As the days get shorter, I want to talk to you once more about something I feel very passionately about: mental health!
While October is for sure my favorite month of the year (Pumpkins! Pretty leaves! Drizzly gray days! Not feeling sweat dripping down my back when I do literally anything!), I head into the winter every year with the same attitude as I approach a root canal: let me get to the other side in one piece, and then I can actually return to the land of the living.
Advice that historically has not helped me cope with Satan’s Season:
“Oh, you’ll grow out of it someday.” STILL WAITING
“Try smiling more!” YES LET ME FAKE SOME MORE EMOTIONS, SEEMS HEALTHY
“Just remember that it’s all in your head.” tHaT iS lItTeRaLlY tHe EnTiRe PrObLeM
However, over the years I have managed to find a few things that make a truly noticeable difference in my ability to navigate the uncaring ocean of my brain chemistry from November through March:
Drinking too much water. Staying hydrated gives me so much more energy, keeps me more mentally focused, helps stave off headaches, clears my skin, and keeps me moving. You know, because of all the bathroom breaks. Seriously though- I can’t emphasize enough how much of an effect this has on every aspect of my life.
Making my bed every morning. This creates a definite separation for me from bed time to awake time. Literally as soon as I’ve gotten out of bed, I’ve accomplished something! Sometimes that’s the momentum I need to start my day. And then when I get home in the evening I feel like I’m coming home to a neat, clean room. Even if the bed is the only neat and clean thing about it.
Cutting out caffeine. I know, this sounds like sacrilege to you coffee-addicts out there. But I’ve never been a huge coffee drinker, even in the summer! My sleep schedule definitely gets more sensitive when the days get shorter so I tend to cut out caffeine all together. I stick with herbal teas or cocoa when I’m craving a warm drink, but my best friend is my Nalgene filled with- you guessed it- water. Otherwise I end up staying awake for 3 days in a row and I wish I was exaggerating.
Staying active. That physical momentum is so helpful. And I like the way my body feels when I’m fit- I look pretty much the same all the time, but I can definitely feel the difference when my fitness starts slipping. I even invested in some stupid expensive equipment to make exercising fun, and his name is Francis.
Buying a horse. For realz, Frankie has been the biggest bro in the world. He gives me a huge reason to stay active- he thrives on exercise, we need to stay in shape to keep progressing, etc. He also gives good structure to my days- I can’t just go home and shlump into bed. I gotsta get dem endorphins going. And I can’t leave out the fact that he’s just the sweetest creature on the planet. He doesn’t care that there might be a few crossed wires upstairs, he just thinks it’s neat that I scratch his ears and take him on adventures. He is a never-ending source of quiet affection. Also owning a horse means I’m too distracted by stress about money to remember that I’m depressed!
Giving myself days off. Between work, the barn, going home to see family, celebrating birthdays, going out for happy hour, and other social events, sometimes it feels like I have something on the calendar every single day. And while I genuinely like people, I NEED my alone time to rejuvenate and re-energize. So sometimes I’ll pencil in a day to just lay around in my pajamas, watch Netflix, drink tea, and be a lazy garbage person. These garbage person days make me less of a garbage person on the other days. It’s a delicate garbage balance.
I’ve also built in a bunch of fun things to look forward to this winter: I’m visiting family and bringing Manfriend, we’re taking a trip to Florida with my roomie and her manfriend, I’ll be taking time to go compete at WEC with the Frankenator, all sorts of things like that.
So while I’m already looking forward to the warm spring breezes that bring allergens to make Manfriend sneeze real cute, I feel good about the robust preparation I’m putting into making this winter an enjoyable season instead of just a survivable one. I know there will still be ups and downs, and I’ve got the warm fuzzies thinking about the absolutely stellar support system I have- both two-legged and four-legged.
For all of you: I would love to be part of your support system. As mentioned, I genuinely like people (weird, I know) and I like crazy people the best. I have no answers to big questions and give pretty crappy advice (usually I just tell you to hydrate more), but I’d love to chat at any time. Unless I’m sleeping. Hit me up but not before 7am or after 10pm thanks.
Cheers to a fantastic season of fun adventures and progress in all of our personal and professional endeavors!
I know, this looks super similar to last week’s post. We do live on these crossties.
But while my enthusiasm and yearning for spring knows no bounds, it is different when you’re responsible for a gray horse. Notice the mud stockings and mud neck adornment. It’ll be interesting when the blankets come off and she turns into a complete mud creature.
Lord give me strength.
PS- How cute is that face? I just want to squish her nose and give her kisses. Sweetest girl in the world.
Sadly, mine did not go as planned. Our work-hard flatwork didn’t happen on Sunday because of the bitter cold, and because of this snow storm we’re getting tonight, it looks like no riding today either.
Combined with some sort of virus that won’t go away, I’m feeling more than ready for spring to come around!
I’m headed to the docs during lunch to see if this could be a mono relapse, but I’m hoping it’s just a version of the flu. Whatever it is, I just want to treat it so my energy can come back.
More iffy news: because of our inconsistent work due to the weather, I’ve decided to postpone our first show. We would probably be fine, but I want to go into it feeling super prepared and ready for anything, and I need some more consistency in my own riding before I feel that way. It doesn’t hurt that postponing means it’ll be warmer when we do go out… I’m hopeful that a little extra prep time will get us both feeling great!
With luck, we will return to our regularly scheduled programming very soon!
I’m a list person and always have been: from the days when I would check off every article of clothing I had to don for a horse show, to the neatly filled out homework planner in college, to my detailed moving checklist a few months ago.
When I found myself facing the winter blues (this deserves its own post) yet again, I decided to tackle it in my favorite way: make a list. For your viewing pleasure, here are 6 ways I came up with to stay cheerful when the sun is hiding.
Stay active. Don’t skip out on barn days or gym days just because it’s cold or you’re tired. It’s going to be cold and you’re going to be tired for months and you can’t stop doing the things you enjoy just because of that. Don’t stop moving and fidgeting and going on walks.
Stay hydrated. I can’t stress this enough; when I don’t get enough water I start to slow down, my skin gets uncomfortable, and I feel like a blob. This was my single most influential lifestyle change that helps me feel better mentally, not just physically.
Get a creative outlet. It doesn’t have to be a watercolor masterpiece and it doesn’t have to be advanced digital design, but creative streaks still need attention. Getting to write for this blog and my new nightly journal are ways I’m fostering that. (Side note- my new sister gave me this journal for Christmas and it’s the perfect balance of guided creativity! I never miss a night)
Make friends, and then make plans with those friends. I am embarrassingly terrible at making friends as an adult, Dear Reader. It’s hard! There’s no automatic shared bond of the same stressful school, people have crazy work schedules, and established groups of friends sometimes aren’t looking for another member. Spending time at the barn and with similarly-aged coworkers has me slowly emerging from my shell.
Fake it ’til you make it. Smile, laugh, and joke until your face hurts. This almost never fails to give me a boost, even on down-days. On the rare occasion that this doesn’t make me feel entirely better, there is at least the satisfaction of knowing that other people get cheerful attention instead of sullenness.
Give yourself a break. Pushing myself to be active and happy and cheerful when I’m fighting against brain chemistry isn’t always going to work. No matter what, there will be so-so days. And that’s fine. Like Annye from An Amish Warmblood said, those “zero days” are needed. On those days it is OK to curl up under a blanket and ignore all the to-do lists. It is OK to read for 6 hours straight instead of grocery shopping and folding laundry. Binge watching Criminal Minds won’t ruin your month. Giving in for that one day makes it easier to push the rest of the time- I call them “mood cheat days.”
That last point is probably what’s allowed me to relax into happiness more easily this winter than I ever have. I’m going to push myself to get out there and keep my mood up, but I’m not going to fight myself to do that.
Just a little bit longer until the sun and warmth comes back, and I can’t wait!
If you’re stuck inside during most of the sunshine hours, take vitamin D! I take it year round and it definitely helps perk me up when I can’t get that sunshine I crave. For an even bigger boost, get one of those full-spectrum sun lamps. Mine lives on my desk at work and is totally wizard.