It happened, again. I’m minding my own business, taking care of my responsibilities as per usual when I spill something on the floor and it feels like the world has just ended.(I wish I were exaggerating here). Everything in me wants to go full Disney princess (y’know that move where they run to their beds and fall face down sobbing at the heartbreaking difficulty they are facing). My logical brain is saying “Seriously? It’s just a tiny bit of yogurt. Just wipe it up.” But my emotions are LOSING IT! I’m completely overwhelmed by this blob of dairy product that is clearly intent on single-handedly ruining my LIFE! I’m embarrassed by my inability to just wipe up the mess without a meltdown. This is not normal. What is going on?!?
I have a
fabulous sensitivity to daylight, or therefore lack of, and it’s November above the 49th parallel. Its proper term is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) but people also use the euphemism Winter Blues or its out-dated moniker Seasonal Depression. Regardless of what you call it the symptoms are the same and include: moodiness, fatigue, depression, weight loss/gain, change in sleep patterns, craving carbohydrates, trouble concentrating, less energy…..so much less energy. It is caused by a drop of serotonin production due to less daylight. And I’m not alone. It is estimated that 1 in 5 people are affected by SAD.
So on to the good news! I’ve dealt with this long enough that I know what it is and I know what helps me. This is not a complete list of all of possible relief but it is a really good place to start feeling better.
Wake Up With the Sun.
Where I live (and maybe where you live too) it is awfully hard to know when the sun is up because the sky is so grey so I check online as to when the sun is going to rise and I rise too. It’s best to get every bit of daylight available even if your room is still pretty dim, which leads me to my next strategy.
Get a Happy Light
I know, those lights cost a few bucks but trust me, they are worth it. I bought a cheap ($30CDN) alarm clock light and it made no difference so the next year I did some research and bought a better one. What a difference!!! I have a Verilux but there are plenty of good ones out there. It cost about $100CDN at Costco but the cost per use is incredibly cheap and far less than any kind of medication that improves mood. I turn it on as soon as I have shut my alarm off. It comes with me to the bathroom while I shower and get ready for the day. And most days it will also follow me to the kitchen where I prep breakfast and my morning tea. I also have one 300W bulb in a kitchen light fixture. I know it is terribly inefficient but the brightness of it is so helpful on a grey, fog-encased morning.
Green Tea/Herbal Infusions
I love black tea with milk and sugar first thing in the morning. Seriously. Love. But this time of year I transition to green tea. Green tea is a metabolism booster and I have no desire to add sugar to it, ever. Refined sugars cause spikes and crashes in blood sugar levels and they are not your friend when you are dealing with SAD. Herbal tea is another good choice if you aren’t a green tea fan. Some people recommend avoiding caffeine but if you have a coffee habit don’t go cold turkey. It will make you feel so much worse. Try weaning yourself down to maybe just one cup a day.
Eat Healthy and Supplement
I take vitamin D, B12, magnesium, and Cod Liver Oil during the winter months. I also try to avoid sugar and alcohol. It’s not always possible but I am more intentional about avoiding them when I see how they negatively affect my overall winter mood.
Vitamin D is one that your body synthesizes using sunlight, but when the sun is hiding behind winter clouds the opportunity to catch some vitamin D is greatly reduced. Supplements are the easiest way to boost vitamin D. They are readily available and affordable.
B12 gets used up by stress. Need I say more?
Magnesium is needed to make serotonin and serotonin is your friend. I like to munch on cashews to boost my magnesium. Magnesium is also found in dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, fish, beans, whole grains, avocados, yogurt, bananas, dried fruit, & dark chocolate. (Yes, friends, I just told you that dark chocolate can be your medicine, so it’s not all bad news.)
Fish oils are ridiculously good for you and your brain, if you can get them down. I hate the fish burps (TMI?) that the capsules give me so last year I tried Carlson Cod Liver Oil with natural lemon flavour. The lemon mostly covers up all the fishy taste so I don’t dread taking it and no gross fishy after effects.
Take Care of Your Gut
Now all these foods and supplements are great but if your gut isn’t absorbing them very well then you aren’t benefiting much from consuming them. In recent years medical science has started to realize that we have these incredible systems of bacterial cultures in our guts that aid in digestion and what we eat affects their effectiveness. Consuming probiotic foods increases the health of your gut and your ability to absorb the good stuff. Probiotic foods (in Canada) include but are not limited to: yogurt, fermented sauerkraut, and apple cider vinegar (with the mother). Your local health food store is a great place to start if you are interested in learning about and trying various probiotic foods.
Exercise and Get Outside
A 15 minute walk outside can make such a difference. Yes, a serious workout is a really good thing (and go for it if you can), but when you are feeling like hiding under a blanket from the whole world, the idea of a big work out is overwhelming. Start small. Walk a bit. Rake some leaves. Shovel the driveway. Throw a ball for the dog. Get on a trail and notice the trees. Just get yourself out there.
For me a big part of feeling better is bringing these things to God. I confess, I pray, I meditate, I read, I write, I sing. Centering my soul makes a big difference for my mental state. Maybe you don’t have a faith but you can still keep a journal of thankfulness and think on those things that bring you joy.
Bring some plant life into your home. Studies have shown that people who have plants in their surroundings are generally happier and more positive. This is a new one for me but I’m already a believer. I added several (as in LOTS) of plants to my home this year for the purpose of improving air quality and had the happy side effect of my home feeling more relaxed. Choose hard to kill plants like Snake Plants and Pothos. It is amazing what a little green can do for you.
Take a Holiday
I realize this isn’t something possible for everyone, but if you can, take a trip to somewhere sunny and warm. My husband and I have taken a few tropical trips in the month of January in previous years and it makes the whole winter so much better. Planning and preparing for a warm place gives me something to look forward to and makes the dreary last months of winter more tolerable. Don’t worry that some people won’t understand you prioritising sunshine and self-care of your mental health. If you can’t take a trip watch a movie or a series that takes place on a tropical island (bonus if it has lots of scenes of rolling aqua marine waves).
This is important. My support comes from my husband and a few close friends who I deeply trust. There are people in my life who dismiss the reality of SAD. I still love them but I don’t talk to them about it and I don’t go to them for support. Find your tribe. Tell them what you are going through so they can understand better and have opportunity to support you. For some people with SAD a professional might be helpful.
If these suggestions don’t improve how you are feeling please seek medical help. Self-care is important and so is seeking the help you may need to be healthy. You can’t give from an empty cup.
Julie is a Canadian SAHM who loves the outdoors, kayaking, swimming, hiking, snowshoeing, horseback riding, creating, painting, clay building, learning new things, silliness, hyperbole, and teaching her kids.