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Seasonal affective disorder is no laughing matter.
Seriously. When daylight savings time in the states took hold, the prospect of winter became very real.
For a guy like myself, this means leaving the house when it’s dark and coming home when it’s dark. Add to it life’s rich variety of money problems, political concerns, and a deadly pandemic, and it can get downright unmanageable. Perhaps even untenable.
As I found myself moving by degrees from slightly annoyed to general malaise to low-grade depression, I began to look for solutions.
Here are 10 tips that you can employ if you also can’t seem to get out of your own way since we began living on—what feels like—three hours of daylight per day:
1. Get Outside. That sounds fairly obvious, but I know that when I am deeply engaged in a project or simply too moody to advocate for my own well-being, I will ignore everything. This definitely includes the obvious. A brisk walk in the cold sunlight can have a vast effect on one’s worldview.
2. Light! In addition to a brisk walk, opening those blinds or curtains will do you a lot of good. If this isn’t possible, or if it is raining and snowing, there are artificial sources that have been scientifically proven to assist. Google “dawn simulators” and “portable lightboxes.” They make some affordable options. Invest in yourself!
3. Exercise! Exercise! Exercise! Lethargy is your greatest enemy with all types of depression, but none so much as seasonal affective disorder. Most readers of Elephant Journal are creative, so use that ability to get yourself engaged. If jogging or calisthenics bore you, take the kids outside for a rousing game of “Duck, Duck, Goose” or “Tag.” Have a snowball fight with your honey. Getting playful is where it’s at.
4. Be Mindful of Your Diet. Comfort foods like pizza, macaroni and cheese, and cookies are what people tend to gravitate toward when they feel depressed; however, this is just going to exacerbate your mercurial outlook. Think in terms of Vitamin D. With less sunlight—your body’s natural source of D—you are going to need to make that up through diet.
For carnivorous people, this can be found in eggs, salmon, and tuna. For our vegan friends, this can be found in various mushrooms, and fortified oatmeal, or soy milk. (It can be challenging for vegans to get enough D through diet, so vitamin D supplements might be in order.)
5. Stop Doomscrolling. I’ll be the first to admit, for a week or so after the U.S. Presidential election, I was on Facebook quite a bit more than I should have been. With seasonal affective disorder, this is a terrible idea. It’s kind of like going to a Slayer concert when you have a migraine. It just makes no sense. Bad news isn’t going anywhere. It’ll still be there waiting for you in the spring.
6. Human Connection. If you take Covid seriously—which, by all means, you should—this can be challenging. It isn’t impossible though. Most of the people that I know who crave human connection these days find all types of ways to spend time with others without taking unnecessary chances—whether it’s bike riding, walking on a trail with masks, or even FaceTime.
Isolation is only going to aggravate this condition, and you should definitely check in with yourself every so often to get an idea of how long it’s been since you’ve had serious human connection.
7. Communication. Even when face-to-face isn’t entirely possible, talking to a friend, a sister, a brother, or someone other than who you are cohabitating with is a crucial step in cleaning the mess out of your attic. Speaking from personal experience, I had a long conversation with a friend this week—one who I don’t get to talk to all that often—and it changed my whole outlook. Not only that, but having a loving sounding board will get you to verbalize and reveal things you may not even be consciously aware of.
8. Therapy. If you have access to a professional, this can also be a wonderful step in the right direction. These days, there are so many professionals offering Skype and FaceTime services at times that weren’t available in the pre-pandemic days—there are fewer excuses to put this off. There is even Talkspace, who I understand is now accepting many insurance options.
9. Self-Care. This avenue has been beaten to death on every blog site you can imagine, but it is still an important option when it comes to mental health. The important thing is to employ moderation. It’s totally okay to binge something on Netflix one Saturday afternoon, but if you find yourself posting about running out of things to binge on a Thursday at 3 a.m., you may need to reel it in a little. This is, of course, why I stuck this near the bottom of the list.
10. Make a Gratitude List. I can almost hear the hemming and hawing from here. Let’s just file this under “Things You Should Just Shut Up And Try.” Seriously, I am aware of how annoying the idea of a gratitude list sounds, but let’s talk science: expressing gratitude has been proven to release dopamine and serotonin. This has a medicinal effect on your brain. It costs you nothing and has no serious side effects. Not to be ironic, but it really is a no-brainer.
No matter what, winter is here and so is the struggle with limited daylight. My hope is that you address these concerns proactively instead of allowing them to get the better of you.
Ninety percent of depression is really just allowing external circumstances to dictate the quality of your life. Your best defense is just to not allow that to happen.