I’m a solar powered type of person. Once Christmas and New Year’s have passed, I start to dread the winter.
I hate the muddy snow, the slush, the inversion and most of all, the lack of bright sunshine. I miss song birds. Crows just don’t cut it for me. I miss being able to sit outside in short sleeves to eat my lunch.
A few years ago I was diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder, also known as SAD. Fitting, isn’t it?
In a nutshell, my brain tries to convince me that its OK to stay in my room for the next three months hibernating.
What most people don’t know is seasonal affective disorder is fairly common. According to www.mentalhealthamerica.net, seasonal affective disorder is found in three out of four women in America, mainly women between the ages of 18 and 30.
Maybe you are affected by SAD and don’t know it. Symptoms include depression, anxiety, mood changes, sleep problems, lethargy, overeating, social problems and sexual problems.
“SAD may be an effect of this seasonal light variation in humans,” the website states. “As seasons change, there is a shift in our ‘biological internal clocks’ due partly to these changes in sunlight patterns.”
I’ve been dealing with a list of winter blue symptoms since I was 16, and over time I’ve found a way to get myself going when it’s a gray, miserable day.
Set an early alarm and keep it away from the bed side table.
When it’s still dark outside, almost nothing can pull me out of my warm, cozy bed where my cat is sleeping — except for a really annoying alarm. Placing an alarm across the room forces me to get out of bed and walk to turn it off. Also turning a light on right away instead of keeping the room dark will help tell your brain that it is actually daytime, despite the lack of natural light.
Eat a real breakfast.
Starting the day with a warm breakfast can get the metabolism going and help me feel like the day is actually starting. I like hot oatmeal with berries and green tea. Oatmeal has a lot of iron and protein which gives the body a lasting supply of energy. Green tea is a healthy alternative to coffee and doesn’t make me crash when I come into the newsroom at 2 p.m.
Exercise, exercise, exercise.
This is the worst one for me. Nothing in the world makes me want to put on my gym gear and go outside when there’s ice on the sidewalk and a wind chill below zero. But even a little bit of yoga in my living room or a couple of jumping jacks will clear the inversion from your mind.
Force yourself to be social.
Even if it is just with one person that day, I try to take time to talk to people and see friends.
Make a list of goals.
At the beginning of the day I look at my schedule and tell myself what I have to get done today, what I want to get done and what can be put off. Sometimes understanding your limits and organizing what you can and can’t do helps take the anxiety out of the day. Rehearse this list and remind yourself that it isn’t you but the weather that’s causing these feelings of anxiety and pressure. Take a breath and hit the road running.
I know this sounds obvious but one of the first signs of depression is lack of hygiene. When someone is feeling lethargic the idea of hopping into a shower and putting on real clothes instead of pajamas kind of sucks. But a hot shower with scented soap can help wash away some of those feelings. Another way to keep clean is to keep your home tidy and well kept. A well organized house keeps a sense of calm and control.
Go to bed at a normal time without electronics.
A recent study from the Lighting Research Center, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute shows LED lights from electronics, like cellphones, affects the brain by releasing cortisol. Cortisol is the hormone the adrenal gland releases into the brain to help control stress. It keeps the mind awake and jump starts the metabolism.
Reading news articles on your tablet in bed before dozing off does not help a person’s sleep cycle.
Putting electronics away and reading a book for 20 minutes is the best way to rest the brain and relax into a healthier sleep cycle. A great night’s sleep will lead to a great day.
I’m not perfect when it comes to this list. It’s an internal struggle I deal with every day between November and March. But on the days I do keep to this list I find myself happier, more productive and feeling healthier. Hopefully a guideline like this can help others who find themselves in a rut during the winter.