Commonly known as “winter blues,” seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a subtype of major depressive disorder, explains licensed psychotherapist Tandrea Tarver-Brooks. It happens when seasonal transitions trigger shifts in mood and affects a person’s ability to function. Although the most prominent cases show up in the colder months, seasonal depression can occur at any time of year, Tarver-Brooks says.
Meanwhile, many people find holiday gatherings and customs trigger grief rather than comfort. “Holidays, anniversaries, and birthdays serve as ‘memories frozen in time’ and may worsen symptoms of grief by increasing feelings of uncertainty and loneliness,” says Tarver-Brooks. “When grief coexists with SAD symptoms, an individual’s ‘blues’ can also be reignited, making it much more difficult to complete day-to-day tasks and attend to basic needs.”
As a somatic practitioner primarily focused on breathwork—which I’ve used to help thousands of people, from Fortune 100 executives to kids in juvenile detention centers—I’ve found that certain somatic techniques can help to address the emotions surfacing in the body when the symptoms of grief and seasonal depression intertwine.
What is a somatic practice? It’s a tool to address physical manifestations of emotional states in the body. Here are three that I recommend in particular to create more moments of calm and groundedness as you approach each day, one day at a time.
Three practices you can use while navigating seasonal depression and grief
1. Morning oceanic breath
Starting your day with soothing, grounding breaths can help decrease overthinking. An improved mind-body connection can help encourage the completion of daily routines that become more challenging when you’re experiencing depression and grief, like making the bed, taking a shower, or brushing your teeth.
The oceanic breath is a beginner-friendly breathwork pattern that sounds like its name. To do this, start with the mouth wide open.
Inhale through the mouth slowly, evoking elongated breaths. Feel your chest and diaphragm rise on the inhale. Then exhale out of the mouth, feeling your ribcage hug your stomach as you empty the lungs.
If you feel comfortable doing so, you can close your eyes and position your body lying down or sitting up for the duration of the practice. Start with a time that feels achievable for you, whether that’s one minute, five minutes, or 10 minutes.
Know that it’s normal for tasks and to-dos to come to mind as you begin to breathe. Be gentle with your mind doing its job (thinking) and compassionately return your focus to your breath.
2. Intentional nasal breathing with low-impact walking
Walking can be a great tool to feel more present in your body as you process difficult emotions. Coupling a slow-paced walk with intentional nasal breathing is a practice that will help “create more space” in your mind, and the situations it wants to process, by focusing attention instead on movement and deeper inhales and exhales.
While taking a stroll, begin to notice your regular breathing pattern. Extend your inhale and exhale by a few more seconds than what comes naturally. Notice how your body feels as you slow down and deepen your inhales and lengthen your exhales with more intention.
3. Nurturing self-touch
Touch can elicit the brain’s “feeling safe and comfortable” response.
If a specific area of the body feels tense or is at unease, gently rub that area in a circular motion (clockwise then counter-clockwise). Allow your body to sink into whatever surface is supporting you while allowing tension in the face, shoulders, and lower body to melt away.
To evoke additional feelings of safety, swaddle yourself with a blanket after this practice or cover yourself with a weighted blanket.
Note: Grief can show up in the body differently for everyone, but commonly manifests in the chest (heart space) and stomach area.