How I’m coping with SAD (Seasonal affective disorder)

I’ve noticed since I’ve gotten older that the colder months affect me more than they used to. I love autumn and winter, rainy days, cold walks in the woods, long scarves… I spend my summers wishing for days like these, but when the time comes, the cold weather also affects my moods in ways I’m not used to.

Once the hot summer months are gone and September and October come around, I start to feel alive again. I have two months to enjoy a nice combination of warm and cold weather. I get a sudden urge of energy to be outside and do things. I even started jogging in October.

But after the time change, the days get shorter, and I end up feeling trapped, the routine I had created of being outside and the motivation to do things get replaced by the need to stay indoors while it rains non-stop for weeks, which I love! I love rain. That’s why I’m so upset that the “bad” weather affects me this way in November.

What is SAD, and why does it happen?

The NHS describes (SAD) Seasonal affective disorder as “a type of depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern”. SAD symptoms are usually more apparent and more severe during the winter. SAD can make you feel low for weeks or months.

SAD is linked to a lack of sunlight exposure, which disrupts the body’s melatonin and serotonin levels, making you feel more tired and demotivated.

I hate this feeling of being too tired to do things, and the shorter days don’t help. I work from home most days and I spend the few hours of sunshine in front of my computer. And when I finish work, it’s already too dark outside, and the last thing I want to do is go out. I’m more of a sunrise than sunset kind of gal.

I found this quote on the BACP website, and it really resonated with me:

Winter is not summer, yet we expect to have the same energy levels and ease of movement as during the long, light, warm days of spring and summer.

It’s normal to feel more tired and unmotivated in winter, and you shouldn’t feel guilty about breaking your workout routines or spending more time indoors doing nothing productive. The same BACP blog post suggests that “we should allow ourselves to be different in winter […] I shift the expectations I have of myself and turn the dial down a few notches.”

Reading this blog post and learning not to compare my summer and winter selves has helped me a lot lately.

My overcoming SAD routine

Decorating the house with pumpkins helps lift my mood

My key takeaway from my research about SAD is that daylight and lack of vitamin D really affect our estate of mind, so I’ve created a list of things that are starting to help me get out of this seasonal depression. Though I have days where I won’t move from my sofa, I try to combine productive activities with lazy days.

Go for a daily (if possible) 30-minute walk in daylight – Because I work from home, I decided to follow the sun instead of my work schedule. It has rained non-stop where I live, but most days, we get a 30-minute sunshine break, and I’ve chosen to use that break as a work break as well. Forcing myself to take a mental break and just walk under the winter sun helps clear my mind.

Taking Vitamin D supplements – Not everyone is in favour of supplements. Still, this vitamin helps endorphin release which elevates my mood, so I’m taking a daily pill.

Cooking long and soothing soups and other comfort food – I’m not a great cook, but cooking long recipes keeps me entertained while it rains outside. I put on a comedy podcast, and I focus on creating double of everything, so I have leftovers for the days I feel I can’t even peel a potato.

Baking childhood recipes – there’s this Spanish bizcocho recipe that we used to make as kids, it’s super easy and it doesn’t take long. You just need a yoghurt, oil, flour, baking yeast, and eggs. I can’t explain how much my mood was lifted by eating something I used to love when I was a kid.

Journaling  – when every day feels the same, it’s really easy to lose track of time or to forget what I’ve done that week. Journaling, even if it’s just two days a week, helps me focus on myself a bit more.

Creating a hyggelig living space – I love learning about Hygge, and I do believe creating a cosy space to hide in during winter can make you feel better. When I want to sit down with a book and a cup of tea, I light up a few candles, turn on my twinkly pumpkin lights and surround myself with pillows and blankets.

I still feel tired and unmotivated most days, but forcing myself to walk for a bit or cook something I know my partner and I will enjoy helps me feel better. I’m also less hard on myself. If I need to skip walks and just lay on the sofa covered in a blanket for three days, I try not to feel guilty about it.

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