winter came. Fall’s brilliance gave way to shorter and shorter days, most of them cloudy. By December, the sun set at 4 p.m., and with it went much of my will. Suddenly I found myself dragging my feet on my way to work and doing little to make my evenings interesting. I’m typically energetic, even over-productive, but I found myself loath to leave my bed.
After some researching, I found that my experience lined up with descriptions of SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder. It was nice to know that other people might be going through the same thing. Here are some strategies I use to fight back.
Exercise is one of the best ways to shake off a bad mood, and there are plenty of ways to get a workout in during the winter months. I chose indoor climbing and yoga. These ended up being great choices for a few reasons.
First, I learned something new. Whether it was adjusting to the footwork of a complex climbing problem, or figuring out how to bend my inflexible body into an asana pose, the novelty of the experience kept me engaged and interested, and I soon learned hot yoga is a powerful antidote to a chilly day. Plus, if you walk into a yoga studio or a climbing gym, you leave the busy world of bustling strangers and enter a community of people with at least one shared interest. Nothing works on a bad mood like the warmth of a new friendship.
Find adventure in the cold
Winter has little luster in a city. While snow looks nice as it falls, it quickly turns brown and makes sidewalks treacherous. Keeping my balance outside isn’t exactly my favorite idea of fun and adventure, so last January, my wife and I set out to find some.
We quickly found it – in fact, we were kind of amazed at how easy it was. For us, it took the form of a bus ride to nearby mountains. We’ve found that hiking, sledding, and snowball fights are all affordable ways to have fun in the cold. Of course, skiing and snowboarding are great too, if you have the option. After a few excursions, winter wasn’t as much a source of frustration as an opportunity for adventure.
Take care of chemistry
SAD is caused by a lack of Vitamin D, which our bodies make in response to sunlight. So if you’re bummed about the weather, take some supplements! Vitamin D is an obvious choice, and Maca, a Peruvian root, is a wonderful natural source of energy. I also found that more fruits and vegetables and healthier sleeping habits really helped get through the days.
If you think you may have a case of SAD, SAD lamps are a practical way to get some light therapy in. If your symptoms are serious, seeing a doctor may be the best option.
Winter can be bitter, which is why it’s a great time to throw yourself into community. From reading groups to university clubs to art classes, there are plenty of ways to connect during the cold months. One of the best is volunteering. Whether it’s a soup kitchen or an environmental organization, service opportunities are a sure way to meet people who are kind and generous – and that’s a good start to any friendship.
One year later, I’m still in Prague, and I’m happy to say that I’m no longer sad about winter. Finding joy in winter still takes work, and I’m sure I’ll be happy to see the hills spring into life again. But in the meantime, I’ll enjoy the season as best I can.
Originally published on January 22, 2018.