From SAD To Glad: Managing Seasonal Affective Disorder

 

Seasonal Affective Disorder: Time to Kick It In The Booty

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The following are the practices that helped me take back control of my mood even in the greyest & longest winters.  I suffer from SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder.  The winters are long and grey here in good ole’ Minnesota.  This can really take a toll on your mood, sleep, and energy levels, no matter where you live.

I came up with these strategies out of desperation.  Desperation to feel better, to have my energy back, to become happy even in the winter months.  I wanted to keep living my life, despite the winter.

The results of my frustration, this list!  Happiness and hope!  These practices can not only help someone suffering from seasonal affective disorder but they really just add value to daily life.  There are still going to be off days, but I hope that with these tools, they will be few and far between for you.

Disclaimer: I am NOT a mental health professional, and these are merely practices that have helped me personally to manage SAD. 


Exercise

Exercise releases endorphins that make you happy.  It makes you feel amazing and full of energy!

If you’re new to exercising or your energy is super low, start small.  Go easy on yourself.  Yoga, beginner workouts, low-intensity workouts, and stretching videos are all available on Youtube for free, so you don’t even have to leave your house or use equipment.  I highly recommend Yoga With Adriene and POPSUGAR Fitness for great at-home workouts.

A way to stick with the workouts – make sure you enjoy the type of exercise you’re doing!  If you hate running on a treadmill,  there are other ways.  Find what works for you.  Try switching things up too to avoid boredom.

Read

Make sure you read books that make you feel good; books that expand your knowledge and improve your life.  I started this habit when I read Jim Rohn’s 7 Strategies for Wealth and Happiness.  This book is amazing, and one of (the many) lessons in it was that successful people read, every day, for at least 30 minutes a day.  Practicing this is super important to me as I have found so many benefits from implementing this simple practice. 

There is so much to learn and so many things that can help you improve your life, your thought process, and the way you do things.

You’re probably thinking, well that’s great, but how the heck am I going to find an extra half hour in my busy day?

Long story short, wake up earlier!  I actually get this done while I eat breakfast in the morning.  Then I really multi-task because I use my light therapy box at the same time.

Which brings me to…

Light Therapy

Now you may think that light therapy is ridiculous and it makes you seem like a lizard that needs his warm lamp to survive (see: Zebbie).  As I have begun this practice, I believe that with my other methods in this list, this lamp has certainly helped me.

This lamp is the one that I have.  It’s sturdy, well built, and it comes with a warranty.  Now this one is pricey, and the same brand does have cheaper ones.  My husband and I figured since SAD doesn’t necessarily go away and I’d be using this year after year, we’d make the investment.  I do not regret it at all!

Now I was a total skeptic at first.  I couldn’t stop wondering why this giant box of light is going to work.  Well, turns out that there isn’t 100% proven conclusions about this, but the theory is, according to Harvard.edu: 

The bright light stimulates the cells in the eye that connects to the brain.  This is the part of the brain that controls circadian rhythms (helps with sleep-wake cycle).  Stimulating these cells at the same time every day can restore the natural sleep-wake cycles and rid you of these terrible symptoms.

Huh, the power of science.

Podcasts

I always had this idea that podcasts were blah and uninteresting, but let me tell you, podcasts are amazing!

They are so informative and you can listen as you do various tasks, such as driving to and from work, folding laundry, doing the dishes, cleaning your room, etc.  Anytime you really listen to music is a great time to substitute a podcast!

What is great about them is that they are so diverse – there’s just about every genre out there: mental health, motivation, fitness, history, you name it, someone has a podcast about it.

Podcasts can increase your knowledge base, your vocabulary, and just your thoughts about the world!  They can be very motivational and inspiring as well.  They help you stimulate your thoughts during the routine tasks of the day.

Healthy Diet

Eating healthy.  We all know we should.  If you are struggling from SAD, though, this is crucial!  Another common symptom of SAD can be extreme cravings for carbs and sugary foods.  High carb and sugary foods can make your blood sugar levels all messed up, resulting in more mood swings and fatigue.

It isn’t always easy to eat healthy, but the benefits are definitely worth it.

A great way to begin eating healthy is to only buy healthy food and get rid of junk food in the house.  You can’t be eating those Oreos if they’re not around!  Well, you can, but then you have to drive to the store.. in the freezing cold.. yeah, maybe they aren’t worth the going out in the cold to get there.

Eat whole grains, healthy fats, lean sources of protein, and be sure to eat enough fruits and veggies.  Bananas, tuna, salmon, milk, cereals, cheese, and egg yolks are an added bonus because they provide Vitamin D!!  Vitamin D is another important point we must discuss.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is an important nutrient that is generally recommended to be supplemented to your diet if you don’t have access to regular sunlight.  If your Vitamin D levels are low, you can feel fatigued, depressed, and weak.  It also increases your chances of getting sick.

You can check your Vitamin D levels at your doctor’s office to see if your blood levels are low.  I personally take 4,000IU per day, some people take less, some more.  This is not to refer any specific amount, but it would be good to chat with your doctor about the amount they suggest for you individually.   Also, as I stated earlier, eating foods high in Vitamin D will be helpful as well.

Wake/Rest cycle

Make sure your sleep cycle is (somewhat) similar every day, no matter if it’s a work day or not.  If you want your circadian rhythm to regulate and you want to quit being tired all the time, you need to wake up around the same time every day.

It sucks waking up early on the weekend or going to bed early, I get it, but it really will keep you feeling more awake and alert throughout the day.  And getting up early can help you be much more productive. Now, this isn’t the same for everyone, because not everyone is a morning person, but just think and give yourself an honest answer: what you can accomplish getting up early instead of staying up till 3 am watching Gossip Girl on Netflix and then sleeping in the next day.

Binge watching anything isn’t adding substance to your life.

xoxo Gossip Girl

Cutting the Alcohol

Do you ever feel like absolutely horrible the day after you drink alcohol?  Or eat a lot of sweets?  Whatever your vice is?  I personally came to a point where I just was sick and tired of feeling like total crap after I would drink.  Anytime I had more than just one drink, it’d always be the same story: I’d wake up feeling terrible, depressed, lazy, unmotivated, fat, and super down on myself.. these feelings would carry on throughout the entire day.

If this is how you feel, even sometimes, limiting or even completely nixing alcohol may be the answer that you probably didn’t want to hear.  Think of how many days you feel gross because of drinking, and add SAD symptoms on top of it – you really are in for a crap-o-la day. 

If you’re already feeling down, you certainly don’t need to make yourself feel worse!

Yoga

Yoga is calming.  It helps improve your balance, strength, circulation, and flexibility; stretches out areas of tension, decreasing pain and tightness.  Yoga increases energy levels.

Have I convinced you yet?

But really, yoga is awesome.  It is available for all skill levels and ages.  Maybe except for babies.  But really, most everyone can participate.  A great place to start would be Yoga with Adriene on Youtube.  Her videos range in lengths of times and skill levels.  She really slows it down for beginners and explains why yoga is a great practice. 

Having a nighttime yoga routine can be really helpful to help calm you before sleep.  Do this right before bed and find your mind quieting down as you engage in self-care.  You can find a great bedtime yoga here.

Rid Yourself of Social Media

Social Media.  Is a little devil sometimes.  I had been thinking for a while about deleting my social media accounts or at least taking a break.  I finally I deleted my Facebook and I logged out of my Instagram when my SAD set in.

Scrolling and scrolling staring at these beautiful people whose lives seem perfect is a recipe for disaster if you have the wrong mindset.  It can make you feel bad about your own life especially if you’re already feeling down.

I’m not saying it’s terrible or bad if you go on social media, there just needs to be boundaries set.   I knew that if I didn’t go to the extreme and just delete them that I would certainly fall prey to their powers in no time.  Now, after a break, I can enjoy social media in moderation.  Find what works best for you.

It’s OK To Say No

My final note, it’s okay to say no.

When you’re feeling overwhelmed, depressed, blah, like you don’t even want to brush your hair let alone go out in public and sit there with friends and act like you’re having a good time… it’s okay to say no!!  If your friends are real friends, they will understand.  There will be more days and more activities.

Now, this is a double-edged sword because you shouldn’t become a shut-in and never go anywhere and not be social because that also can have major negative effects.  BUT!  If you have a party to go to and that just sounds awful and you’re going to be suffering through it, you don’t always have to go.  You don’t always have to please everyone and show up. 

Again, find what works for you and everything in moderation. 

In time, these practices have made a huge impact on me.  They really have helped me take care of myself and my Seasonal Affective Disorder. I will carry them on throughout the entire year because they have had such a positive impact on my life.  My hope is that you can find some relief in the winter months and I hope this post does you some good. 🙂

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment!  I would love to hear how YOU cope with SAD!

Happy winter!

2 Replies to “From SAD To Glad: Managing Seasonal Affective Disorder”

  1. For someone who struggles with anxiety on the daily staying active is KEY for me. It doesn’t need to be a full blown workout but just getting my ass outside into some fresh air really helps. Also, I need to limit my alcohol and coffee consumption. These two are big contributors to making my anxiety worse and less manageable. After drinking too much alcohol or coffee, my anxiety is out of the ROOF and on occasion coffee will give me short-term depression (weird, I know). Crazy how these two substances can mess with your mood so much! Thanks for the post, will need to try some of these other methods to keep my anxiety in check.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Caiti!
      I agree that exercise is a big mental thing for me. I always feel so much better and I am a lot less hard on myself if I get a workout in!

      I totally get where you’re coming from with alcohol and coffee, that’s crazy that coffee affects you that way. I just read today that coffee and sugar are some of the worst “foods” for anxiety.
      I find that with alcohol if I drink a lot, I end up feeling like crap, therefore I don’t do anything, therefore I feel awful about not doing anything for an entire day, making me feel depressed, ESPECIALLY if I drink to cope (such as a bad day at work)… Just a cycle of negativity.

      These things have definitely helped my mood overall. Glad you’re trying!! I will have more with future posts! 🙂

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