For the past five years I have battled severe Seasonal Affective Disorder. When I first heard about this type of depression, I couldn’t help but think it was just a made-up diagnosis for people who felt lazy, unmotivated, and sad in the wintertime. In fact, I so badly wanted to discount it that I used to laugh when former roommates or family members would bring it up to me as a concern, telling them that “everybody gets sad in the winter, c’mon we live in such a cold city”.
But the fact of the matter is, seasonal affective disorder is a very real diagnosis that affects about three million people every year in the U.S.
If you have low energy, feel depressed nearly every day, have problems sleeping, and have difficulty concentrating during a particular season of the year, I would urge you to look into it, it’s the first step in combatting the situation and feeling better.
Here are some of the steps I have taken to treat these symptoms over the past few years:
1. YEARLY DOCTOR’S CHECK-UP/PHYSICAL
One of the first things that I did during my lowest point was get a physical examination done, the blood work results showed that I was extremely deficient in Vitamin D. While a normal level should be between 30 and 100, my results showed that I was at a 7. There is a proven correlation between low levels of Vitamin D and depression, so this made sense. I immediately started taking the vitamin supplements and am already feeling the positive effects.
2. DELETING (NOT DEACTIVATING) INSTAGRAM
One of my New Year’s resolutions was to spend less time on social media, but I do this for many other reasons than just decreasing screen time. When you are in bed feeling lousy, it is almost hurtful to your self-esteem and mind to be scrolling through photos of people with their curated lifestyles of perfect bodies, relationships, careers, vacations, and friends. Nobody has the perfect life but when you are feeling low and constantly viewing other people’s edited, always fascinating highlight moments, it is hard to remember that. I deleted the app off of my phone and have already decreased the number of times I felt the temptation to check in.
3. GET A FABULOUS PLANNER
Some of the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder include feeling anxiety, general discontent, and loneliness. Staying organized keeps me busy and keeps my mind from pondering upon anxious situations from the past. I find it soothing to label in my workout of the day, meal prep, important deadlines from work, and other obligations into my planner. It also reminds me that even on the bad days, there is something really exciting or fun to look forward to in the near future.
4. MINDLESS CRAFTING + POSITIVITY
Sometimes during these harsh winter months I feel like I just end up hibernating at home and keep cancelling social obligations. Then with that new free time I just acquired, I sit there feeling sad, lonely, and unmotivated. One way I combat this is through mindless crafting. I’m not really an artist, so what I count as being “crafty” is literally just collecting screenshots of wonderful and powerful quotes I see through the day from different social media channels, emails, and books, and I write them into my book of quotes. I always feel a sense of peace and calmness when I reach into my purse to read through this book or to add a new quote.
5. GYM TIME: GROUP CLASSES
There is so much research that says that working out immensely improves your mood when you are feeling down and helps you release endorphins, the body’s own natural anti-depressant. In my particular situation, although I understood that exercise was important, the idea of going there alone and having to manage my hour there by deciding my workouts didn’t motivate me enough to leave my bed. This is when I discovered the beauty of workout group classes. Through apps like ClassPass you can do anything from strength training to cycling to Zumba, all with someone guiding you in a social atmosphere. I have become way better at actually completing a workout by attending classes instead of chilling on my bed just counting down the reasons why I could skip that night’s solo guided sweat session.
6. TAKE THAT MENTAL HEALTH DAY
At my work, we have very limited sick days. Many of us try to brush off days when we feel under the weather and still stumble through that day of work or of classes and studying. After way too many years of doing this, I finally learned that it is perfectly okay to take that mental health sick day once in a while when you need it, it can immensely help the situation right then and there instead of prolonging it for weeks on end. We have our bodies and our minds for a lifetime, it is important to treat ourselves with respect and love.
7. VIDEO CHAT OLD FRIENDS
Being social doesn’t have to involve getting dressed up, stepping into the cold weather, and making that effort to meet people at a bar or coffee shop. During these cold winter months I have f0und it rather comforting to make a hot cup of tea, snuggle up in a warm blanket, and FaceTime or Skype some of my long-distance friends.
Some days are definitely worse than others, and in those moments I have thought, “I am seriously never going to get through this.” As many of my close friends know, my last semester of college was particularly rough, for non-academic related reasons. I truly did not think I would I would survive that whole situation with my sanity intact. Thankfully, I am here one year later feeling happier, healthier, and stronger than I have ever been. Thinking back on difficult past situations that we pushed through reminds us of our inner strength and how much we really can handle.
9. ADD SIMPLE TASKS TO THE TO-DO LIST
My seasonal depression tends to hit the hardest around January, right when everyone is making their New Year’s resolutions. I added unnecessary stress to myself by creating lists that have giant goals like “start my own company” or “train to run a marathon”. While it is fantastic to have big ambitions and slowly chip away until you reach them, it is unhealthy to just see those big goals all the time and beat yourself up for not reaching them in an unrealistically short amount of time. This is why I started making every day simplified to-do lists that contained the most basic every day parts of my routine like taking a shower, meditating, and shoveling snow. I started going to bed every night feeling accomplished for getting many minor yet significant items accomplished, rather than feeling frustrated for totally failing every day.
10. DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH
While researching seasonal affective disorder and its treatments, I found a lot of unique information. Like I mentioned at the beginning, I really did not think this even existed. Watch this video to learn more about the science behind the disorder.
There are many other treatments I haven’t mentioned in this post, because I wanted to focus on the ones that I have had direct experience with. Other treatments include light therapy, medications, psychotherapy, and stress management. Thank you taking the time to read this post! If you or anyone that you know may be feeling the effects of seasonal affective disorder, feel free to send me a message so we can chat more about it. Remember, life is too short to spend at war with yourself! With the right tools and resources we can take steps towards living a more positive and fulfilling life.