“I’m so tired and can’t be bothered to do anything… Its so dark and depressive out there…”
Its three o’clock in the afternoon and you can’t help to feel intense desire to sleep. You slept well the night before, but your eyelids feel heavy and the couch looks so cozy. It feels like you just dont want to do anything, but hibernate until spring.
Do you recognise it? Does cooler days of this season make you feel tired, sad, hungry and lonely?
All these changes were especially intense when my children were little babes, but over the years I’ve been slowly learning how to better manage my autumn sadness.
Autumn (or winter) sadness is called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD); it’s a type of depression that starts in the late fall or winter and goes away in the spring. It can come in many forms, from mild winter blues to a debilitating condition. People who experience SAD often feel sad, irritable, stressed and tired all the time, they also crave sugary and starchy foods, gain weight and avoid getting out.
There has been a lot of debate about SAD in the past few years. Researchers don’t fully understand why some people get it and others don’t. For some reason certain people, in certain parts of the world, are more sensitive to changing seasons and lack of daylight, but researchers don’t fully understand, or even agree on, why this is.
Women are more often affected by SAD than men (ratio 4:1) and SAD is also more common among younger people.
Are you affected by sadness in the autumn or winter month?
Below I’ve shared five proven ways to help you conquer seasonal depression and enjoy autumn and winter to the fullest!
1. Seek Help
After the birth of my children, I experienced debilitating postpartum anxiety. It was a frightening experience. I wanted to reach out for help but felt alone, confused and ashamed. After several months of downward spiral, I made an appointment to see a doctor. To my surprise she was compassionate and supportive; I don’t think I was the first mommy-wreck to walk through her door. If I could go back in time, the one bit of advice I’d give myself would be “don’t wait to get help!”.
If you are experiencing symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (or any form of mental illness), know that you aren’t alone. It’s important to talk about what you’re feeling. While making an appointment might feel like a monumental task, just remember: You deserve to be healthy! It’s only the very same thing like when you break your leg – you go to doctor. Don’t feel shy to talk about what is going on for you and find people you trust.
Don’t hesitate and start speaking to people you trust about how you feel
Actively seek a professional who you will feel you like and align with and ask for help
2. Go Out Into Nature
Despite the challenges of getting outside in the autumn and winter months, I’ve made it a priority for myself. Every day I challenge myself to go out with my kids and enjoy a little bit of nature, whatever the weather, even if it means a quick jog around the block.
Spending time in nature can increase physical activity, lower anxiety, boost creativity and improve life satisfaction.
The tricky thing with SAD is it often happens during seasons of the year when enjoying nature can be more difficult. The days are significantly shorter and much colder (especially here in Slovak mountains). It can be even more challenging to spend time in nature if you live in a city. I used to live in London for almost 20 years and living in the large city actually increases the risk of for mental illness, including seasonal affective disorder, so making an effort to get outside is even more important for city folks.
Choose an outdoor activity to enjoy throughout the winter (downhill skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, skating, sledding, hiking).
Go outside with your kids and have fun together. Build a snowman, go sledding, collect icicles… the options are endless.
Join an outdoor family challenge
Discover the practice of forest bathing
Chase the sun! Make an effort to soak up the sunshine throughout the autumn and winter months. Take a quick walk around the block when the sun comes out or drive up into the mountains (above the clouds!) on the weekend to soak up the sun (preferably with skis on).
Join a local group of fellow outdoor adventurers (check out local hiking groups, naturalist clubs and winter sport groups).
3. Try Light Therapy
My good friend swears by light therapy. It’s one of the most recommended forms of treatment for people with SAD and works for a lot of people. Light therapy involves spending time in front of a bright light of 10,000 lux for 30 to 45 minutes. If sitting in front of a light for 30 minutes sounds too time consuming, then another way to use light therapy is to simulate the sun rising (dawn simulation) while you’re still sleeping. What worked for me was to do my meditation early morning practice in front of one of these lamps – I still enjoy it very much even these days!
There are many affordable and effective light therapy lamps on the market.
4. Take on Coaching or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
Coaching that often includes also Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is probably one of the best things that I did for my mental health even being a coach myself. Shortly after my postpartum hell-dive I was referred to a wonderful therapist and learned even more great tools and strategies I applied into my life and it worked its wonders. It helped me to think in a much more positive and healthier way. CBT alone has had a very positive impact on my life and lives of many others.
If you’ve never heard about CBT, it’s basically a type of therapy that helps people change the way they think about something. For people with SAD this might mean challenging negative thoughts about winter and darkness. The neat thing about CBT is that studies are showing that it can be just as effective for SAD as light therapy. The added benefit is that CBT can be a really great long term solution for combating SAD.
Cognitive-behavioural therapy and light therapy are comparably effective treatment[s] [for seasonal affective disorder
Ask a doctor, therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist about CBT for seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
Join a CBT group
Learn about CBT by reading a book about the topic
5. Move Your Body!
Getting regular exercise is probably the last thing I want to do in the winter months and at the beginning you may have to force yourself to do so, but once you get in the little routine, there is nothing better than gained endorphines from a great fun workout. A few years ago before I had babies I trained with British Military Fitness and we trained outdoors in the mud and the rain in the group and pairs. It was tough, but so much fun! I often felt like I would rather took a nap before I went, but soon I realised Im not tired physically, but rather mentally and once I got into the routine of ‘showing up’ it kept my body and mind healthy and strong throughout the winter months.
Regular exercise is a must for healthy living, even more so if you struggle with SAD in the winter months. Not only does it help relieve stress and anger but it can help with some of unfortunate symptoms of SAD, like weight gain and isolation.
Try something new! The excitement of trying a new sport and meeting new people is a great way to combat SAD
Incorporate exercise into you week in a variety of ways (outdoor recreation, indoor exercise, individual sports, team sports)
Try exercising at home if going out isn’t feasible, try this wonderful online yoga program I created specifically for women
Be active with your partner and friends – create something exciting you all can do (buddy up) together