It is reported that in a given year, around 10 million people in the United States alone experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – a type of depression that usually occurs during the winter season. Shortened daylight hours and a lack of sunlight are considered the causes for the so-called ‘winter blues’. In this article, I will be sharing my tips on how to overcome the low moods and depression due to the colder weather.
We are naturally affected by changes in sunlight with the change of seasons. During winter time, most of us love comfort food and can feel super lethargic. For many, this winter in particular, may be a difficult one; this could be due to a number of difficulties and struggles we may be facing in our personal lives, alongside the devastation that continues to transpire across the world, that we have been forced to bear witness to. Additionally, we may feel that our iman has taken a few knocks or we may feel fearful of the future, and as a result, we become filled with anxiety. But for people who experience seasonal depression or SAD, things are even harder. We must be able to acknowledge that even the weather can majorly affect our mood; we need to examine if we have any chemical imbalances and we should monitor comfort foods consumed during this cold and dark period, to help effectively eliminate feelings of despair. (It is also important for those who may experience symptoms of SAD to speak to their doctor).
I often have mixed emotions about winter, and in this state of confusion, I read a beautiful saying: “The best season to a believer is the winter, its nights are long for those who wish to pray, and its days are short for those who wish to fast.” – Hasan Al-Basri
How can we ensure that we continue to be productive Muslims, even when the sun isn’t shining? How can we be the strong believers and reap the maximum from the cold months? Here is a list of some useful ways to stay focused and positive. These are tips that I have benefited from myself during my own self-recovery mode and I hope it can help you become a strong believer who can sail through the winter in sha Allah.
1. Slow recovery and self-care
The first thing we feel like doing when feeling blue, have low mood, anxiety, and borderline depression, is to withdraw, be alone and to find comfort in our beds. Slow recovery and self-care is a massively misrepresented process. Often people will choose to eat healthier by staying away from certain foods and drinks that affect their mood, but this only lasts for a short period after the natural positive result. We then become complacent and no longer feel the need to continue, welcoming another major dip in our mood once more. We must maintain a good diet whilst staying up to date in educating ourselves about our bodies by attending dental appointments and scheduling in blood tests. These are small but consistent steps toward feeling better.
Allah loves the small and consistent deeds; therefore, He will love these steps when the intention is to become a stronger Muslim both physically and mentally. The Prophet Muhammad said,
“A strong believer is better and is more lovable to Allah than a weak believer…” [Sahih Muslim]
Seeing a doctor and running tests regularly allows us to gain further insight into the inner workings of our very unique bodies and minds. This kind of ‘unglamorous’ self-care can bring about a better understanding of what the problems might be, and the effects our surroundings are having on us, particularly in cases of hormone changes.
2. Internalise that winter is a figment of our perception
Frosty fingers, car wheels stuck in grey puddles, hail, razor rain, chilly mornings, fog, misty traffic jams… These are some of our experiences of winter, but it doesn’t have to be our reality. Winter is just a set of days that will pass quickly, and some will be more noticeable than others. Some may even be warm, fun and engaging, and some peaceful and non-eventful.
Since the cold has hit, winter has emerged from November to around, let’s say, February (London can experience wintery conditions all year round; consider yourself lucky if you have different seasons!) depending on which side of the equator you are on. Technically, this is around 15 weeks or 105 days, which would be reduced to 75 days without weekends. By dividing your time by days or weeks, you realise how little you actually have of it to live through.
During this time, set life goals. It will no longer feel like time is slowly passing, but a period you will want to savour, especially since the days are shorter. Achieving goals in these short periods between fajr and maghrib is a massive boost of motivation in itself, which in sha Allah will extend to the warm days of other seasons. There is no time to feel bored, lazy, or lonely. Fill the void by setting self-made goals which can be anything from ensuring you cook healthy meals every day and going for a 10-minute jog, to learning how to drive or a new language. There is a world of knowledge to be gained from studying the Qur’an and Allah’s Names and all the little, hidden jewels in Seerah and Ahadith.
Passing or “killing” time is sinful, and in this case, a cause of our own spiritual, emotional and psychological death, as Hasan Al-Basri said, “This life is a passing of a few days, with each day that passes a part of you is gone.”
3. The 5-second rule
Mel Robbins, a relationship expert from the United States, tells us that our body is wired to send us signals of what we need. When we feel stuck or dissatisfied, it is a signal to help us find our needs and wants. Our bodies, our cells, hair, and nails are growing constantly for the course of our entire life. Our souls need exploration and growth too. We often have impulses in our mind that either give us a strong urge to do or to stop. Robbins suggests that if we do not marry this impulse with an action in five seconds, we pull the emergency breaks in our minds and kill the idea.
“To combat your mindset, adopt the five-second rule. Move from idea to execution in five seconds. Pretend that if you don’t, the idea will start to melt. The longer you wait, the more likely you’ll have only a puddle left to work with. If you think that’s not enough time, guess again. Five seconds is a lifetime for your brain and plenty of time for your thoughts and feelings to step in and kill the idea.” – Mel Robbins
From my perspective, there are also a lot of opportunities for whispers from the Shaytan during that time too, which can act as a block for us to become the strongest, most successful version of ourselves. A simple example is when your alarm goes off to pray fajr. How often do we snooze our alarm, especially in the winter time and then an hour later, the sun has come up? How often do we make plans to stay awake after fajr, given how late it comes in, but rather than take action, we decide to go back to sleep? Apply this 5-second rule and follow every good intention with an immediate action.
Remember that Shaytan’s main aim is to misguide us, and to prevent us from movement, which in turn will make us miserable. There is movement in action, and only through movement can we grow and change for the better. Perhaps, we are put in a position where we feel like there is no escape purely to set off the survival instincts within us to pull us out from the dark, into the light of the success that we were destined to achieve.
4. Get close to The One who put you in this position
Often, when we are tested, we are plunged into moments of silence, dead ends, and lost opportunities. The tests can be major, dramatic, and horrific, but often just the dull of nothingness can lead to despair, feeling forgotten, unimportant, and even unworthy. This is a natural human emotion to feel. By first acknowledging that it is understandable to feel this way, this allows us to be non-judgemental of our pain, and therefore, allows us to accept its presence in order to let it pass.
As Muslims, we don’t believe in coincidences. Just like the leaf falling from a tree, everything is intended, and happens with His permission:
“Not a leaf falls but that He knows it.” [Qur’an: Chapter 6: Verse 59]
Allah knows about it; it was meant to be. These mundane moments have a purpose and our job is to seek the treasure that Allah plants in those moments.
However, we often are not open to see these intended clues in our day to day lives, so we miss the little blessings and hikmah (wisdom) behind such tests. By looking from this perspective, we feel a closeness to Him, we appreciate any test because it orders us to search, and in our search, we find something that brings us ease and contentment. Allah is Al-Qareeb (The Closest to us). He is close when we thought He had forgotten, He is there.
“So remember Me; I will remember you. And be grateful to Me” [Qur’an: Chapter 2: Verse 152]
Think of the feeling we get when a friend or someone important remembers us – so imagine the Lord of the all the worlds, The One who made those people important, is closer to you than your jugular vein and remembering you in the best of company. He is The Giver and He will grant us with anything we seek. We are just not looking hard enough for the clues to get us there. Spending extra time in ibaadah (worship) makes us feel close, and closeness to The Light of our Maker helps to fill that void that nothing else can.
5. Make it delicious again
Sometimes it’s not a chemical imbalance or a bad diet, it is the absence of a more creative outlook. I recently spoke to some sisters about what winter means to them, and nothing particularly stood out about their answers upon the surface.
It could be a decaf Vanilla latte on a cold day, crisp sun below freezing mornings, the cozy warm lights that go up on street corners, and it finally being culturally acceptable to wear millions of layers. In what would initially appear to be quite unimpressive and normal responses, these are where the little delights of winter can be found, only enjoyable in this time.
It’s funny – the little things we appreciate are never what we assume they would be. But without them, it all gets a little harsher, colder, and bleaker. We get to create and construct our reality by what we put into it, what we seek, what we look forward to, and what we focus on. By listing your winter delights, it works to help you focus on these little presents you will receive, which only exist because of the presence of the cold and dark.
These five steps have always helped me cope with the seasonal blues. What are your ways to fight against the winter low points? Share them in the comments section below.