This is not something I would typically write about, it’s very personal and affects me directly, but I believe it is a very important topic and worthy of being talked about. Recently I posted a poll on Instagram in regards to tips and tricks to beat the winter funk. The results were overwhelming, I am not alone. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or seasonal depression is a very real problem for me and many others like me. SAD is a type of depression related to changes in the seasons. Generally it begins in the fall as the days get shorter and continues throughout the winter months. In some cases it becomes more severe as the winter months drag on.
Every year I know it’s coming, and I feel helpless to stop it. It can effect people differently, but some of the major symptoms are losing interest in activities you would normally enjoy, low energy, no motivation, trouble sleeping, sleeping too much, changes in appetite, feeling agitated or moody, difficulty concentrating, the feeling of hopelessness, and in the worst cases thoughts of death or suicide.
Thankfully for me I have a great support system and several tricks to help drag me back to the light.
1.) Stay active – Aside from having a good support system, the best thing you can do for yourself is to stay active. There are going to be plenty of days you feel like you would much rather just stay on the couch, but you need to get up. This could be anything that gets you moving, out of the house, or both.
2.) Work out – Definitely take the time to do this. Even if it’s just 20 minutes, working out creates endorphins and I can guarantee you will feel better afterwards. It doesn’t need to be particularly hard, just something to get the blood pumping.
3.) Eat healthy – A healthy diet will help to give you more energy and boost your mood. It will also reduce the likelihood that you will pack on “winter weight.”
4.) Light – A big factor in SAD is the amount of daylight we get in the winter months. To help with this take advantage of the daylight we do have. My dogs are a huge motivator to get me outside in the cold. If you have dogs, instead of simply letting them outside, take them for a walk. They will appreciate the exercise and time with you too. Medical professionals say we need at least 30 minutes of sunlight a day. If you cannot get outside, consider investing in a happy light, or something similar. They say you get the best results if exposed to the light first thing in the morning (while eating breakfast or something).
Sitting near a bright window, driving when it is bright out, and normal inside lighting do not have the same effect no matter how bright the light is. Your retinas do not get enough light to counteract SAD. You can think about your eyes being like a camera, you have to use different exposure settings depending on whether you are inside or outside due to the amount of light entering the lens. Your eyes operate in a similar way.
5.) Amount of sleep – We have always heard that we should get 8 hours of sleep. It’s a well known fact that any less than that is considered to not be enough, but how many people know that getting too much is just as detrimental? Researchers believe this is due to the effect it has on certain neurotransmitters in the brain, like serotonin (happy chemical). They also say that too much sleep contributes to morning headaches, memory loss, diabetes, and obesity.
Try and get on a consistent sleep schedule. No sleeping in on weekends (I know, harsh). Get up with the sun. This will help to make sure you get the most possible time in the sunlight, in turn helping with your internal clock. No caffeine later than 6 hours before you plan on going to bed. Avoid bright lights and screens in the late evening and try to get to bed before 11 PM.
6.) Temperature – I don’t know anyone who actually likes being cold, but keeping your home too warm can also be problematic. Studies show that the warm air will dry out your skin and make you more susceptible to winter colds. Try keeping your home between 64F and 70F (18C and 21C). If you absolutely need it to be warmer than this, try getting a humidifier.
7.) Take up a new hobby – Giving you something to look forward to is huge. This could be absolutely anything, joining a club, starting a blog, singing, joining a gym, picking up a good book…be creative!
8.) Socialize – with people, like face to face. Put down the phones and other electronics and actually talk to people like your friends, family, or strangers. It doesn’t matter as long as you do it. Never underestimate the power of human interaction. Have you heard the phrase that “happiness is contagious”? If you surround yourself with happy people and positive energy it is bound to rub off. Also it’s super helpful if those people have a dog. There is nothing more gratifying than being greeted by the wiggling and wagging tail of a dog. They are always happy to see you. We can learn something from them, in their world every day is the best day ever.
9.) Goals – Set goals for yourself and write them down. It’s so much harder to procrastinate when you have goals on a calendar or a check list staring you in the face each day. Additionally you will feel accomplished as you are able to check them off.
10.) Music – It’s hard to feel depressed while listening to upbeat music. Have your own private dance party, or listen to some motivational music to get through your workout. Believe it or not this is an approved method of therapy. Upbeat or motivational music can help to reduce anxiety and depression while improving mood, self esteem, and overall quality of life.
11.) Take a trip – This might be my favorite option! Nothing like a trip to someplace sunny to recharge and change your perspective. It doesn’t even have to be far from home just grab a friend or a partner and go! Changing your scenery will help. Someplace with a hot tub might be nice 🙂
12.) Talk to someone you trust – It’s important that you have at least one person that you can go to when you are feeling down. Someone that can help to motivate you to get moving. They can be a million miles away, but sometime all you need is someone else telling you to “get your ass up!” If you don’t have a person to do that, send me a message, I’ll be yours.
13.) Seek help – If none of these tips help and you find that SAD is preventing you from having a “normal” life it may be time to talk to your doctor or a counselor. I know there is stigma surrounding this issue, but you need to do you. Do whatever it takes to get back on track and enjoy life again. If doesn’t matter how you get there.
14.) YOU ARE NOT ALONE – This may be something that not many people are talking about but that doesn’t mean it’s any less important. This is something that I struggle with every year. When I wrote the original post I was astonished by the number of people who reached out and told me that they are in the same boat.
15.) Suicide is never an option – You never know when the answers you are looking for will appear on your doorstep. No situation is hopeless. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255 is available 24 hours everyday.
If you know someone who struggles with SAD, regardless of how you feel, remember it is very real to them. Do your best to be supportive and help motivate them or motivate each other to get up, one foot in front of the other. Like all things in life, getting better all starts with just one step.
If you have your own tips or tricks, leave them in the comments! I would love to hear about them!
“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.” – Vivian Greene
Keep busy and remember, spring is coming.
– KT (@globetrotterkt)