Winter in Amsterdam Noord
Expat Life

How I’m surviving the winter in a pandemic

Usually, I do pretty well in the winter. I’m a low-key kind of person anyway. While I do miss my friends, I’m pretty content being at home and binging Netflix in the evenings. This winter is different. There’s no denying that the 2020-2021 winter will probably be the lowest winter in living memory for many of us. I know we have the term Seasonal Affective Disorder for the reduced light and wintery sadness, but have they come up with a name for the seasonal depression DURING a pandemic?!

Winter in Amsterdam Noord

Obviously, we all have our own coping mechanisms, but I also know that some people (including myself!) need a little inspiration to figure out what works for them. The pandemic has made it so we are both less busy than we once were and that we have a lot more on our minds. When will we see grandma again? When can we travel? Will my friends judge me if I take a day trip? Is it safe to take a day trip? Which mask is most comfortable and still does the job?

Since I create content both here, on social media, and on YouTube, I have the added stress of figuring out, as a travel blogger, how to continue to write and create. What do I write about? What kinds of videos can I make that are still helpful or entertaining? Does anyone care right now?

It’s a lot.

I went over some ways I stayed busy in 2020 in my post about how 2020 sucked…but also it didn’t. But that’s a big tip from me. Find something to focus on. Maybe it’s a home project or a personal goal.

For example, I took a vlogger course that had personal coaching (with Cup of TJ), we took two trips to Italy (it was allowed), did a few staycations, planned a small group tour for October 2021 to Tuscany, worked with a nutritionist, and tried to figure out what content I could make that would being super helpful for when people could travel again. I also pushed myself to keep up publishing one video each week and added Vlogmas to that.

This is NOT to brag. This is how I coped last year. Focus helped me. Pushing myself helped me. However, I can totally see how that seems so far from the realm of possibility for some. We’re all wired differently. That’s okay!

Then winter came…

Snowy street in Amsterdam Noord

For a while I was distracted with Vlogmas. Creating a video everyday in a pandemic when so much is closed and I really didn’t want to leave my home was a perfect distraction because it took all my focus and energy every single day for 24 days. Once it was over and I took a week off over Christmas I felt lost, unmotivated, and didn’t move far from the couch.

Even when there was a MASSIVE sale and we could finally afford to stay in the crane hotel on the IJ, I wanted to go so bad, and at the same time, I couldn’t see myself leaving the house. I felt like everything went dark so fast. Well, literally and figuratively. It gets dark quite early in Amsterdam.

I’ve been in not great places mentally before (haven’t we all?) so I knew in my head that it would get better, but it didn’t feel that way.

My year was full of distractions and various means of coping, and it all felt gone. I didn’t know what to do or what to focus on. I hadn’t really stuck to any means of healthy living. The nutritionist helped a little but it felt like a long road and I kept getting frustrated because it felt like it wasn’t exactly what I needed. Like, what I was doing was incomplete.

Poke bowl with salmon, cucumber, ginger, carrots and cabbage
Photo of a similar meal we eat by Miu Sua on Unsplash

I mainly hired a nutritionist because I felt like I wasn’t feeding my body right. In a pandemic, everything you do for your body is a bonus. In normal times that’s true as well. I guess I just felt the pressure more to stay healthy when so many were sick.

Now, Sean and I have more great-for-us meals than not, but it wasn’t enough. Nothing felt like enough to get me wanting to work, get focused, or really just to get off the couch.

Here’s how I got to the point of feeling like I’m thriving

Disclaimer: This is about me and is only used to show you how I’ve gotten better. This is not to tell you that you should do any of these methods. As with anything, check with a professional if you have questions!

Really understanding that it’s okay to not be awesome right now. Giving myself grace in all areas of my life has been a big change.

Realizing each moment is a new moment to make a new decision is key for me. I’ll get so mad at myself for not taking out the trash or emptying the dishwasher…something relatively easy. At some point, something will click and I can think, “I can do it now”. That is gross oversimplification and has taken years of coaching and learning about myself, my personality and how I work to get to this place.

Having a morning routine is something I’m still working on. But, every time I come downstairs, pull out the yoga mat and turn on Adriene for a morning yoga session, I feel proud. I have to do it in the morning or I won’t do it at all.

Drinking as much water as possible each day. I’m not great at getting exactly what I need, but I’m very conscious about it. Water is such a simple thing that many of us overlook!

Another thing my nutritionist got me to do is take vitamin D3. I was taking a multivitamin but since I’m supposed to be having complete meals, I shouldn’t need all of them. Vitamin D is thought to help prevent or reduce to severity of the Coronavirus and while I don’t think it’s been proven for certain, it’s an easy vitamin to get and in the winter for certain parts of the world, we know we don’t get enough. So yeah, I take vitamin D3 every day.

This may surprise you but I live in Amsterdam and I don’t smoke pot. Never have and I don’t see a point in starting now. However, based on my needs and on the recommendation of people using it, I have started taking a very low dose of CBD oil. I can’t attribute direct effects, but I can tell you that if I don’t take it for a while, I have more bad days, my sleep is out of whack, my anxiety is high and Sean immediately asks if I’ve been taking it. Inevitably, the answer is no. So now, I stick with it.

Eating healthier than before is probably always a good thing. I don’t feel awful after eating dinner because it’s usually a wholesome home-cooked meal…and there are usually leftovers!

Jessica in the snow

Going outside is always a mood-booster! I love to be in the woods and luckily we have a couple large parks near our home. We have a lot of gross weather here, but when we do get out and about, we have a smile on our face!

My most recent addition to my winter blues health kit…is that what I’m calling in now? Okay. Let’s go with it! It’s a sun lamp. I tried a small one last year and it’s been missing. Based on what I wrote in my blog post on How to Survive Amsterdam in the Winter, I think it worked pretty well. Sean thinks I let someone borrow it but who knows. There are only so many places to hide in this house so I don’t think it’s here! So, my friend Silvia over at heartmybackpack.com got the Beurer TL-50 (affiliate link) and loves it. They have Polar Night where she is in Norway, so if it works for her, I’m thinking it’ll work for me. It’s the same brand as I had but more powerful and bigger, and I love it. Since I’ve started using it, my sleep has been better, I wake up refreshed, I don’t feel that really bad lag at 3 or 4 PM. It was so bad that I would lay my head on my desk or lay on the couch until 5PM and then I would say I was done for the day and not move. That doesn’t happen now. You can find me dancing around the kitchen making dinner these days. I haven’t felt this good in MONTHS!

Lastly, someone has believed in me enough to ask me to work for them. When you’re feeling super low, that seems like a miracle. It’s super part-time but having someone depend on me for their business and their livelihood is really huge. Having a sense of purpose, being helpful, having deadlines, and a colleague has been so great! Of course, after a year of income going almost completely away, getting paid is always nice. But, I think it’s mostly the other stuff that makes me feel so good 😉

How can you help yourself?

In general terms, the first step is recognizing that you feel a little “off”. Take some time outside and go for a walk. Find something you look forward to in the morning to make you want to get out of bed (even if it’s dark!). While I’m still not excited to do yoga, I’m excited to turn on my salt lamp with it’s warm glow and light a candle to make it feel cozy. Then, I put out my yoga mat and get myself ready. Sometimes, if I’m feeling really fragile, I’ll have some spa/relaxing music on my phone while I watch yoga on the TV.

Find what works for you.

What should work for everyone is finding a list of meals that you love and that are good for you. Discover a new show on a streaming service or a new book. Embrace the cozy, but figure out what gets you energized as well.

Since the light therapy works so well for so many people (I asked around A LOT), including myself, I’m going to recommend it. For some the effects are immediate and for others it took a week or two. Check all the information with the light, but I think most people do about 15 minutes of light therapy in the morning. I do about 30 minutes while I’m eating and setting up for my work day.

Give yourself grace! It’s taken a lot of trial and error for me to figure out what works for me. If you have the time now, start trying something new to see if it helps and give it time to work its magic. Of course, if you’re recommended by your doctor to take vitamins, be sure to take them as often as they suggest!

If you are suffering, be sure to reach out for help if you need to. If you think you need a counselor, I’m going to send you over to Silvia’s blog where she talks about online counseling (and it comes with a discount!).

I truly hope this has given you some ideas on how to get through a tough winter. Spring and summer will soon come and we’ll all enjoy it a little more this year!