October is right around the corner, and with it comes darker evenings and the calling for coats and scarves.
I get excited about all this initially. The weather turns and the leaves take on that familiar crispiness. The windows are steamed up in the morning. The trees in the park delight the eyes with their array of gold and red shades. There is the anticipation of all the holidays coming up in the season. Autumn.
But for someone like myself who suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), there is a flipside to all the gorgeousness of fall. It tends to crop up in November when there’s been a week of constant rain. It then settles in for the long haul, not removing itself until Spring.
So what to do about it all? How does on conquer SAD? This is a list for myself, primarily, as I prepare for the winter ahead, but I also hope this can help you. Perhaps you’re a SAD sufferer looking for tips. Perhaps you don’t even know what SAD is, but are wondering why you feel so miserable every winter. I’m here to talk you through it.
The NHS describes SAD as a depression brought about by the change in seasons. It is caused predominantly by a decrease in daylight and subsequent increase in melatonin production (the hormone that makes you feel sleepy). As with any depression, the effects can vary enormously from one person to the next. The most common symptoms include low mood, loss of interest in hobbies and a social life, cravings for carb-heavy foods and general feeling of lethargy.
I blame the severity of my SAD on the fact that I grew up in hot places. Perhaps that’s the case. Perhaps it’s because mental illness runs in the family. I’m not really sure that it matters. How I deal with it is what makes all the difference.
How to Deal
- Realise that it’s an actual thing. It’s actually really relieving to give your brain a reason for why it’s feeling so low. Reassure yourself that it’s because you’ve got less daylight and your circadian rhythms are a little off. Don’t feel guilty for feeling the way you do.
- Get as much time outside as you can. I know, it’s cold and probably raining, but force yourself outside as much as possible. If you have a 9-5 office job that means you leave the house in the dark and return in the dark, take a lunch break outside if you can. Even if it’s overcast, being out in natural daylight will help tremendously. And on your days off, be out in nature and force yourself to notice what’s around you and beautiful in it’s own wintery way.
- Eat a balanced diet. I know the temptation to binge on junk food is there when you’re feeling low, but this will only ever make you feel worse. Get loads of fresh veggies in your body and keep your sugar intake low.
- Try a SAD lamp! I’m a huge fan of these, having owned one myself. The idea is that you turn it on as you’re getting up and ready in the morning to simulate rising with the sun (even if it’s painfully dark outside). Your seratonin production (the hormone that makes you feel awake) is boosted and you are on track to feeling more energised.
- Keep busy. I know, it’s the hardest thing to find motivation when you are feeling low, but keeping dates in your diary for doing the activities that you enjoy and seeing your friends and family will always warm your mood. Force yourself out the first few times and it’ll get easier.
- Have things to look forward to. This is the most important one for me. If I don’t have anything exciting on the horizon, my mood plummets like there really is no tomorrow. Having a trip planned will see you through the winter. I’m generally pretty miserable in November and January-February, so this year I’ve got a trip away planned in November and likewise will soon be booking one in for February. Having something to look forward to can push you through those darkest days and remind you that there is something exciting to live for.
- Know that without the really short days and endless overcast skies, we would not have such long summer nights. With yin, there is yang and so balance must be maintained.