Feeling SAD? Some thoughts on how to tackle the winter blues
Do you feel low on energy or grumpier than usual at this time of year? Do you find your sleeping patterns are all over the place? Do you feel as if your relationships are all wrong? Are you struggling to maintain a healthy diet or lifestyle balance? I am not an expert on Seasonal Affective Disorder, sometimes known as SAD or the winter blues, but I do have my own firsthand knowledge. Although a lot of people talk about winter blues, it’s not always easy to spot if you have SAD, let alone figure out what to do about it.
It can take a long time to realise or notice a pattern in your moods, especially if you think everyone is the same. I used to think that everyone felt as I did in winter – it was obvious wasn’t it? No sunshine? Less light? Of course everyone would be miserable.
One winter I joined a gym with a sunroom – a place with levels of UV light not high enough to tan you, but just high enough to make you feel as if it was summer. The following winter I went to South America for a few months and although it was cool in parts, the sun was bright and clear. Those were the first two winters of my life where I felt as I do in the spring and summer months: I had energy, I felt positive about myself and I felt in control of my life.
It was then that I realised that not everyone feels like I do when autumn arrives. Although I love the crisp air, the beautiful oranges and yellows of the leaves, the clear bright light, I am aware of a creeping sense of dread that the darker months are approaching. I should be happy because there are things around me that I find deeply beautiful, and I can get my favourite winter boots and hats and scarves out of storage, but instead I become tired, grumpy and a bit more emotional. I want to eat more and I start to feel less positive about myself. I find it hard to wake up in the mornings and I end up sleeping longer.
Now, when I notice these changes in my moods and personality, I realise it is time to implement my winter coping mechanisms. I know from speaking with friends that these can be different for each person, but I have listed below some of those that I know can help.
- SAD lamps work within days (if they are going to work for you) and can balance mood, sleeping patterns and energy levels. It is important to get a proper SAD lamp and not one of the many sunrise lamps that don’t necessarily have the same impact on the brain and the production of melatonin (responsible for the ‘jet-lag’ feelings).
- Being outside is essential, so get outside in daylight hours as often as you can, even if it’s raining, because if you look up at the sky even on a gloomy day, it is brighter than you might expect.
- Regular exercise is vital, again preferably outside, even when you don’t want to – it’ll make you feel so much better.
- Eating healthily and regularly ensures that your body is getting all the nutrients you need and isn’t suffering more than it needs to.
- Be kind to yourself and put the negativity into perspective. I put a lot of effort into being kind to myself during the darker months. I remind myself that any negative thoughts are just a figment of my poor sunlight-deprived brain and that they will disappear in spring, like mist in the sunshine.
If you, like me, struggle in winter, don’t be hard on yourself. Although you may not be able to change the way your brain is wired, there are many things you can do to help you not only get through winter, but to enjoy it too. You don’t have to suffer until spring. Only you know what’s right for you, but try out some of the tips above for a week or two and see if they make any difference. The important thing to remember, however, is that if they work, don’t stop! You’ll need to keep going with them until spring returns.