On Sunday, November 16, 2016, the worst day of the year with the worst of the truths will arrive: winter is coming. Daylight savings will be over.
Me after daylight savings time (and for the next several months) pic.twitter.com/zUZcq6sfVv— Catherine Andrews (@candrews) November 1, 2015
Each year as I age (and boy am I aging), the end of daylight savings and the darkness of November through March gets harder and harder, because it precipitates a very strong Seasonal Affective Disorder in me (appropriately acronymed SAD). If you don't know what SAD is, it's basically the winter blues, brought on by a lack of sunlight (that's a scientific definition, right?). Everybody gets the blues once in a while, but when you're getting them for four or five months straight, and you haven't seen sunlight since what feels like the Jurassic Era, things start to go a little pear-shaped.
Wonder if you have SAD? My systems include pretty basic depression type symptoms: feeling blah, sleeping too much, anxiety, lack of an ability to focus, generally feeling hopeless. You can have them mildly, you can have them very strong, you can have them in between, you can have these symptoms sometimes and not others, etc etc. It varies for each person.
I know that in late August it may seem a bit, how do you say, excessive to already be worrying about SAD, but I've learned in life you've got to be like a Boy Scout: overly prepared and wearing a lot of khaki. So with that in mind, there are a few steps I've learned to take that make the endless slog of winter months feel a little better and more productive, though. I've written about them before, and I'm going to share them again here (with some updated tips I've found useful).
A couple of things: These tips are probably good to do yearround, because they mostly include "healthy living" type things (GROSS). Also, as with every post, I am not a doctor, and probably nobody should listen to me about anything, ever. That said, definitely listen to these tips and heal your SAD-addled brain. If you want me from November to March, I'll be hiding out in the Caribbean or under my desk, no in betweens.
Tip #1: Watch your diet
This is the most boring, annoying part of all the tips. (Hang with me, though, because later I'm going to recommend a trip to the Caribbean.) What I eat generally affects my mood all the year long, and especially so in winter. What helps? Cutting out refined grains and refined sugar, cutting down on alcohol, and cutting down on coffee. God, this is so boring and awful I'm already falling asleep, but seriously, those things help. A model winter diet? Tea (I'm partial to Trader Joe's ginger-tumeric tea); a big helping of this green smoothie (yes, it looks like sadness in a jar, but getting all those greens in one serving helps, though all the stuff she says about breaking down things to a particular consistency seems like bullshit); scrambled eggs and avocado; salads and fish and veggies for lunch and dinner; nuts and fruits for snacks and sweetness. Basically, a paleo diet (ugh, sorry). Cutting down on the alcohol REALLY helps, because one (aka, me) forgets that alcohol is a depressant and while a margarita in the summer sun is all fun and giggles, a half of bottle of wine on your couch under a blanket while watching the 2000 Sex and the City movie is just sadness distilled.
Tip #2: Meditate, and while you're doing it, meditate in front of a sun lamp
I've long espoused the mind-calming benefits of meditation, but in the winter I'm going to try doing it a bit differently, to kill two birds with one stone: I'm going to try to meditate each morning for 15-20 minutes in front of a sun lamp. Meditation makes my mood happier, and a sun lamp definitely helps me with the SAD, so I'm going to be like that insane hyper efficient family in Cheaper By the Dozen and do both at once. (Secondary tip: meditation is nothing more than closing your eyes and counting your breaths for 10-15 minutes, you don't have to complicate it more than that. And you can get a cheap sun lamp on Amazon - I have this one.)
Tip #3: Exercise
And you can't just half ass it on an elliptical for 30 minutes either. I've found that when I doing exhausting heart-rate-raising exercise for 20-30 minutes a few times a week, it seriously improves my mood, whether it's in the winter or not. If you don't belong to a gym where you can do a boot camp or the stair mill (my personal favorite exercise machine of all), these high-intensity videos are good to do at home. The Nike Fit app is also really good, as is the Sworkit app.
Tip #4: Go somewhere warm, preferably in early or mid-February
I've done a lot of scientific research on this, and I've found that late January to mid-February is the time I'm most likely to go totally cray from SAD. So if I can, I try to plan a vacation to warmer climes around that time. Anywhere in the Caribbean will do (I've had great times in Tulum, the Dominican Republic, and St. John); I've also had a really good vacation (and it's a super quick flight/drive) to the Florida Keys.
If you can't make or afford a trip, just make sure on the sunny days that do happen you're walking outside a lot. Or try a trip to Spa World in Centerville (a big old Korean spa outside the DC area). It's warm and infrared saunas are the best and you'll feel like you're treating yourself a little bit.
Tip #5: Sleep better
Easier said than done, I know. Meditation helps so much with my sleep. As well as turning away from screens an hour before I need to go to sleep, and not bringing my iPhone into bed (I really can't break this habit; it's so hard). But if you can install the Flux app on your computer, and set your iPhone to go into night mode, those things will at least harsh the blue glare from the screens and ideally help making go to bed a little bit easier. I also just got a Fitbit and you can set it to buzz like 30 minutes before you want to go to bed so you're aware it's time to step away from the screens, start winding down, and doing bedtime stuff.
Tip #6: It'll end, one day....sob
I wrote this tip last time I wrote about SAD, and it still holds true for me: Know you're not crazy. Sometimes I forget how bad I get SAD and I think I will be an awful, anxious, sluggish mess forever. And I think that I AM that person - muddled by lack of sunlight and reluctant to do anything or make good decisions. But then I do some of the stuff above, or get back from a trip to Mexico, and I feel like I've been reset. I remember how I normally am. Only one billionty days to go until spring!