Living in one of the most beautiful cities in the world has its many perks. A wealth of galleries, museums, delicious food, beautiful walks and a melodic language under no matter what context. Seriously, have you ever been yelled at by someone in French? It’s simply poetic.
But all pros have their cons and one of the lesser points of Paris these days is the ‘rentrée effect’ where people have come back from their holidays, said goodbye to summer and are now waiting for winter (even though we’ve only just hit autumn). The response is quite amazing where, in just a short few weeks, I’ve seen commuters turn from lovable Hobbits into grumpy, old Orcs. Walk around Paris when the sun’s out and people are generally smiling, enjoying a terrace and you might even get a genuine ‘excuse me’ as someone brushes past you in the metro. Yes, that’s right, the stereotype of the grumpy, arrogant Parisian is only applicable in winter in my opinion. The rest of the year they’re just arrogant 😉 I joke, I joke, “On taquine que ceux que l’on aime”. (we tease the ones we love).
Every year I try to nip those winter blues in the bud and not follow suit in the march of the grumps, however this year has proven to be more challenging as I caught myself hunched over in the metro muttering nonsense and sighing loudly like everyone else. Mais, c’est pas possible! What’s happening?
I’m going to pull the Psychology card here and say it’s a form of ‘Seasonal Affective Disorder’. SAD (I know) is a specifier with a ‘seasonal pattern’ for repeated, depressive episodes that occur at a specific time of the year and fully remits otherwise. In other words, people who usually have normal mental health throughout most of the year exhibit depressive symptoms at roughly the same time each year, most commonly in winter. This does not mean that every grumpy person out there in the cold is suffering from a diagnosed major mood disorder. This condition is a spectrum and there are a lot more people who have a lighter version of this disorder, called the ‘winter blues’. These individuals suffer from many of the same symptoms but they do not have clinical depression. It effects about one in three people where we feel generally unmotivated and flat during the cold and dark winter months.
There are of course ways to fight off these blues on our own and below I’ve compiled a few for those who might need it a bit more this year.
- Recognise symptoms and your place on the spectrum
First, it is important to establish if you’re just experiencing the ‘winter blues’ or suffering from full blown Seasonal Affective Disorder. Common signs of winter blues include: change in appetite or weight, trouble sleeping, feeling drained, and feeling generally anxious or down.
It is normal to have days where we don’t feel one hundred percent, but when the days appear to drag on for longer and you find it harder and harder to motivate yourself to do things you usually enjoy, it could be beneficial to see a doctor. This is especially important if your sleeping patterns have changed, you’re managing with alcohol or drugs and you’ve experienced thoughts of suicide. When the symptoms block you from living your normal life, it’s always worth seeing someone about it.
No matter what time of the year, self-care and wellness, should always be a priority. Eating healthy and staying active boosts our mood and gives us more energy to focus on everyday stressors. This doesn’t mean we need to go and give up on our beloved winter raclette or fondue parties… just… you know, all good things come in moderation. Omega-3 fatty foods have also been praised for their health benefits, even in improving our mood (foods include salmon; flax seeds and walnuts). Walking 35 minutes a day has proven to help alleviate symptoms of mild to moderate depression. Taking a step back and allowing ourselves to delight in small pleasures can do wonders as well! So book that massage, have a cup of tea, go watch a movie, see some friends for a laugh or simply give yourself a break here and there to help you beat those dreadful winter blues.
- Head outside for sunlight and fresh air
Go outdoors in natural daylight as much as possible, especially at midday and on brighter days. Sure, not the most motivating thing to do especially when you’re nice and toasty inside. But take that shower, brush your teeth and head outside even if it’s only to run a small errand, you’ll feel better for it. Inside your home, choose pale colours that reflect light from outside, trim back tree branches, open your curtains and sit near windows whenever you can. When your body is craving more daylight, 30 minutes a day of this can be almost as effective as antidepressants.
- Keep Warm
Being cold may make you feel more depressed so making sure you stay warm can help beat the winter blues. You can do so with hot drinks and hot food. Wear warm clothes and most importantly keep your feet warm. A great way to drag out those multi-coloured, winter toe-socks from your drawer – when else can you pull these off really! Keep your home between 18-21C (or 64-70F for my American friends). Having your home too hot is not a solution either so avoid the sauna jungle and just aim for nice and toasty.
- A ‘coziness’ mindset
Stop saying you hate winter (even if you do). Continually thinking about how much you dread winter only feeds the winter blues beast and makes it more likely you’ll feel sad as the season progresses. Our Norwegian neighbours have it figured out with a concept they call ‘koselig’ which is a state of being warm, kind and cozy. It defines something/someone/an ambiance that makes you feel a sense of warmth very deep inside in a way that all things should be: simple and comforting (definition by a froginthefjord.com). So how can we make our lives more ‘koselig’? Turn off all main lights and use soft yellow lighting preferably emanating from a lamp. Light some candles (extra points for scented ones) or light a fire. As most of us in Paris might not have an actual fireplace, Netflix and Youtube have great 6-hour long videos of open fires… and it does the trick! Turn off the busy TV programs and put on some pleasant music, invite friends over for a nice dinner or a fun games night. Implement whatever you define as cozy, to change your mindset on winter.
I hope some of these will help you tackle the cold season ahead. Let us know in the comment which other tips have helped you beat the winter blues…
By Stefanie Selen – www.lifesrecipebook.com – A qualified psychologist who started her career working with trauma survivors and later turned to private practice. As well as a health and wellness professional, Stefanie is also mother of two, wife of one, veteran expatriate and self-proclaimed ‘foodie’(which is another way of saying she likes to eat).
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