Seasonal Affective Disorder is a very real condition that affects many of us throughout the year, but most often in the darker winter months that we have looming ahead of us. It often sneaks up on you; it will come slowly so that you gradually adjust to it rather than realising that something has changed. I find that for myself I often start noticing the effects after the holiday season ends, as the brightness and coziness of get-togethers taper off with the New Year, but many people do start feeling it quite early in the season. There are some easy ways to fight SAD and keep your energy up in the winter months!
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a mood disorder that can affect you in multiple ways, including feelings of depression and hopelessness, insomnia, anxiety, appetite issues, and a lack of energy. It’s easy to write it off as simply being tired or “out of it”, but it is a medical condition, and there are ways for you to treat and manage it! I would recommend that if you are noticing a serious change in any of these areas for a significant period of time that you visit your family doctor for medical advice. The following is not a doctor’s advice but rather what works for me when the winter starts to creep in!
1. Getting Sunlight, aka. lumens
It turns out that sunlight is the key to humans functioning properly for a number of reasons- moods, sleep, and vitamin levels are core among that, all things that dictate how things are going, so to speak. Just because the world goes dark, it doesn’t mean that you don’t still need that light to function as a person! There are a few ways to make sure that you do get the light that you need, though! If it’s possible, try and take a walk at lunch or even go outside on your 15 minute breaks during the day- mentally, fresh air is a bit of reboot and getting out into the sun directly is the best option. If you can’t, try and at least visit a window in the office and snag some secondhand sun. When you are at home, try and have the curtains open and enjoy the sun on the weekends, too- I know it’s tempting to bury yourself in the dark to marathon your next tv show, but a little sunlight doesn’t hurt!
And, if all else fails, look into getting a sunlight lamp. Sunlight lamps are specifically designed to mimic the effects of sunlight (vs a regular lamp that typically offers light, period) and get you the lumens that you need. If you don’t have a diagnosis, I wouldn’t get an overly bright//powerful daylight lamp and or use it for more than 30 minutes at a time! If you do have a diagnosis for SAD and your doctor has prescribed you a sunlight lamp, they will discuss the brightness and duration that you specifically need, and it’s important to follow these directions. **If you do have a prescription, your workplace may have a fund that can help cover the costs for the lamp. Your insurance may also cover part of it!*
2. Maintaining a Healthy Diet
Maintaining a healthy diet plays a role in pretty much every part of our life, at the end of the day. In the season of holiday parties and gifts of chocolate and sugary drinks (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic), it’s incredibly easy to let it slide and say, “Oh, it’s just for tonight, tomorrow will be a healthy day!” I don’t know about you, but there are some wonderful people at my office who bring in baking and treats all throughout December, so there is always something to nibble on. I’m not saying don’t enjoy those things (because I think you should), but make sure you are balancing it. Plan out your meals and stick to your plan!
The morning can be rushed and chaotic on the best of days, but making sure that you eating an actually healthy breakfast (and not “least terrible” option available on the go from the nearest coffee shop) can set you up for a good day, eating wise. At work, I’ve started making sure that I finish all of the food that I brought myself without eating any snacks or treats from someone else. Bring your lunch with you so you aren’t tempted to eat two or three of those donuts for lunch when you are going out for a cocktail party in the evening! And take advantage of seasonal foods- now is the time for mandarin oranges (tangerines or clementines). They are delicious, super easy to eat while you are on the go, and a natural source of sugar to enjoy. Try to be creative to avoid boredom, and stay organised to balance out your meals!
3. Keep Moving
When you are cold and tired and feel like you are living in perpetual darkness, it’s incredibly easy to lay about for hours on end and not want to do anything. Realistically though, that’s probably not going to do much of anything for you. Whether you are walking, dancing, skating, rolling, or skiing, get your blood pumping! I think that all of us know and understand that endorphins created when you exercise improve your mood, among other things, but it’s easy to forget and push to the side of our mind.
Dance around the kitchen while you are making dinner or getting food ready for the next day, take your dogs out for a walk instead of just letting them out into the yard, and use your 15 minute break to actually take a walk around the building instead of sitting on your phone. If you have mobility issues, there are quite a few yoga poses that you can do from seated position that really get your heart rate up (that don’t need prior yoga experience to be done)! Not everything needs to be a huge work out where you spend hours at it and are absolutely spent at the end, smaller bursts of activity to keep your blood moving are also beneficial.
4. Learn to Love the Winter!
There are few places in the world that have a more trying winter than Winnipeg (Northwest Territories, Yukon, Nunavut, and Siberia, I’m looking at you), and with 6+ months of snow, it’s easy to be mentally worn down. It can feel unbearable to know that you are on your 22nd day of temperatures below -30°C and you have to wear 4 layers of clothing (including tech gear) simply for your 8 minute walk into work. However, you have got to embrace the season and enjoy it! It’s not a few week blip, it’s here to stay for however many months and we may also well make the most of it.
Being that my brother has huskies, they get walked for several hours a day, whether it’s cold out or not, and our weekend trips to the dog park are always a highlight! Thankfully the park we go to now has a small restaurant where I can buy a tea to go, but I will sometimes bring some in a travel mug- pair that with being warmly dressed, and it’s always fun! If you live where there is ice and snow, try something you haven’t done before (or in years): skating or curling on a pond, cross-country skiing, tobogganing, building a snow man, trying your architectural hand at building a quinzee (see here for more info), or any number of other snowy activities. And if you live somewhere rainy, invest in some new wellies and umbrella, and discover the new flora and fauna that live in your colder months! (I was amazed living in Ireland when everything didn’t actually die in the fall. Flowers were still growing, foliage was still green, and it wasn’t a plant wasteland…) There are a few amateur photographers living in the UK that I follow on Instagram who have the coolest photos of the wild in the winter, brought to life by the rain. Make the most of winter, and make it work for you!