Tip #135: How to prepare for Seasonal Affected Disorder (SAD).
The Why: As we may have all noticed, the weather is getting colder, darkness is creeping in, and the long summer days have turned to night.
Okay, perhaps that is a slightly dramatic interpretation of events. But, with the onset of winter often comes a decrease in mood, energy and therefore a sharp increase in anxiety, depression and general malaise. The rather aptly named SAD is associated with the change in seasons, so, like a bear getting ready to hibernate, it’s important to prepare for the darker months.
One of the main reasons why the transition from summer to winter affects our mental health so badly is because of a lack of vitamin D. Vitamin D is the chemical we acquire from sunshine and being outdoors and it aids every part of our body to function. It also seriously affects our serotonin levels, a hormone responsible for regulating our anxiety levels and our mood. Thus, Vitamin D can be likened to a massive dose of happy, helping our body and minds to work properly.
Other reasons can be traced to the disruption in our internal body clock, which can lead to trouble sleeping and cause energy levels to plummet, along with a person’s mood. Furthermore, in the winter, we tend to prefer to stay indoors where it’s warm and we have cosy Christmas movies. This can be good to an extent, but too much time at home can lead to further anxiety and seclusion from others.
So, what can we do to prepare for the long winter?
Tip One – Make A Plan
As you may have noticed by now, I love planning. Not just because writing lists is fun (though it really is), but because I live by the old saying ‘if you fail to prepare, prepare to fail.’ Although slightly harsh in this case, I think the point is a valid one. If you know you are at risk of SAD, it’s best to make a plan of how to deal with the winter.
For instance, I sign up to events, I organise fun seasonal things with friends, I sometimes even book things months in advance. The important thing is to give yourself plenty of positive things to look forward to. This is because seeing a calendar full of life, love and joy makes the seemingly endless darkness more bearable, and ensures that you don’t begin to hibernate as the temperature drops.
Newton’s Third Law states that “things in motion tend to stay in motion, and things at rest tend to stay at rest”, if you begin staying indoors too much, the harder it will be to get back out there. It’s vital to keep making the effort whilst you still have residue summer time energy in order to keep that motion going.
Another point of planning is to make sure that you know how to manage your moods; write down what you can, or will, do if things begin to take a darker turn.
Tip Two – Mitigate The Risks
When you have a mental health problem, or know that SAD puts you at risk of a relapse, it’s important to really get to know yourself and know exactly how your symptoms manifest themselves, and your habits.
For me, I know that during the winter I tend to attempt to stay indoors, that I stop waking up as early as usual because of the dark, and that I watch more Netflix than usual. I know that these habits correlate to isolating myself, that my sleep becomes irregular, and that I stop doing the things that make me feel productive.
So, what do I do? I mitigate the risks. Because I know how I act, I know what to do to stop myself from falling into these bad habits and symptoms. I plan fun activities that will get me out of the house, but try to plan them to be in warmer places like a pub or friends homes so I avoid the cold. I put my alarm clock on the other side of the room so I have to get up and make more of an effort to go to bed and wake up at the same time. I turn off my internet at certain times so I can get work and other important things done without the temptation of online streaming.
Knowing myself intimately allows me to know how to best take care of myself, and stop myself from doing things that negatively impact my mental health. So, make a list of all the habits you fall into during winter and their possible correlating symptoms, then write a list of ways to prevent yourself from succumbing to them.
Tip Three – Pack An Emergency Self-Care Kit
Making sure that you have a stash of self-care tools for days when things get bad, if they get bad, means that you have immediate access to the things that will make you feel better.
If you feel low mood, low energy and low on chocolate, having a self-care day to do things that will help you get back on your feet is vital. It’s like taking a dose of Vitamin C as soon as you feel a sniffle coming on; prevention is always easier than treatment.
Tip Four – Write A ‘Winter Is Awesome’ List
One of the biggest things that has helped me overcome my SAD is thinking positively before winter even begins. But not just thinking positively about myself, but rather the season itself.
There are many wonderful things about the winter, whether that’s the music, the holidays, the cosy jumpers, the amount of classic re-runs on TV, and writing a list of these better attributes will help you get in the mindset of “hey, maybe this won’t be so bad after all.”
Thinking positively about the cold seasons means that rather than falling into a self-fulling prophecy of believing your mental health will take a turn in the winter because winter is horrible, you’ll begin to see the winter as a positive, exciting time. This means that your brain won’t associate it being cold and dark with being more anxious or depressed, and will rather associate it with gifts, cheesy music and hot chocolate.
But, this method takes time to build, so begin thinking like this in September, possibly even August, possibly even as soon as winter ends. Yet, on a serious note, changing your attitude towards the link between winter and bad mental health will produce a noticeable change in its likelihood of occurring.
Tip Five – Step Outside
This one may seem counterintuitive. I can imagine you reading it, looking outside, and raising a quizzical eyebrow at me virtually.
However, making sure you venture into the great outdoors, even if it’s for a well-wrapped up walk, or a run, or a stroll around a Christmas market, making sure you grab whatever sunlight you can is vital to fighting off the winter blues.
Tip Six – Consider A Vitamin D supplement
Now, for this one it’s important to do your homework, or even better, consult a doctor. But potentially exploring the option of taking a Vitamin D supplement to keep your energy levels and mood up is something worth doing.
In the words of the famous and noble House Stark: “Winter is coming.” But, following the above steps, we can and will get through it.
Think like a bear; plan for your life during the colder seasons, learn what tricks work for you, pack a self-care kit, think about all the great things about winter and make sure you still venture outside your cave.
After all, once winter is over, there will once again be light and everything will (probably) be alright.
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