I wrote a little bit about this last year, but it’s time again. I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is caused by a chemical imbalance in my brain that happens when the days get shorter and there’s less sunlight. This results in me being less energetic, maybe depressed (sometimes for weeks on end), needing more sleep, and generally being a lot less motivated than I am during the rest of the year. This isn’t a big confession. I’m pretty frank about it with people. It’s a disorder that’s not my fault, and it’s not some kind of shameful secret. There is undoubtedly a lot of stigma regarding mental illness, but I prefer to operate as if there isn’t. It’s also a lot easier for my friends and loved ones to be supportive if they know what’s going on with me.
I’ve learned over the past few years that in order to succeed in the winter (defined here as anything between “Fall Back” and “Spring Forward”), I have to change my daily habits. The changes I’ve made to my routine have really helped to lessen the effects of S.A.D., especially last year, when I was only depressed for about three weeks. If you suspect you have S.A.D. or Winter Blues, you could try some of these for yourself:
1. No alcohol in the winter. If you’re already tired and depressive, downers just make things worse. It might not feel worse at the time, but I’ve found that having a few glasses of wine makes me more depressed for a few days afterward. I’m sure I’ll have a glass of champagne on my birthday (December 31st!) but other than that, it’s just not worth it to me. Your results may vary.
2. Exercise daily, outside if at all possible. Now, I really don’t like the cold. And in the winter, the last thing I feel like doing is leaving my warm-ish apartment and going outside in the cold and wind and grey for an hour. But daily walks (especially in the morning, but any time is good), interspersed with some jogging, really gets those endorphins up and makes me feel energized and positive. The sunlight you get is a bonus. If it’s icy outside, below freezing, or otherwise dangerous, a treadmill is a fine alternative. Of course, as anyone who has ever been depressed will tell you, it can be difficult/impossible to drag yourself out of the house. That’s why I think it’s important to get into a routine while you’re still feeling pretty energetic and happy.
3. Clean eating. Winter is famous for its “holiday pounds” from eating pie and what-have-you. But all that sugar+white flour will make me feel nice in the moment, and then I’ll crash. Not to mention, putting on extra winter weight when I already feel sad/bad about myself is not helpful. My main “comfort food” in winter is soup. Hot, steamy, creamy (cashew cream, that is) soup. Butternut squash, kale, potato, yams… I make at least one big pot of soup per week, and then I bring it to work for lunch. Winter also tends to be the time I relapse into eating dairy, but I am going to really watch it this year.
4. Light Therapy. I can’t stress enough how much sticking to a light therapy routine helped me last year. I bought a therapy lamp and set aside an extra 30 minutes each morning for light therapy. This time of year, I sit in front of it for 10 minutes a day. In the dead of winter, I’ll up it to 20. I also highly recommend this book written by the doctor who came up with light therapy for S.A.D.
5. Humor This is something I also started last winter, and it stuck with me all year. When I get home from work at the end of a tough day and everything seems overwhelming, I throw on an episode of Arrested Development or The Big Bang Theory. You might scoff and say, “Watching TV? Really? That’s your coping method?” Yup. But I only watch funny shows, because what I’m really aiming for is to laugh. Here’s some info about the health benefits of laughter. It really works for me when I feel myself sliding into a mental pit.
So, there you go. That’s my plan for avoiding S.A.D. this year. By the way, the links and products I included are just because I really like them, not because anyone paid me to say that.