Are you feeling the effects of the shorter, dark days? Perhaps you feel yourself defaulting into hibernation mode. You are not alone. The National Health Service estimates 1 in 15 people in the UK will experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD) between September and April.
Winter can be especially difficult when you have seasonal depression. This year, dreading the dark days, I decided to see if there were some simple things I could do to combat my symptoms
Surprisingly, as I began to take small steps each day, I gradually moved beyond survival mode and began to fall in love with life again.
Don’t get me wrong, I still have depression. But having these go-to hacks to lean into helped me triumph over the debilitating symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder
Have you got the winter blues? According to the NHS symptoms of SAD can include:
- a persistent low mood
- a loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities
- feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness
- feeling lethargic (lacking in energy) and sleepy during the day
- sleeping for longer than normal and finding it hard to get up in the morning
- craving carbohydrates and gaining weight
Duvet Days Be Gone!
I have depression and every year as the days grow shorter, dread and trepidation sets in. Haunting images of endless duvet days, punctuated by forced survival errands, trigger a deluge of intrusive thoughts.
Cuddling up and having a duvet day is the ultimate form of self-comfort. But when duvet days turn into weeks of self-isolation it can leave you feeling moody, lethargic, fatigued and frustrated.
When I set out on my quest to beat seasonal depression, I had no idea these steps would make such a tremendous difference to my quality of life.
I just wanted to feel better.
Listed below are my tried and tested, surprisingly simple, yet powerfully effective ways to cope with the winter blues:
#1 Let the Light In
Bright light within the first hour of waking up each day has been shown to initiate a change in brain chemicals linked to mood
Even though the over-riding feeling when struck with the winter blues is to pull the cover’s over your head, throw them off, fling open the curtains…let the daylight in
#2 Hydrate Your Body
Have a glass of water by your bed, or make it your first action of the day to get a glass of water.
Tip: Keeping your body and brain hydrated is often one of the things we neglect in the colder months. Aim to drink 6-8 glasses of water a day.
#3 Juice It Up!
Down a green juice first thing when you awaken, after your water. Stock up on fresh green juice(available M&S, Pret, Juice Bars) or make your own blends using fresh or powdered ingredients. Think Wheatgrass, Spirulina, Kale, Green Apple.
Tip: Green Juice is not necessarily delicious but the benefits are worth it 🙂
#4 Get Some Natural Daylight!
Grab a soft, warm blanket and get yourself outside as soon, and as much, as you can. Exposure to natural sunlight is amazingly effective and uplifting when you have SAD. Even if you have the best light set up, try to still get outside for a few moments in the morning. I know, it’s cold. But it is so worth it for the difference it makes. That brings us to our next point.
#5 Give Yourself an Energy Burst
The best way to get your daily dose of sunlight is to go for a short walk or take a burst of exercise outside. This has the added benefit of awakening your body. Your exercise therapy for SAD can be as simple as a brisk walk in Nature, a gentle yoga sequence or a burst of cardio.
Tip: Make it fun, you don’t want exercise to be another thing to dread.
#6 Light Up Your Space
Light up your environment, the aim is to let in as much natural sunlight as possible. Open your blinds and pull the curtains back, and light up your space with extra lamps.
Tip: Put up a string of indoor fairy lights for an instant pick-me-up
#7 Nourish Your Body
Eat to nourish and sustain your body’s energy levels. When you have SAD you tend to crave sweets and carbohydrate-rich foods because they provide short-term feelings of euphoria. But the high is short-lived and these foods are thought to increase feelings of anxiety and depression.
Tip: Some foods are known to help boost your mood and relieve anxiety, including whole grains, leafy greens, salmon, avocado, eggs, dark chocolate, walnuts, brazil nuts, flax seeds
#8 Mindful Breathing
Breathe into your heart and feel aliveness coursing through your whole body. Exhale deeply and fully. Stay with your breath and allow the soft, silent sound to envelop you
Place your hands on your heart and bring your awareness into the present moment. Inhale slowly and deeply (feel your chest gently expanding). Exhale completely and allow yourself to let go into the repose of your whole body.
#9 Clear Your Mind
According to the Mayo Clinic, there is a mind-body connection and there are some simple techniques that can help ease SAD. These include relaxation techniques (eg. yoga, tai chi), meditation, guided imagery, and music or art therapy.
#10 Be Kind To Yourself
Gently coax your mind to take small steps each and every day to take care of yourself. Encourage yourself to get outside and socialize a little. Give yourself a daily dose of kindness
Tip: Surround yourself with little love notes and inspiring quotes.
#11 Keep A Journal
Intrusive thoughts can add to the overwhelm of S.A.D. Keep a journal and immediately mind dump any intrusive thoughts, frustrations or things that keep cycling in your mind. There’s something about writing it out that gets you out of your head.
Notice and appreciate the little things, and share those little flashes of beauty in your journal. Writing in your journal will give you a natural burst of positive emotions and help you feel more connected with the world.
Tip: Record your daily triumphs, no matter how small they seem to be.
#12 Seek Balance
The temptation when you are feeling frustrated with your symptoms is to take drastic, sweeping action. Focus on finding small ways to gently balance your activity levels.
Tip: Respect your limits without succumbing to the overwhelming urge to self-isolate.
Talk to your doctor about any concerns or questions you have about your symptoms. If your symptoms are severe, you may benefit from antidepressant medication.
If you are already taking medication for depression, it’s also a good idea to talk to your doctor about possibly changing the dose and or course of medication (bearing in mind it can take several weeks to experience the full benefits of antidepressant medication).
In addition to medication, light therapy, or phototherapy, is one of the first line treatments for SAD. Light Therapy involves sitting a few feet away from a special light box that mimics outdoor light.
Other therapies that have shown promising results are Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and mindfulness.
The dark days begin to brighten a little when you can face them with confidence.
If we aren’t already, I’d love to connect and learn more about what challenges you face, what moves and inspires you. What would you add to the list above? Please share your thoughts, experiences, and insights by leaving a comment below
Depression Support Lines
Mind infoline on 0300 123 3393 (9am to 6pm, Monday to Friday)
Samaritans on 116 123 (UK), 116 123 (ROI) for confidential support
Crisis Call Center at 1-800-273-8255 at any time of the day