Kicking the Tiny Winter Blues

Every Winter, as the days get shorter, my mood gets gloomier.  Winter Blues, and its clincal cousin, Seasonal Affective Disorder (aptly acronyzed SAD), are common conditions conditions that are more prevalent in the population the further you are from the equator.

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Tiny living is a major lifestyle change for most of us.  And it's easy to think that a major change in lifestyle is going to make you feel different.  But as a man in a bar once told me, "Wherever you go, there you are."

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If you get the winter blues now, you'll get it just the same living tiny. While I highly recommend prescribed medication if you need it, there are some other things you can do to help the kick the winter blues.

Head South

The obvious solution for those of us who are nomadic is to get out of the North during the Winter.  The closer you are to the equator in the winter months, the fewer symptoms you'll experience.  This year, I've been stuck in Maryland for the Winter, but I took a flight to the West coast with a layover in San Diego.  It was like stepping into a different world.  75 degrees and sunny in the middle of January.  If you suffer from SAD or the winter blues, find a way to live the snowbird life if possible.

Go Outside

Regular exposure to sunshine is key to feeling better during the Winter.  Shorter days are only half the problem.  When the weather is cold, we tend to stay indoors as much as possible.  We curl up next to the fire, or cocoon ourselves in a comfy blanket, and ride out all the gross weather.  But cozy as it might sound, going into hermit mode deprives us of the bit of sunshine that's left.

Make it a point to go outside and soak in some sunshine at every opportunity.  Invest in a good down jacket and some rubber boots, and go for a walk.  Drink your morning coffee on the porch.  Take a moment to meditate.  Even if it's cold, a little bit of sunshine will do you good.

Improve Your Mood with Exercise

Your body needs exercise.  And if it doesn't get it, your mood is going to suffer.  This is true at any time during the year, but it's especially bad during the winter.  The weather is gross, you're already tired, and you just want to hibernate for a few months.  Fight the urge.

Establishing an exercise routine can be difficult, especially when you're already feeling down, but it's worth the effort.  Aside from the physical benefits, there is a strong link between regular exercise and improvements in mental health.

Open the Curtains

One of the advantages of living in a small space is the abundance of windows.  Since small spaces typically have few interior walls, your space could have more than its fair share of natural light. 

Blackout curtains are popular for creating a good sleeping environment, but they can make for a dreary space during the day.  Open all of your curtains as soon as you wake up. If you need privacy, consider using sheer curtains that block the view, but allow as much light as possible to pass through.  Frosted window privacy film is also a good option, but avoid tinted window film, since it'll block some of the light.

If you're prone to Winter blues and designing your space from scratch, consider adding as many windows and skylights as possible.

Some people living in extreme climates use reflective bubble wrap insulation over their windows to avoid losing heat.  If you need some extra window insulation, try clear bubble wrap instead.  It insulates windows nearly as well as the reflective stuff, but doesn't make your house feel like a cave.

Light Therapy

For those of us who don't have the option to fly South for the winter, light therapy can help.  It sounds a little crazy, but there is solid science behind the fact that looking at a bright enough light of the proper wavelength in the morning can make you feel more alert, elevate your mood, and help keep your sleep cycle on track.

For SAD, you want to look for a light that has at least 10,000 lux, and you want to spend at least 20-30 minutes with the light pointed directly at your face from 16-24" away.  The light color should be blue/white, and if the light source is fluorescent, it should have a UV filter to prevent damage to your eyes and skin.  There are lots of lights specifically designed for SAD light therapy.  Find a place in your morning routine where you can keep the light toward the center of your field of vision for a half hour.  Take 30 minutes to read, listen to a podcast, or have your breakfast.

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My personal preference is to use my light therapy alarm clock to wake up, and then have my morning coffee while sitting in front of the light.  The fact that it's an alarm clock allows me to wake up gently every morning (not just in the Winter), and it times my light therapy sessions for me.  Not only is this light 10,000 lux of the correct wavelength of blue/white light, and not only does it require relatively low power because it's an LED light, but it runs on 12V DC, so I can run it straight off my house battery.  The included power cord is a converter to a 120V AC plug, but it uses a standard 5.5 mm x 2.1 mm plug, and a 12V cigarette lighter style adapter works perfectly with the light. 

LifestyleDan Greatley