“Oh, the weather outside is frightful,
But the fire is so delightful.
And since we’ve got no place to go”
I never enjoyed that line of the song. The air is colder, the possibilities of snow occur more often, the skies are grey, and the sun makes less of an appearance these days. It makes everyone in colder climates dream of escaping to anywhere but here… not sucking it up and staying put. Most want to head to the beaches of California and Mexico – I want to hit the sands of Belize- but unfortunately, we’re all not blessed with the freedom to simply whisk ourselves off to those destinations. And for some of us, that colder weather means seasonal affective disorder is about to set in.
We don’t have to get SAD about it though.
Baby, It’s Dark Outside
Depending on where you live, the weather can drop to bone-chilling temperatures as soon as summer is officially over. How awful! Paired with minimal daylight, it’s easy to choose bundling up inside and tuning into the newest Netflix series to binge-watch instead of braving the cold weather for work, a group class at the gym, or even dinner with friends. Go outside and brave below zero temperatures in the dark OR stay inside where it’s toasty warm, with a cup of hot cocoa, a book or a gripping TV show? The choice is so obviously easy!
But if you’re feeling overly irritable and lethargic, craving carbs, gaining weight, experiencing trouble sleeping or finding it hard to get motivated or socialize, you could very well be experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder. More commonly referred to as SAD, it’s a serious psychiatric condition that affects 2 to 3 percent of Canada’s general population between Autumn and Spring.
A report from Pearson Canada says that SAD develops because our daily rhythms (circadian cycles) don’t adapt properly to fluctuation of daylight exposure that comes with seasonal change. Put simply: the part of our brain that tells us to sleep when it’s dark and stay awake when it’s light gets thrown for a loop, because it’s dark more often than not during our daily routine. Minimal daylight messes with our biological clocks, and the chemicals in our brain that regulate our mood and sleep patterns.
SAD may be a seasonal thing, but it has nothing to do with the weather.
The good news: there are things we can do so that it doesn’t take over our lives.
Beating the ‘winter blues’
The cure for SAD is quite simple: more light.
If you suffer through SAD, it means that your serotonin activity levels are out of whack. Shining a bit of light on your situation will definitely help you boost your mood. Okay, I’ll be honest – this may require waking up a bit earlier than usual. It definitely means you’ll have to bundle up to beat the cold weather, but it could do wonders! (For what it’s worth, I’ve heard through the grapevine that catching the sunrise is well worth the early wake up call and has the power to inspire people.)
While you’re outside, go for a walk and just enjoy the scenery, even if you have to get out your ‘YakTrax’. Step things up a notch with a workout (if it’s too cold, take your workout to the gym). Exercise has been named by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence in the UK to boost serotonin levels.
Stick to your schedule
As the opportunity for daylight shifts, your first instinct might be to revamp your schedule to adhere. My advice to you: Don’t do it!
While it might seem more appealing to sleep in a little later while waiting for the sun to come up, you should actually stick to your regular routine. That means if you’re usually up at 7:30am and on your way to work by 8:00am (you efficient individual, you), stick with it even through the dark winter mornings. Or, if you normally wrap up and tuck yourself into bed around 10:00pm, don’t get ahead of yourself and start calling it a night way earlier just because it’s darker at 7:00pm (unless you’re trying to improve your sleeping habits!)
By adhering to your usual routine, you’re less likely to interfere with your internal clock and your circadian rhythms. That’s just a fancy way of saying it’ll screw with your system and further encourage the symptoms of SAD to set in.
Brighten your days
If you’re absolutely stuck inside, trying looking towards the light! Light therapy boxes are designed to help brighten your day, when the dreary winter ambience brings SAD to head, and can be as effective as antidepressant medications.
If I can get all scientific on you again (man, I really am a biology geek!), light boxes stimulate cells in your retina that connect to a part of the brain that controls that circadian rhythm thing I was talking about earlier. By using a light box on a consistent schedule, you can maintain that circadian rhythm and avoid SAD symptoms!
If you need help, ask!
To a certain degree, SAD is something that is possible to treat yourself. But if you’re feeling hopeless and lost, I suggest you reach out and get additional help. It’s completely okay to not feel okay, but an expert such as a doctor, therapist, etc. will help find ‘your ‘best fit’ solutions helping you get back to feeling a little more like yourself.
Winter might not be everyone’s favourite time of the year, but it’s here – so let’s try and enjoy it. If you’re feeling the effects of SAD, find a way to brighten up your days or reach out for help! And next year, let’s all book a vacation to Belize, and then we can worry about getting too much sunshine! 😉
I’m Janice Otremba, a professional speaker, facilitator and coach who specializes in Beating Burnout, Lowering Stress and Powering Up Your Happy! Let’s kick your butt into gear with simple, sound advice for beating burnout and powering up your happy. Book a free 15-minute consultation call with me to get started!
Image courtesy of adamr at FreeDigitalPhotos.net