Last week I was a total disaster. Brain fog, unable to focus, drifting in to endless scrolling of crap on my phone, unable to summon the energy or enthusiasm to tackle any of my to-do list, clumsy, fatigued yet unable to sleep properly and with a serious case of ‘the mehs’. I spent all week berating myself for being ‘useless’ – “omg, why am I like this?! maybe I’m ill, but how when I’ve been staying away from like, everyone, for months?!” But then it dawned on me, despite the fact it was still August, it was actually my SAD rearing it’s ugly head and settling in for the long-haul of darkness that is Winter.
After the initial denial I felt frustrated – I’m not ready to hibernate yet this year! There were so many things I wanted to achieve and now I have to accept that I’m going to be pretty sodding useless until March next year and that pisses me off! Usually I’m ready to settle down and make the house all nest-y with fairy-lights and eat my weight in parkin, but this year is different isn’t it. Many of us have already had a long-pause forced on us and it’s hard to watch other people raring to go, to make the most of these last few months, and finding that your tank is empty.
It took me many years to realise I even had SAD. I LOVE Autumn, it’s my favourite time of the year! I’m such a snuggly-jumper-cinnamon-pudding-leaves-and-mushrooms-log-burner kinda girl. So, surely, I thought, I couldn’t possibly have SAD if Autumn makes me happy?
And then I looked harder and connected the dots of years of bouts of ‘clinical depression’ and realised they all happened in the Winter. I realised my thyroid issues only happened in Winter. I realised my stress and anxiety were worse in Winter and I was like… ah. *Picard Facepalm*
And while it is true that many of my tussles with Depression have had ‘obvious’ causes, life is always throwing challenges my way and it would appear that my ability to COPE with those curve-balls is severely diminished in the Winter months.
So after this epiphany a couple of years ago I formulated a plan to take care of myself better during this half of the year and I now I’m sharing these tips with you, I hope you find them helpful❤️
It’s cliche but it’s true! While medical professionals can’t say 100% what causes SAD, the main theory is that it’s related to the drop in sunlight hours. Our bodies would seem to be very sensitive to this change (actually there is a link between people who are Highly Sensitive People (HSP)/ have Sensory Processing Sensitivity and SAD as we’re just sensitive to everything generally, damnit!) The theory is that the reduction in light affects the hypothalamus and this in turn has an effect on the regulation of melatonin, serotonin and our circadian rhythm. This throws our sleep/wake cycle all out and buggers up our happy vibes and energy levels. Messed up sleep causes higher levels of cortisol and then effects our stress/anxiety levels. SO in an attempt to mitigate this, try and get as much sunlight as you can. Try get a walk in once a day, sit by a window when you’re inside and consider a SAD lamp for some light therapy. If you struggle to get up on a morning try out one of those alarm clocks that mimics sunrise, I find I just can’t get up in the dark!
If, like me, you know you’re going to be pretty shit for the next few months, it makes sense to not over-schedule yourself. Don’t try and push yourself harder, thinking that you just need to ‘get over it’. This is a physical thing, you can’t just think your way out of it by being stubborn! *Looks at the fellow Capricorns sternly* I’m lucky that we Home Educate, so we can make our own ‘term dates’. We work all through the summer hols and then take a longer break in Winter instead, this means we can totally indulge in a duvet day with hot chocolate, without feeling guilty! I try not to take on or start any big projects in the Winter and don’t commit to too many social events. If it’s possible to be flexible, don’t schedule in much early in the day. Learn to say no and be firm with your boundaries! Having said that it’s not a good idea to hide away from everyone, you should still make time for a good natter with a friend so you don’t end up isolating yourself.
Carbs – Eat them! No really, your body needs them. One of the symptoms of SAD is craving way more carbohydrates than ‘usual’ and I say, don’t fight it! The important distinction here is what TYPE of carbs. So take it easy on the ‘simple’ carbs like cake, white bread, biscuits etc and fill up on things like bananas, sweet potatoes, wholewheat bread, oats which are ‘complex’ carbs. Complex carbs will leave you feeling fuller for longer and give a steady release of energy rather than a ‘boost then crash’ like the biscuits will!
‘Happy Foods’ – Just because you shouldn’t stuff your face with cake, doesn’t mean you can’t have any though, especially if that cake would be just the ‘pick-me-up’ that you need. A lot of ‘diet culture’ would have you believe that you need to view food as fuel only, and that if you’re emotionally attached to food or food brings you joy then there is something wrong with you! Well, I say, fuck that noise! Food IS love, food IS happiness. Think about it – from the moment we are born food=safety and love, whether that’s with a boob or a bottle (or another method), love still = being held in the arms of a caregiver and given nourishment. All of our cultural celebrations involve special food, family gatherings often involve food, it’s just such a big part of being human and you shouldn’t feel guilty for enjoying your food! In fact, enjoying your food actually helps you digest it better (look up the cephalic phase of digestion if you want to read more about that!)
Don’t Start A Diet– Further to my suggestions of eating carbs and ignoring anyone telling you that feeling happy about food is wrong, I’d also suggest that now would be a really bad time to start a diet. Firstly, it’s cold and that means our bodies need more energy to keep warm, so it’s not a good time to start cutting your calories drastically! If you’re also feeling fatigued and unenthused, adding on some diet-guilt isn’t really going to help is it? Focus on eating well instead, on taking care of your body and feeding it the nutrients it needs to function as best as it can through the Winter. See feeding yourself with love as an act of self-care.
Take it Easy on the Caffeine – I know this is never a welcome suggestion and yes, I’ve seen those studies on how coffee can actually help depression. However caffeine can really mess up your sleep, leading to worse fatigue the next day and then further reliance on caffeine! I gave up caffeine for about a year, and yes it felt awful for like a week, but then I felt much better! Now if I’m going to have any caffeine at all (my husband really makes the most delicious coffee, it’s hard to resist lol) then I have one in the morning only, never in the afternoon. One (small) study showed that consuming caffeine even 6 hours before bed time, reduced sleep on average by an hour and made it more difficult to get to sleep. Personally I’ve found if I have caffeine even as ‘late’ as 2pm, it affects my sleep!
Take your vitamins!
Vitamin D – Especially important in the Winter months. Here in the UK we barely get enough sunlight to make adequate Vitamin D in the Summer, let alone the winter, so it’s really important to supplement. It’s advised that we get 10 micrograms (kids and adults) a day, this is sometimes converted to International Units on supplements, which would be 400IU. I like to take more than that and opt for the 1000IU, but I give the kids half the dose, so they get 500IU. Vitamin D is great for your immune system during Winter, but also studies have shown that lower levels of Vitamin D in Winter may trigger SAD because the vitamin is linked to serotonin production, so it’s a good idea to give your levels a boost, even if you’re getting some sunlight. I use the sprays from Better You as they’re sublingual and easily absorbed.
Vitamin B12 – Not specifically for SAD, but if you are deficient in B12 it can trigger anxiety and depression and if you eat mostly plant-based, like I do, it’s important to make sure you’re taking a supplement because it’s highly likely you’re not going to get enough through your diet. This is not just a vegan thing though, many omnivores are deficient too if they’re not considering the micronutrients in their diet. I use the B12 spray from Better You as they’re sublingual and therefore better absorbed.
Iron – Iron deficiency can lead to terrible fatigue, which if you’re already battling with because of SAD, does not need exacerbating! So it might be worth keeping an eye on your iron intake (I use Cronometer if I want to track what micronutrients I’m getting from my food) to make sure you’re getting enough, especially if you’re not eating meat. Again I’m using the Better You spray, it tastes like baked apple and makes me want pie! (Which is quite fitting at this time of year!)
(Also take your damn meds if you’re on them! I manage my anxiety with homeopathy these days – remember taking medication is self-care and is important and you don’t suck for needing a bit of help balancing your brain chemicals out <3)
Pimp Your Environment:
Just because it’s miserable outside doesn’t mean it has to be miserable inside too! Fairy lights are not just for Christmas, you’re the adult now, you make the rules! Also maybe think about some nice greenery, if you kill houseplants (like I do) then opt for something more low-maintenance like a succulent, or even fake plants! Bonus points for cute or aesthetically pleasing pots.
Make things ‘nesty’, think hygge, but don’t set fire to your house with candles. Maybe go stare at the IKEA website for inspiration or make a Pinterest board with ideas.
Try not to let the place get too overwhelmingly grotty. I know this can seem completely impossible at the lowest points of depression, so if you’re kinda feeling okay right now, plan things so that future-you doesn’t end up with a load of housework they can’t do! I bloody love a good clear out and organise, it’s cathartic! (and my favourite way to procrastinate doing the things I’m actually meant to be doing… oops)
Plan Things to look forward to:
I know it can be hard to make plans right now because rules keep changing all the time and some things are closed/difficult/impossible, but try to think of something that you can look forward to. A good time to have a ‘thing’ would be end of Jan/Feb time because everyone always feels a bit deflated and shit after the excitement of the holiday period and that flatness is a bit less shit if there’s the promise of something shiny on the horizon! I mean, if you’re rich why not book a holiday somewhere sunny. I’m not rich and I’m a bit apprehensive about making plans months in advance right now so I’m not sure what my ‘thing’ will be this winter but some ideas could be things like: meeting up with a good friend who you’ve not seen for ages, a childless date night with your other half, a weekend break to somewhere new, a gift you can save up for and ‘reward’ yourself with for surviving(!), or even a ‘winter sucks’ party!
Do things that make you happy:
I mean, this sounds really obvious, but remember to do the little things that cheer you up. Drinking pumpkin-spiced lattes, splashing in puddles, buying a toy t-rex with extreme chompin action, making snow angels, cooing over all the hamsters in Pets at Home, a bath in silence. Whatever it may be for you! Remember to prioritise some joy and self-care because you deserve it, whether you’re being a super-awesome-productive-human or a walking disaster❤️
Hopefully something here helps someone, remember you’re not alone and even though it totally sucks, it will get better and days will get brighter (both literally and metaphorically!).
Want more winter health tips? Check out what’s in my winter wellness kit!
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