Fighting the Winter Blues


Flickr cc Stefan Lins

I shuffle from the kitchen in the direction of my desk, unshowered and still in my pajamas, a bowl of cold breakfast cereal with blueberries in my right hand and a mug of chamomile tea in my left. I pull out the chair and sit down at my oversized black desk. It’s perfect for art projects, laying out books while researching, or collecting clutter. Today it just has clutter. After settling myself into my chair, I turn on my happy light.

I live in Washington, not too far south of Seattle, so we don’t tend to get a lot of sunshine here. I love all that glorious green but we pay for it through the nose by giving up most of our sunshine visitation rights. And like a lot of Washingtonians, I’ve become rather well acquainted with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) over the years. Last February, however, was different. Last year it felt like the smog of depression just wouldn’t lift (save those rare days when the sunshine lit up the sky and made all of us poor sun-deprived folks more than a little gaga). So I bought one of those fake-sun lights and added it to my morning regimen, right before showering and right after pouring almond milk on my favorite cereal.

The light does cut through some of that I-really-could-use-some-vitamin-D depression; it does help me wake up. But what I hadn’t expected was for it to become such a self-preserving, soul-saving morning ritual for me. Here it is a year later and I’m still using it. This February just in need of it as the last. February is one of the hardest SAD months for me; there are no longer any holiday lights to add some warmth but it’s still cold, dark, bleak winter. The winter solstice might mean that we’re halfway out of the dark, but February says, “You’re not out of the dark yet.”

After I turn on my light, I sit there crunching my cereal, and when I’ve fished every last piece out of the white ceramic bowl, a favorite wedding presents from two years ago, I start in on my mug of tea. The pace is slow and rhythmic, like breathing—breathe in, breathe out. I don’t plan my to-do list for the day. I just sit there focusing on my warm tea as I gradually sip it down.

I’m a recovering productivity enthusiast. Relaxation makes me uncomfortable, just-for-fun is hard. What is the purpose? I want to know. How is this being productive? What greater good is being achieved? How is this helping anyone? But there is nothing to achieve, no purpose to accomplish. I let my drive to be productive go, at least a little. And I just sit there greeting the morning, being aware of the now.

Breathe in, breathe out.

The timer indicating that it’s been forty-five minutes hasn’t gone off, and I’m done with breakfast. But I don’t move on to the to-do list. Instead, I journal or collage; play with poetry or read a novel; make a greeting card or compose a letter. I relax into the moment. I stay in the moment. I enjoy the moment. (Or at least I try.)

Breath in, breath out.

Since I was a kid mornings have always been the time of day I’ve seen as having the highest productivity potential—a chance to really get the day started off well. Part of this was my childhood church’s emphasis on morning devotions happening every day (and it literally had to be in the morning). Ideally, you would pray for about fifteen minutes, then read a chapter or two in the Old Testament, followed by a chapter or two in the New Testament, and then if you were really an overachiever (I was) you’d also add in a Psalm and a chunk of Proverbs. And then finish it all off with another prayer (being sure to include the different types of prayer: adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication).

For me mornings weren’t spiritual, they were regimented. And I didn’t always keep to my rigid schedule, so often times there was a lot of guilt hanging in the morning air. Guilt, like depression, is heavy and sticky. And it’s hard to shake.

Some of this morning legalism was church related, and some of it was just me and my own purpose-driveness. But my forty-five minutes with my little happy light has helped with both. My new morning ritual has made mornings about relaxation rather than achievement; self-care, instead of perfection; spirituality, instead of legalism; fighting the winter blues, instead of fighting demons.

As Lent begins tomorrow I find myself looking forward to Easter, spring, and the summer solstice. I want to wear bright colors and unpack my sandals and run my fingers through the cool, green summer grass. I want a little more sunlight, dammit.

As a quasi-Lutheran, I somewhat observe Lent. I don’t fast. Even though I wasn’t raised in the liturgical tradition so Lent wasn’t a part of my life or faith, I’ve done enough fasting in the name of religion to last a lifetime. So I use it as a season of self-care, a chance find light and warmth in the winter. This year during Lent you’ll find me in the mornings with my happy light, thankful that we’re more than halfway out of the dark.


In related news, I not only got a pretty awesome inner-child-inspiring card from my friend Stephanie, she also sent me some homemade sunshine. Homemade magic. It’s currently next to my happy light. Go find some light, dear readers. Go make some sunshine. 

13 thoughts on “Fighting the Winter Blues

  1. I can’t believe you have 45 spare minutes in your morning! Sounds good for you. I have a happy light too 🙂 mostly it’s turned on for the plants -they miss the sun too – but sometimes I stand next to it, looking at my plants 🙂


    • I’ve found that if I do it for any less time it’s just not enough fake-sunlight to do any good. 🙂

      When I was in high school I went to a morning bible study for a while that met at 5:30am and my “personal devotions” (bible reading and prayer) were always an hour, and that started in middle school and lasted into my early-twenties. Even when I’d go to a sleepover when I was a teen or go to youth group camp I’d be sure to have my morning bible reading and prayer time. So I guess it doesn’t feel that weird to me to carve out 45 minutes in the morning because before it was even longer (an hour — and, unlike now, that wouldn’t include breakfast and my morning cup of tea).


  2. Your words bring warmth to my winter blues. Thanks, Kelsey. I’m actually researching Celtic traditions surrounding Lent. For the moment, I am focused on moon cycles and have added some traditions surrounding those already. 🙂 Peace to you, C


  3. As an Australian, I can’t imagine how hard it must be to endure dark, cold snow-y winters. I’m told that people who live in parts of Australia where it may be over 40 Centrigade for weeks on end get summer blues as being outside is so unpleasant that they just go from air- conditioned home to air- conditioned office.


    • I have a few Australian readers, so I actually thought about your region of the world while writing this and how odd it sounds to me to not have cold, dark winters. 🙂

      In my area we don’t get extreme temperatures — summers aren’t scorching, winters are cold but usually aren’t freezing. But it tends to be rainy and cloudy nearly ever single day. However, as I’m writing this I can see some blue sky out the window so I think I’m going to have to take a walk. 🙂


  4. In the drudge of winter, it is encouraging to know I am not the only one fighting hard for self-care, spirituality, and relaxation. We live in a world where productivity rules. But, I know personally, the drive to be productive can deteriorate you from the inside out. It is only then that you realize taking some time to just sit is actually one of the most productive things you can do all day! I wish more people understood this. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. My husband and I were just talking about this earlier this week. We cannot wait for the sun to be out more and for the ground to dry up a little more so we can spend out time outside. We both struggle through our Ohio winters. The past couple weeks have been a little better. The temps are coming up a little. I am wondering if this coming fall we should invest in one of those lights you mentioned. Maybe it would help us make it through the winter.


So, what do ya think?

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