(Disclaimer: I’m not in any way an expert in diet, exercise, mental health or health in general. All my advice on SAD is based on my own experience of it and on information I’ve picked up on the way. If you believe you’re suffering from SAD or any other health condition your first port of call should be with your doctor to rule out the possibility underlying illness.)
Yesterday I talked about daylight lampsand the immense difference they can make. Today I’m going to write about the usefulness of planning ahead to make your Winter easier all round. At one time humans worked and rested with the seasons, working shorter days in Winter when it goes dark early. Now our lives continue in the same routine all year round, and as many times as I wish to hibernate every Winter (and I must whine about it every other day – my husband has a lot to bear with) I’ve realised that until I’m a fabulous millionaire I’m just going to have to shun hibernation and find a way to make Winter less hard work instead. So, what can you do to lighten the load for yourself during the shorter days?
1. Plan for major events: If you have birthdays or anniversaries coming up, or if you celebrate a Winter festival it’s worth planning and buying gifts and non-perishable food now, writing cards and planning the occasion. Having your gifts and cards ready to go and knowing that you’ve done everything possible in advance will take the pressure off later on and stop things from becoming a burden when you’re energy is at a low ebb. If you’re working to a tight budget this will also help you keep costs low by preventing any last minute panic buying.
2. Reflect: Are there times during Winter that you’re likely to be particularly down? It could be anything from a visit from annoying in-laws to the anniversary of the death of a loved one; if you know it will be a hard time for you think about how you can be gentler with yourself at the time, such as taking a day off work or getting out in the open to get some space and time to yourself.
3. Get your house in order: If you have bills that need paying, repairs that need doing or any other unfinished business that’s hanging over you get it done if you possibly can. Now’s a good time to clear out any unwanted stuff from your home and give it a deep clean. This will give you some head space (honestly, it really helps!) and make it easier to keep your home comfortable during Winter. Check your budget or create one, and if there are any bills or payments coming up that you know you won’t be able to cover contact the company that it’s for now to inform them and find out if they can offer you any flexibility. If supermarkets stress you out (like they do with me) consider setting up an online shopping account so you don’t have to waste time and energy going to the shops during the darker months.
4. Stock up: Do a big shop and prepare batches of home made ready meals to freeze. Bolognaise, chilli, curry, casserole, pies and soup all freeze well and keep their flavour so you can freeze portions now and defrost them when you need them, saving you the effort of cooking on cold, dark nights when all you want to do is eat NOW.
5. Plan down time: If you have the funds to fly away to somewhere sunny for a three month stay in a stunning beach side villa do so now. If not don’t fear, there are plenty of ways to fit in the rest and relaxation you’ll need in the coming months. If you have enough annual leave days at work, or are fortunate enough to work on flexi time book the occasional day or part day off here and there to give yourself a shorter week to look forward to. If you have an understanding boss and are comfortable doing so it could be worth telling them about how Winter affects you and asking if it will be possible to book days off at relatively short notice if it doesn’t affect cover. If you look after your children full time, or work and care for children, find out if a friend or relative would be able to care for them for a day or half a day so you can take extra time to rest and look after yourself. Can you mark out any weekend days in advance where you’d be able to take some down time to rest?
6. Share: Depression of any kind can be a self-disguising illness so consider telling your partner or a friend or family member about how hard Winter can be for you. I spent almost the entire Winter of 2011 heading closer and closer to a total breakdown without a soul knowing about it until I confided in my husband just how bad I felt in late January. Why? Because when you’re experiencing mental health problems you can feel embarrassed or even ashamed about the difficulty you’re having coping with simple, everyday things, and the idea of anyone knowing how you really feel can be frightening. Telling someone you trust can make a major difference though because you know that someone who understands and care will be there to support you. My husband makes sure I keep on seeing friends and doing fun things and reminds me that Spring will inevitably come around.
7. Treats: Plan whatever treats your time and budget allow, preferably experiences you can look forward to like a trip to the cinema or a day by the sea. Having plans in place for fun things breaks up the months and in my minds eye it causes me to see Winter as broken up into more manageable chunks.
I hope you’re beginning to see that you do have some control over how you experience SAD. You can’t change the fact that you get it in the first place and it's never going to be a jolly holiday but you can soften the impact by making simple adjustments to your routine. We don’t have to write off the darker days, we just have to work a little differently.