The clocks have turned back heralding the onset of muted grey days and windswept colours of autumn. As the days begin to grow shorter and darker, do you find yourself feeling anxious and uncertain about how you will manage the winter doldrums?
For anyone prone to seasonal affective disorder or depression, the additional strain of having to deal with Covid-19 is significantly affecting our mental health.
If thoughts of long wintry days fill you with dread, read on for some powerful things you can do right now to bolster you through the winter months.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD?
Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, was brought to light in a 1984 medical paper by Dr. Norman Rosenthal, describing mood variation with the seasons.
Significantly, Dr. Rosenthal himself has warned of the potentially serious implications we face this year, saying…
“SAD is a huge problem at the best of times, and this is not the best of times”.
Today Seasonal Affective Disorder is more commonly known as major depressive disorder with a seasonal pattern.
Symptoms* of SAD may include:
- Consistent low mood
- Crying, often with no apparent trigger
- Sleeping for too long
- Increased appetite and cravings for carbohydrates
- Social withdrawal and a reduced interest in activities that once provided pleasure
- Difficulty concentrating
- Overeating and possible weight gain
- Suicidal ideation
As you can see from the list above, SAD is more than feeling a little blue now and then.
If you or someone you know suffers from Seasonal affective disorder, please talk to your GP/family doctor about a treatment plan to get you through the winter months.
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Coping with SAD: 12 Ways to Boost Your Mood Before the Onset of Winter
“Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths.”
– Etty Hillesum
1. Support Your Brain Health
Taking care of your mental wellness is the first vital step in preparing for seasonal changes, no matter what time of the year it is.
Did you know that SAD is also experienced by some people during the summer months?
Don’t delay, arrange a visit to your GP/family doctor to discuss the best ways to support your brain health.
Treatments may include:
- Antidepressant medication
- Light therapy
- Mindfulness (cognitive behavioural therapy)
- Or a combination of the above
2. Be Kind to Your Mind
Intrusive thoughts can add to the overwhelm of S.A.D. That’s why it’s a good idea to keep a thought journal and immediately mind-dump any intrusive thoughts that come up.
The idea is to become aware of your thoughts so you can develop strategies for dealing with intrusive thoughts.
Give yourself a daily dose of kindness, try:
- Returning to your Breath (Breath awareness)
- Mindfulness meditation
- Affirmations to gently focus and settle an overactive mind.
3. Boost Your Physical Vitality
Give yourself an energy boost by cultivating a mind-body connection.
Layer up for warmth and go for a short walk, or get a burst of exercise outside. This has the added benefit of giving you a daily dose of natural light.
When the weather is too harsh, consider the following indoor activities:
- Yoga stretching (try Yoga with Adriene on YouTube, it’s fun and free)
- A body-weight workout indoors
- A daily exercise challenge activity with others, (make up your own or join one on social – eg. squat challenge)
4. Nurture Daily Connections
SAD can leave you feeling isolated and alone, which can have a devastating effect on your mental health. That’s why it’s so important to nurture daily connections.
Some gentle gestures to nurture connection include:
- Returning to your breath to help regulate and garner a sense of connection within your whole body (this is called breath awareness).
- Reach out on social media or text a friend
- Cuddle a beloved pet or soft teddy bear
- Call or text a friend or loved one.
5. Eat Well
The weather is getting colder and the days shorter, triggering a natural impulse to reach for carbohydrate-rich “comfort foods”.
Decide to adopt the 80:20 rule, determine that for 80% of the time you will eat to nourish and sustain your body’s energy levels. The remaining 20% is reserved for those little indulgences we enjoy, but may not necessarily sustain our energy in the long-term.
Things to remember:
- Be super aware with SAD you tend to crave sweets and carbohydrate-rich foods because they provide short-term feelings of euphoria.
- The sugar high triggered by carbohydrate-rich comfort food doesn’t last and is thought to increase feelings of anxiety and depression.
- Track what you are eating, it really helps you see your eating patterns so you can determine if you’re meeting your daily nutrient requirements.
6. Light Up Your Space
Bright light within the first hour of waking up each day has been shown to initiate a change in brain chemicals linked to mood. That’s why Light therapy, or phototherapy, is one of the first-line treatments for SAD.
Some things that can help you make the most of the morning sunlight:
- Set your alarm on your phone and physically put your phone away from reach
- Get up to turn off your alarm and immediately throw open the blinds or curtains (you can hit the bed again if you need to, just make sure you let the light in first)
- Make it your personal mission to get out of bed bright and early to let the light in! (bonus points if you go for a walk in the morning light)
Recommended Light Therapy Tools You Can Use at Home:
- Light Therapy Lamp with adjustable brightness levels & memory function
- Philips Wake-Up Alarm Clock with coloured sunrise simulation and sunset fading night light
7. Spend Some Time Outdoors Each Day
Exposure to natural sunlight can help ease the intensity of SAD.
Even if you have the best light setup, try to get outside each day. If it’s cold, invest in a warm winter coat and woollies that make you feel snuggly and brave the day!
8. Establish a Regular Sleep Pattern
Taking the time to establish a regular sleep pattern is an effective way to harmonize your inner body clock.
The first thing you need to do is determine how much sleep you need and adapt your schedule to accommodate your requirements. Your goal is to go to bed and set your alarm to wake up at the same time each morning.
I find it a real struggle to get up early in the morning but I don’t want to miss out on precious sunlight. This means I need to go to bed a little earlier to get the sleep I need.
Here are my tips on establishing a regular sleep pattern:
- If like me you find you need more than the standard eight hours of sleep at night, don’t fight it. Head to bed early with your favourite book and you’ll thank yourself in the morning.
- Track your sleeping habits and give yourself regular rest breaks throughout the day. Don’t beat yourself up if you are feeling overwhelmed or sluggish in the afternoon and want to nap. To ensure your daytime nap doesn’t affect your sleep at night, set an alarm for 45 minutes (Albert Einstein regularly took “productivity” naps during the day)
- Set the mood before bedtime. Minimize your screen time and block out any outside light (such as from street lights). Set your alarm clock to a soothing tone so you won’t be woken up with a start in the morning.
9. Try a Little Hygge
The onset of autumnal days is the perfect time to embrace the cozy, comforting Scandi practice of Hygge (pronounced “hoo-guh”). I love how this Danish/Norwegian word can simultaneously be an adjective, verb and a noun, which describes a mood of coziness.
In essence, Hygge is a way of life for our Scandi friends.
Here are some simple ways to create your own Hygge hideaway at home:
- Fill your space with cozy comforts, think warm comfortable blankets, soft cushions and anything that evokes a sense of being wrapped in warmth (candles, lamps, a string of fairy lights, a splash of warm colour).
- Wear comfy, layered clothing and have a hot-water bottle on hand for those chilly moments.
- Pick or buy yourself some fresh flowers and bathe your senses in the colours, scent and soft textures. A nice substitute if you can’t get hold of fresh flowers is aromatherapy oils or infused candles.
- Allow yourself to disconnect from technology for a while and snuggle up with a book or mindfulness activity such as colouring, crochet, knitting or writing in your journal.
Related: The Best Cozy Hygge Gift Ideas
10. Soothe Your Senses
Nature really is the best medicine for the senses. Begin to notice and appreciate the little things, and let those little flashes of beauty lift you up. Adopt small comforts to gently calm and soothe the senses.
Some ideas to try:
- Cozy up with a blanket and your gratitude journal (or a good book).
- Start a nature journal, collect inspiration from nature (leaves, twigs, feathers etc). Write about or/sketch what you see on your nature walk.
- Journal your thoughts to clear your mind and give you a natural burst of positive emotions and help you feel more connected with the world.
11. Adopt a Simple Self-Care Routine
Turn your daily activities into a wellness routine that will support your body and mind through the winter months.
Here’s what works for me when I’m struggling to take care of myself:
- Be super kind to yourself and give yourself lots of encouragement every day. When you are feeling overwhelmed, ask yourself: “What do I need right now?”.
- Keep it simple, don’t layer expectations on yourself to create the “perfect” self-care routine. Remember done is better than perfect, and true self-care is in little things. Make a big deal of those tiny acts of self-care such as showering, cleaning your teeth, or turning up on your yoga mat.
- Simple activity tracking, I use the free version of SparkPeople.com because it helps me stay focused on healthy habits and the main tracking page allows you to add tasks to the checklist.
12. Resolve to Make Yourself and Your Mental Wellness a Priority
Lastly, make a promise to yourself to prioritize yourself and your mental wellness by:
- Noticing the things that lift you up and make small changes to include these things in your daily schedule.
- Be flexible as you learn what works for you.
- Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t manage to do the things you planned.
How To Cope with SAD: Final Thoughts
The dark days begin to brighten a little when you can face them with confidence.
Is there anything you would like to add to the list above? Please share your thoughts by leaving a comment below:
Disclaimer: Please always remember to take your mental health seriously, and if you are feeling poorly please don’t wait to get help.
Mental Health Crisis Services:
- Canada – Crisisline.ca or Canada Mental Health Support
- United States – Mental Health America
- United Kingdom – NHS Mental Health Services
Kimberlee Aine is a mental wellness blogger and creative. She lives on a narrowboat and loves to roam and write while cruising the canal networks of England. Visit her blog to read more about her mental health journey and self-care hacks for coping with depression. Connect with Kimberlee on Instagram.
Related Mental Health Resources:
- 30 Self Love Journal Prompts to Boost Self Esteem
- 20 Inspiring Quotes To Give You Strength When You’re Feeling Low
- Free Printable Mood Trackers
- How To Live in the Present & Reduce Overwhelm
- Open Yourself Up to Happiness
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