Surviving Winter with Seasonal Affective Disorder

The winter months here in the Midwest can be really tough. Unlike the summer months when you can dash out the door in a tank top and shorts, now you have to take the time to bundle up in hats, gloves, coats and boots. Snow can wreak havoc with commutes, school start times, and fun plans. Don’t get me wrong, I love the occasional big snowstorm, when you can load up on firewood, snacks, books and movies and hide from the world with your family for a while. However, the cold, dark winter months always bring me something I wish they wouldn’t: seasonal affective disorder (SAD! The acronym is SAD! The irony!)

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What this means for me is several things: I will feel tired all the time, like a black storm cloud is hanging over my head. I will be grouchy with my husband and won’t want to go on date nights or get out of the house. I’ll both sleep constantly and wake up with insomnia several nights a week. According to the U.S. Department of Health’s description of SAD, “Some people experience a serious mood change during the winter months, when there is less natural sunlight. SAD is a type of depression. It usually lifts during spring and summer.” Symptoms of SAD can include:

  • Sad, anxious or “empty” feelings
  • Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness or helplessness
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions
  • Difficulty sleeping or oversleeping
  • Changes in weight
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

The best treatments I have found for SAD are light therapy, exercise and meditation. Bright light therapy can act like daylight to restore balance, mood and energy. I ordered my HappyLight from The Healthy Lighting Company on Amazon. Basically, I turn it on for about 20 minutes while I’m having my coffee in the morning and absorb the bright light. It really does work! As far as exercise, I am different than most and try to be extra kind to my body by not starting a massive workout regimen each January. I know that my energy levels will be low and my motivation won’t be at its best during this time of year, so I try to be happy with long walks on the treadmill and easy elliptical sessions. Meditation after a long cold day does wonders for my state of mind. I love the Headspace, Calm, and Omvana apps. The short 10 minute Headspace meditations reminds me to be in the present, and the calming ocean wave option from the Calm app is like medicine for my soul. Of course, if these treatments aren’t enough for you, you should talk with your doctor.

My final way to beat these winter blues that settle over me each winter is to book a spring break vacation. Looking forward to the beach, tropical drinks and sunshine can always boost my spirits during the bleaker days. Plus, it keeps me from totally losing it and eating bags of candy on my couch (which I will want to do, often.) Each year by March, when I can get outside and jog on the Monon in the sunshine again, I will be back to my old self. Until then, I’ll be here with my HappyLight…and a few bags of candy, just to be safe.

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