Well, it’s already September. Who let that happen? Already the days are getting shorter and the temperature cooler and social media is awash with Autumnal excitement. Selfridges have got their Christmas display up and the shops are stocking thick coats and cosy knits in ochre and oatmeal tones.
I’ve seen lots of Tweets heralding this as the start of the best four months of the year; orange leaves, crisp mornings, halloween parties, bonfire night, snuggly socks, hot chocolates and Christmas markets. Whilst I love all of those things, the short days and dark skies, the cold wind and the big fat rain clouds, do not love me.
Seasonal Affective Disorder – shortened to SAD (what wanker came up with that?) – is essentially a form of depression, often accompanied by anxiety, that is triggered by the Autumn and Winter months. The changing of seasons affects us all in some shape or form, even if it’s just that bit harder to climb out of bed in the morning knowing that you’re probably going to have to defrost your car, however for SAD sufferers the effects can be severe and debilitating.
For me personally, I struggle with the lack of warmth and sunlight and I often experience a sort of chronic fatigue during Winter as a result that makes simple tasks a challenge. At my worst, I’ve struggled to even get out of bed, let alone maintain contact with my friends or go to work. My mind has travelled to somewhere deep and dark in which I’ve felt lost and hopeless. As a confident, together person I’ve experienced anxiety that has made me cry when a stranger was rude to me on the train and I’ve had panic attacks over going to class.
So whilst I want to get excited about sparklers and I’m a Celeb, drinking mulled wine and going for walks through the crunchy leaves – and my god have I missed wearing Uggs aka socially appropriate slippers – a part of me is really truly dreading it. When Spring comes around my body physically lets out a sigh of relief and I can feel my mood lifting again. It’s important to understand that nobody can control this – it’s a certified mental illness – and if you tell me that I’ve got the ‘Winter blues’ I’ll probably throw something heavy at you.
This will be my fifth winter with SAD – the 3rd with a proper diagnosis – and I have developed some coping mechanisms and pretty much tried and tested all possible treatments so I wanted to share some things that you can do to make Autumn and Winter easier for you too.
13 WAYS TO COPE WITH SEASONAL AFFECTIVE DISORDER
1. USE A LIGHT BOX
Light therapy is proven to be really effective in helping to make dark mornings easier for SAD sufferers. A medically certified lamp of minimum 10,000 LUX helps to simulate the sun and give you more energy when used for around thirty minutes each morning. Getting ready in front of one can really help to give you a much needed boost, plus, they make a banging make up light.
There isn’t a ‘right’ one to go for so just think about your needs – do you need it to be portable? would you rather have a bulb or LED? – and make sure it’s medically certified. They can seem quite expensive but for me it was a worthwhile investment and I wouldn’t be without it now.
2. MAKE THE MOST OF NATURAL LIGHT
I’m not about to tell you to schedule lunch time runs and go skipping off into the sunset but getting outdoors is really important. Sometimes it can be difficult to get out of bed, let alone leave the house, but in staying inside you’re neglecting your body of any kind of sunlight whatsoever. Even just a walk when the sun is at it’s highest can really help, as can making sure you’ve got all the curtains drawn and have light, reflective colours in your home.
3. USE A WAKE UP LAMP
SAD can be a little bit like carrying around your own little black cloud and it’s there right from the moment when you wake up in the morning in a dark room and draw the curtains to see a dark sky. I don’t know anyone who enjoys waking before sunrise but for SAD sufferers the impact can make day to day life a serious challenge. A wake up light simulates the sunrise at a time set by you so that your body is woken gradually by the brightening light and when you do open your eyes, it’s to a room filled with warm yellow light. Not only is it a much more enjoyable way for anyone to wake up instead of an aggressive alarm, but it can certainly help to make mornings easier.
I have this one here.
4. AVOID STRESS
I know this might sound a bit silly and I doubt anyone actively goes looking for stress regardless of the month of the year, however planning ahead can really help. Don’t schedule stressful events or tasks around the depths of the Winter months if you can help it. Save major life decisions or big changes such as moving home or getting a new job for the Spring and Summer months.
5. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE TIMES WHEN YOU FEEL WELL
If you know that come December you struggle with anxiety and tiredness then the last thing you’re going to want to do is fight the Christmas crowds. Start your shopping early and take advantage of days when you feel up to it to go and run errands or stock your cupboards up with nourishing food for the lower days when a trip to the supermarket is about as welcome as cockroaches in your bedroom.
6. TAKE VITAMIN D TABLETS
My favourite are the gummy blackcurrant ones you can get from Boots but if you’re not a total child like me then it’s more cost effective to buy big packs of tablets. I can’t say how much of a difference taking them really has but it certainly can’t do any harm so around mid-September I start to add one to my morning routine.
7. SPEAK TO A DOCTOR
Do not be afraid to ask for help. SAD is a medically recognised condition – you are not lazy, you are not worthless and you are definitely not alone. It was only when I found a doctor who took me seriously that I realised that actually I wasn’t crazy, just ill, and, spurred on by this,I started to find ways to help myself too.
8. DON’T BE AFRAID OF ANTIDEPRESSANTS
Everyone has got their view on them and I’m not here to tell you whether to take them or not. That’s a conversation between you and your doctor and something that ultimately you can only decide for yourself. What I will say is this: if you had tonsillitis, would you turn down antibiotics? Taking medication for your mind is nothing to be ashamed or scared of. Some pills will work for some people, some won’t.
One Winter I took a high dose of Fluoxetine every day, the next I didn’t touch a single pill. There isn’t a manual or a one size fits all so you’ve got to focus on finding out what works for you at a given time.
9. TALK TO YOUR FRIENDS
Some will understand, some won’t, but letting your friends and family – and even your colleagues – know what’s going on with you means that at least hopefully they won’t think you’re a flake when you cancel plans, again. Sometimes it can feel easier to shut the whole world out but in doing so you’re isolating yourself further in what is already a very lonely time. Having a support network is really important.
10. EXERCISE AND EAT WELL
Yep, I do know that if I tell you to go to the gym when your black cloud is at it’s heaviest you’ll probably want to throw something at me. I get it. There’s just no escaping the fact that exercise and the endorphins that it releases is a really positive thing that can help to keep both your body and your mind active. You don’t have to go and take up marathon training or pretend to enjoy skipping around to Latino music at a Zumba class feeling like a Class A muppet, but going for a gentle walk or a swim even can really help.
Similarly, the temptation for all of us over the Winter is to eat comfort food but if you suffer with SAD then the last thing your body needs is stodgy carbs which will only make you feel more lethargic. Focus on eating fresh fruit and vegetables and nourishing your body in the same way that you’d tell someone with a physical illness to.
11. IF YOU CAN AFFORD IT, BOOK A HOLIDAY
Unfortunately I do appreciate that this isn’t an option for everyone and your gal over here can only dream of being whisked off to the Caribbean every Winter to bask in the sunlight, but if you can afford to book a trip to a sunnier climate then the benefits are obvious. Not only does it give you something to look forward to – Winter for a SAD sufferer can feel never ending – but I always think of SAD as a little like a solar-powered illness. Even just a week of sunshine can massively lift your mood enough that it might be a bit easier to cope when you come home again.
12. BUILD IN TIME DEDICATED TO RELAXING
Make sure that each day you build a little time in to yourself, doing whatever it is that makes you feel good. Light a candle, have a hot bath with essential oils and indulge in a good book. Go to a yoga class. Save up and book a massage.
I’ve previously written about pressing the ‘pause’ button on life now and then but when you’re carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders and the dark days seem endless like a really shit episode of Game of Thrones set solely beyond the wall, it’s especially important.
13. FINALLY, DO NOT BE ASHAMED
What you are going through is not your fault. You are ill, but there are things that can help make you feel better like some of the above. I talk so openly about my own relationship with my mental health and my experiences with SAD because even though it sometimes feels daunting to put my most vulnerable side out there like that, I am not ashamed and I don’t want you to be either.