do enjoy the season of Autumn with its ever changing palette of
colour of golden browns, russets and reds. Like Spring, it’s a
transitional season but one that for many people, me included, brings
uncertainty and dread. Yes, dread. Not a word I’ve chosen for
diva-ish effect. A word chosen because for many people that reflects
the reality of their emotions at this time of year, now we’ve said farewell to Autumn and hello to Winter.
this country, we’ve had the delight of an Indian Summer in September,
a wonderful show of colour in October. But the ending of October
brings the changing of the clocks. During November my body clock was really out of kilter. It happens annually. I expect it. I
mentally prepare for it. But I can’t eradicate it.
suffer from SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder.
makes me want to hibernate from November onwards; only wanting to
emerge when the first crocii have popped their delicate, colourful
petals through the earth in very early Spring. For many people, it
can blight their lives.
more than just the winter blues.
not the same as clinical depression.
cyclical, with sufferers experiencing depressive periods from the end
of Autumn to the end of Winter with non-depressive periods from the
beginning of Spring to Late Autumn.
standard, conventional approaches to tackling SAD are
a light box
recent years, research has shown that CBT has had better long term
effects for SAD sufferers.
won’t be delving into either of these two here as there’s already lots of
advice out there about both approaches.
will admit that I’m fortunate in that I suffer milder symptoms than
some, who can really struggle horrendously, sometimes for as long as
up to 6 months of the year. This post is about sharing some tips
that have helped me cope with my SAD over the years and how I
approach it from a variety of different angles –
some obvious, some not so!
tips are not a cure all, and if you’re a fellow sufferer you may find
some work better than others or you may even do all of these
in a Lumie clock
bought one about 10 years ago and I wouldn’t want to be without it
now. For me, the waking up experience is very clearly divided into
pre lumie clock and post lumie clock!
lumie clock, waking up in the winter months was harsh. I’d be in a
deep sleep only to be jolted awake by the alarm clock going off. I
always felt like someone had slapped me in the face. Not the best
way to start a new day. And it made no difference that the alarm
would start softly and slowing, because the increasing volume and
urgency of tempo of those beep beep beep beeps, beep beep beep beeps,
would be akin to someone jabbing me with a pointy stick!
the lumie clock gradually brings me out from my deep sleep state.
About half an hour before the actual alarm goes off, the light of the
clock starts turning on, mirroring the effect of the sun rising. By
the time the alarm goes off, I’m already semi awake. I’ve been
gently floating back up to the surface for awhile, making the waking
up process less jarring and tiring.
clocks are about £60 – which you may say is expensive for a clock.
However, that may well be the best £60 you’ll spend this winter.
2. Open your curtains as soon as you wake up
possible open your curtains as soon as you can when you get up, to
allow the natural light to come through.
Of course, this is
dependent on the time you get up but anything to trick the body to
fully wake up and not feel it’s still stumbling around half asleep is
important to starting the day well.
yourself with colour
winter, there’s precious little colour in nature. Of course there
are winter greens and red berries – we’re not totally devoid of
colour – but it’s few and far between compared with the other
seasons. I’ve found that surrounding myself with colour from other
wear as little black in winter as I can. Instead, I opt for rich,
vibrant colours, particularly the jewel tones – burgundys, emeralds,
fucshia, turquoises, purples. This can be difficult of course, if
you have to wear a uniform of any description for work but outside of
in a coloured coat,
the black and brown handbags and choose coloured or patterned
– pick bold, colourful jewellery
– wear coloured tights
– choose bright, colourful accessories – from gloves, scarves and shoes!
job involves a uniform of sorts in that as a Pilates teacher I’m
mostly in lycra and leggings. I purposely buy brightly coloured
leggings and tops to wear to teach in.
don’t just restrict yourself to wearing colour. In my study at home,
I’ll often have a vase of brightly coloured roses on the windowsill
in either orange, pink or yellow to add a pop of colour to the room, that I can look at every now and then.
4. Keep warm
know I’m more susceptible to changes in temperature than Tall Brown
Fox. I dislike feeling cold as it makes me lethargic. Then I want to
curl up into a ball and not come out from under the duvet which in
turn highlights my SAD.
in thin, warm layers. Thin layers trap the heat better than a big
bundly jumper. When outside, I make sure I wear a hat, scarf, gloves
and footwear to keep my body temperature even.
a photo on your desk of someone who makes you smile
you look at it, do just that – smile!
I worked 9-5, I had a small photo of my nephew as a baby on my desk.
When I caught his cute, laughing face, it would always raise a smile.
I’d receive a small mental boost every time.
difficult/boring tasks earlier during the day
generally more motivated during the daylight hours, despite being a
nightowl. Come 4 o’clock, it’s hard for me to sit down and start
tasks that I’m not exactly leaping about wanting to do.
try to get those niggly/difficult/boring jobs done earlier during the
day, when the daylight hours make me feel more alert.
7. Spend time outside at lunch or break time
can be so tempting to just sit at your desk at lunch and catch up on
personal emails, read blogs or any other number of myriad things we do whilst sitting in front of computers.
the habit! Go for a walk! Even if it’s 10 minutes! That’s 10
minutes of natural daylight that just might stop you from wanting to
fall asleep at your desk in the afternoon!
I worked in an office, I made myself do this in the winter months –
yes even when it was raining! Any time that gave me a break from
artificial light was important. I worked out 4-5 different 10-15
minute walks near my office. That way, I didn’t get bored just going
round the block a few times!
8. Long walk at weekends
Most winter weekends, Tall Brown Fox and I try to go out for a long walk. We’re lucky that within half an hour’s drive from where we live, we have beautiful countryside to explore.
Just over an hour away, we can be walking on a wind-swept beach, blowing the mental cobwebs away.
See what local walks are in your area or if you live in a city, book a City walk. London, for example, has some fascinating walks, lead by informative and engaging guides.
We do a couple a year and you can discover some architectural gems or pick up interesting historical nuggets in areas you might not otherwise have visited or known about.
your relationship with digital devices
everyday digital devices (mobiles, tablets, laptops) emit a certain
type of blue light which can play havoc with our natural body clocks
and crucially the production of the hormone, melatonin. When
daylight reduces and night time falls, this hormone is naturally
released. It’s Mother Nature’s clever way of making you feel the need to
go to sleep. However, the wavelength of the blue light from common
digital devices is similar to daylight. If you’re spending all the
hours before bedtime glued to a screen, you’re not giving your body a
chance to naturally start to shut down.
you want to put away your mobiles and tablets, shut down your laptops
at least an hour before you go to bed, so you don’t interfere with and
delay the release of melatonin.
On many phones you can also turn the blue light down.
to a regular sleep routine
may be tempting to stay up later on a Friday/Saturday evening, so you
can enjoy a long lie-in the next day, especially if you have early
starts during the week but irregular sleep patterns can cause more
problems in the long run and make your SAD worse.
possible, stick to going to bed roughly at the same time each night.
At the weekends, enjoy getting up slightly later than usual but try
to avoid the temptation of rolling over and sleeping for another hour
or so. I’ve found doing that can make you more tired.
11. Clean your windows
Now this one might sound daft BUT bear with me! You want to experience as much natural light for as long as possible every day. Dust from inside and dirt, grit and cobwebs from the outside obscure light. Even the thinest smattering of dust adds a layer of film that the light has to penetrate.
Whip out your cleaning cloths and buff up your windows! A couple of weekends ago, Tall Brown Fox and I cleaned all the windows at the back of our house inside and outside and what a difference. Looking out of the kitchen window before felt like looking through a filmy haze. This weekend, we’ll tackle the front.
That sounds as if we only clean our windows once a year! We just make sure we do it more regularly during the winter months!
no secret that exercise releases endorphins, which in turn lifts your
mood. I notice a difference with my SAD symptoms if the amount I
exercise reduces. And exercise can include simple things like taking
the stairs rather than the lift, walking to the station rather than
getting the bus. Keeping active during the day to avoid the sluggish
feeling, is just as important as going to a regular class or working
out at the gym.
also helps with stress levels, reducing the potential detrimental
effect on the quality of your sleep and your mental wellbeing. The
trick is to choose a form of exercise that that you enjoy. If
slogging it out on a treadmill is your idea of purgatory, then find
some other form of exercise to do!
well and healthy
can increase your appetite and typically increase it for the foods
that can aggravate the symptoms of SAD! Typical, isn’t it? That’s a
killer for someone like me, who has a sweet tooth and therefore isn’t
safe left anywhere near a chocolate cake with buttercream filling and
chocolate curls on top!
don’t diet – never had done – I just eat as healthily as
possible. Sensible portions, unprocessed foods where possible,
hearty homemade soups and meals so that when I’m tired I’m not
tempted to just buy a ready meal or gorge on sweet things.
I often work 3 evenings a week,
meaning that I’m home after Tall Brown Fox has eaten. Once a month, I
batch cook meals like home made chilli, cottage pie or a chicken and
vegetable soup and freeze them. Then, on work nights, all I need to
do is grab a portion from the freezer and warm it up when I get in.
I know that quite a few people take supplements (vitamin D) and herbal remedies but if you do, and you use a light box, please check with your GP or a qualified medical herbalist. Certain drugs and supplements can make your retinas more sensitive to light, which exposes you to the risk of eye damage, so please make sure you look after your eyes.
14. Switch your holiday from Summer to Winter
possible if you’re tied to school holidays or work commitments at
certain times of the year but it really can boost your well being
levels visiting somewhere with more daylight hours during the winter months.
grateful that most years we’re able to go away for a week during the
winter; whether that’s a few days on a City break in a country further
south from the UK, or visiting the in-laws in the South of France for Christmas or New Year. Even during winter, the light on the Cote
d’Azur is noticeably different to London. I’m always aware of an internal change
within only a few hours of being in that crisper light.
good belly laugh is the best free medicine. Like exercise, it
releases those happy hormones, the endorphins. Get some friends
together and host a comedy night by watching your favourite laugh out
loud movies or some episodes of a sitcom. My box set of The Big Bang
Theory comes in very handy at this time of year!
very fortunate in that I’m married to a man who makes me laugh on a
daily basis. We enjoy making each other smile and being playful
around each other. And no, we’re not sitting at the breakfast table
reciting jokes to each other to see who can elicit the biggest
guffaw! However, being around someone with a good sense of fun can
be a lifeline on dark, dreary days.
Do you have any Tips to share?
Following these tips may help alleviate symptoms if you’re a fellow sufferer. Or even if they don’t directly, they may spark other ideas such as using music to help you through the day. I haven’t included this one as personally, when my SAD is bad, I find I can become quite noise sensitive.
If you have any tips to share, I’d love to hear them in the comment section below.
Greetings from the cold dark north! At the moment we have about 4-5 hours of daylight, but at least it's not too cold (still above freezing). I'm fine with darkness, except in the mornings. It feels as if I'm getting up in the middle of the night. But, as I'm just not a morning person, I hate getting up early any time of the year, even in summer when there's no darkness to speak of. Most Nordics always feel that winter gets easier if/when there is snow, but I find that it's the cold and snow, rather than darkness, that drags me down. Thus, I find it really depressing in March/April, even with much more daylight, when the winter seems to linger and I'm getting really sick of it. But now, this time of the year, it's like waiting for the inevitable onslaught of relentless cold… Fortunately, I can escape to Britain every now and then: there's a bit more daylight and it's so much warmer. I know, most of my British friends think I'm crazy, but I don't mind the rain…
I wondered how you coped, Tiina, being so much further north. I can imagine by about March/April, you're heartily sick of the snow. Better rain than snow!
I think these are good tips for anyone wanting to take care of themselv any time of the year really! 🙂 I definitely agree that exercise and getting out and enjoying the sunshine are important. Even here, where you really need to avoid too much sun, it's good to take the effort to go out and enjoy a little of it (suitably sun-screened up of course!) as it's a great mood booster!
Away From The Blue Blog
Exactly, Mica, it really does boost the mood. And yes, following these tips is good for all year round.
This was a very interesting read. In Canada I think 75% of the population suffers from SAD.
I have a doubly whammy because my skin is too sensitive to be outside when it is cold out. I have to wear a full on Balaclava and even then I'm left with welts on my face that can last days. It has gotten worse as I age I find. I miss my outdoor time and think often that we might need to move somewhere else where the weather isn't so horrible during 4-6 months of the year.
I really like the idea of that alarm clock. I'm going to check it out.
I'm not surprised Suzanne at it being that high a percentage. That's tricky about your skin and nasty if you get welts. I remember from when I visited Toronto a couple of times how biting the air was when it was Winter! Brrrrr!
Do check out the Lumie clock; it really helps.
Great post and great tips!
Not just for sufferers but for everyone.
I am guilty of shutting down in winter…sitting on my bum….not walking at lunchtime….curled up….with dirty windows! Hibernating would be a good option for me. I must motivate myself! Thank you. XXX
Thanks Samantha. Isn't it all to easy to stay indoors and hunker down? It's a very natural response of course, as back in the dark ages, we did pretty much hibernate during Winter! But it can also end up being a mind set that stops us from enjoying life in the winter months.
Ha, ha, and get ya windas cleaned, love!
Wonderful article, thank you for sharing! You give really good advice. I had an especially sad winter a couple of years ago and came across a good article in a local magazine. It helped me to come up with my own routine too, and it really worked for me – I started sleeping better and feeling so much better in just one week or so. I remember the few things involved: a day light lamp, daily vitamins and hot yoga a couple of times a week (for me, it really worked). I would add a spa day to your list, it also does miracles, whether I feel exhausted or overwhelmed, or experience seasonal blues.
That's great you found a routine that helped< Natalia. Excellent idea to add a spa day! That just might be a Christmas present to myself! Glad you enjoyed the post.
Jacqueline this is a brilliant post. An insiders view is always the best for giving advice as you really know your subject inside out. As you know, I too suffer from S.A.D. and have put some of these measures in place, but am delighted to pick up some new ideas from you. This forum of knowledge will surely grow and grow with lots of personal tips coming back to you from your readers. Brilliant stuff, well done x
Anna's Island Style
As fellow sufferer I'm glad you found this useful and have got a few more ideas that will help with your SAD – just that comment alone has made writing this post all the more worthwhile! Thank you, Anna. We'll pull each other through the Winter!
The lumie clock sounds amazing! I've been really struggling since the gray skies set in, so I might have to get that clock 🙂
Do, I can really vouch for it. It's such a gentler way to wake up – even in the summer months.
Interesting reading and great tips! Some of them I do follow but a lumie clock thing was something new for me. To tell you the truth I have never heard about such clocks before. I definitely need one! In winter time it is quite cold inside the house here and I notice that this makes me more lazy. I literally have to push myself to go on with my exercise routine! Congratulations on being featured on Links a la Mode yet again!
I hate it when it's cold inside too, Olga. It does make it hard to motivate yourself to exercise so I sympathise! The clock does really make a difference.
great post and great advices, useful for everybody!. I've had spring asthenia for many years, which affects my immune system, and I'm almost defeated and shabby for a month or so, particularly after that awful changing of the clocks to Summer time. But all these symptons dissapeared when I lived in the south, as there's not a real change of lighting through the year!
Now I've returned to my northern home, but I've managed it nicely last years.
Really interesting to read you!
It's extraordinary how many people get affected by the change of the two big seasons – Spring and Autumn and what this does to the body. It's more than people realise. That's great you're able to manage your Spring Asthenia now. I can imagine how that would wipe you out for a month.