There are a lot of memes out there right now saying 'It's Ok To Not Be OK'. Totally agree with this message about acknowledging (not hiding under a fake smile) when we are struggling with our mental health. There is still a lot of stigma to overcome. If I'm having an off day, I acknowledge it, give myself an 'it's ok to not be ok' day, offer myself compassion and get some fresh air. Rough days are allowed in my world.
And as someone who is very familiar with winter depression (I've managed it my entire adult life), I also have an 'Avoid The Hole' plan. At some point pretty much every year, I've pulled out my plan (this year it happened to be yesterday). No, it's not on paper. It's an embodied plan that I have collected and added to over the years of observing cause and effect of my actions and how my body and mind feels.
Seasonal depression is a slippery slope.
So if my 'off day' starts turning into 3 or more (complete with brain fog, wanting to hide/stay in bed, increased anxiety and crap thoughts about myself show up) well, it's simply time for a few steps in my action plan. It's ok for me to not be ok for a few days, but I'm all for nipping it in the bud before I wind up in the hole (been there, done that enough, don't like the hole).
But let's pause right here
Before we get started, let me say two things;
1. I am not a counsellor or licensed mental health professional. I'm a person with lived experience of Seasonal Affective Disorder. I share things from this place.
2. The things listed in this plan may feel 'unreachable' for a number of reasons. I acknowledge my privilege with a) having had the opportunity to gain this knowledge and have access to resources over the years to learn/buy these things, and b) being currently well enough to be able to reach these things (when we are in 'the hole', they are hard to get to). If this is you, see resources at the bottom of this article.
Here's my game plan when I'm no longer feeling OK;
1. I tell someone.
I reach out and let someone know I'm not doing so hot. My husband, my mom, or one of my girlfriends. 'Hi, needing to let someone know I'm not doing so well this week, been feeling really down and foggy'. Like I said, depression is sneaky, so shining a light on it soon instead of letting it linger in the shadows (and grow like mold) really helps me turn it around. I don't need the person to fix it or tell me what to do (or to be grateful, ugg), but to listen and say 'hey, sorry to hear you're having a rough week, anything I can do?' Just acknowledging where I'm at is the biggest game changer for me.
2. I add some light, literally.
Reminder that our Vitamin D and daylight needs supplementing this time of year. Daylights can be found online or at Diamond Athletics (attached to the PanAm Clinic in Winnipeg). Do some of your own research about how much Vit D we northerners actually need in the winter months and how it helps the immune system. Fresh air and sunshine are amazing, and we still don't get enough light in the north during winter.
3. I get some exercise.
Fresh air fitness (xc-ski and snowshoe), a fitness video or live class, the rebounder, some push ups, a handstand, upbeat yoga, swing, bounce, dance to some upbeat music...whatever floats my boat. I move my body to invigorate and revitalize. A little sweat goes a long way.
4. I have a brief, cold shower
Yes, I said that and yes, I'm serious. If I've got brain fog and feeling lethargic, at the end of my shower, I turn it on cold for 30 seconds. The deep breathing invigorates and stimulates my breath and heart rate. I'm not a doctor, so obviously use your common sense if you have a heart condition. This really works.
5. I lay off the cheese.
For me, cheese, pizza, bread, cookies, ice cream, wine (all the good stuff lol) make me feel heavy and awful this time of year. I eat more live foods, eat broth based soups instead of creamy ones. If my digestion gets sluggish, I skip a meal to stoke my digestive fire. I usually start my day with hot water to flush my digestive system an hydrate - adding ginger (good for digestion, anti-inflammatory) and lemon helps me feel great too.
6. I take care of my nervous system.
Overwhelmed by it all? In case you haven't noticed, we are taking in an overwhelming amount of information, change and uncertainty to process & digest. I take a day (or two) off from watching the news and social media feeds. I turn off the radio. I find some quiet. I get into nature often. I soothe and take care of my nervous system in a variety of ways (some mentioned above). I'm lucky this is my work - specifically helping people balance their nervous systems with movement and lifestyle tips. Reach out if you need some one-on-one guidance.
7. And lastly, I schedule self-care appointments.
If the above things don't help me feel lighter and brighter within a few days, I book myself an acupuncture session (because it works really quickly for me). Make an appointment with your allied health professional for your body or mind care.
An important note about by-passing.
I believe the struggles that show up in our lives are here to teach us about ourselves. Depression has been a gift to me. I wouldn't be who I am or have the compassion for others I do without it. There is work to be done in the shadows. So don't confuse my 'action plan' as avoiding. I believe in doing the self work AND avoiding 'the hole'.
And do seek professional help when needed.
Depression is complex, affecting us mentally and physiologically and can become debilitating. If you or someone your love is suffering, seek professional help. It's OK to not be Ok AND there is help. Reach out to a therapist, counsellor or online support group.
Manitoba Suicide Prevention & Support Line (24/7)
Toll free: 1-877-435-7170 reasontolive.ca
Joy Onyschak helps people with stress, tension and disconnection with their bodies find the ease and wholeness they seek through a variety of simple, body-based, felt-sense practices. She lives in Winnipeg, Canada with her husband, 2 teens and her cat, Hobbes. Visit her website to access free resources, and register for private sessions or group classes in 2021.