It’s the end of November, the clocks just switched back and suddenly the nights are longer than the days. By the time you’re off work or out of class, the sun has set and you’ve lost your day. On top of that, every other day is cloudy, wet and pure cold. Next thing you know, it’s December and you realize you haven’t seen the sun in weeks.
For night owls and lovers of darkness, this is a dream, but for those of us sun babies who thrive on warmth and sunshine, this time of year can be slow, long, and draining. If you’re like me, you find the sun to be rejuvenating and while being in cute, aesthetically pleasing winters is nice for a day or so, having any amount of consecutive days or even weeks of below 35-degree weather and rainy days is straight torture.
Waking up to patters of rain on your window, being tucked away in your blanket on a cold fall morning can make you want to stay in bed all day while watching Netflix and neglecting your responsibilities just to be cozy. These are arguably some of the best and most relaxing days of the season, but continuously having these days can seriously take a toll on your mentality and lead to an unhealthy pattern and lifestyle. This can especially be a concern for anyone who generally struggles with even a small portion of anxiety, depression or other forms of mental struggles. If you’ve ever had depression or anxiety, then you know exactly what I mean. Sometimes it can be a serious struggle to get out of bed and start your day on a regular, sunny and warm day, so the struggle doesn’t get any easier during autumn and winter.
Growing up, I paid no mind to how many days I spent cozied up in bed during my winter breaks from school, but ever since I got a taste of depression and continue to experience anxiety at different levels, I really have to think twice about spending too much time at home and in my bed. In fact, after I took my deep dive into learning about mental health, interning with Mental Health California, and becoming Mental Health First Aid certified, I learned that feeling lazy or blue during the fall and winter months (excessively) are actually symptoms of a mental health disorder, appropriately abbreviated as SAD - Seasonal Affective Disorder. According to Mayo Clinic, “SAD is a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons.”
Some symptoms of SAD include:
Having low energy
Feeling depressed the majority of the day, nearly every day
Appetite changes/overeating/craving carbs
Losing interest in activities you typically enjoy
Feeling sluggish or agitated
And in severe cases, having frequent thoughts of death or suicide
Seasonal Affective Disorder can be caused by a factor of things. For instance, the factor I am familiar with, lack of sun. Specifically, the lack of sun contributing to a “drop in serotonin, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that affects mood. Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin that may trigger depression,” according to Mayo Clinic. Another potential cause of SAD is a misstep in your circadian rhythm, AKA your biological clock. The decrease in sunlight and increase in darkness can easily throw off your biological clock, leaving you with feelings of depression and fatigue. Lastly, the seasonal change can lead to a drop in your body’s melatonin levels, which are hormones which help regulate your mood and even your sleep pattern. On top of these three factors, if you happen to live far from the equator or already have depression or anxiety, you may be at higher risk for developing SAD.
So, now that you know all this information and I know all this information, I gotta tell you, I was nervous about moving to Ireland, and this was one of the reasons why. I knew it was going to be a drastic difference spending autumn and parts of winter in a cold and wet country that's basically the complete opposite climate of Riverside, CA. Not only that, but this is my first time experiencing autumn/winter while having actual mental health struggles. So far, I’ve been doing alright, but if I’m being honest (which I always am), November has already proven to be a challenge for me and my mental health, as the average temperature in Ireland has dropped, the sun’s started to set by 4 o’clock, and it’s raining every other day. I’ve got less energy, less motivation, and my anxiety levels have risen. Although I can’t entirely blame it on the season, because classes have also got me stressed, but there’s certainly a correlation, if not causation.
I’m being pretty honest with you here, so let me ask you to be honest with yourselves for a moment. I know I’m not the only one who’s felt a little bit SAD before. In fact, I’ve even had friends who, during undergrad, went off to universities that are in states and locations that have harsh winters and the combination of that, with the everyday stresses of school, exams, being away from home, and familiarity, they struggled too.
People don’t talk about it though. Mostly because they either brush it off and don’t want to make a big deal about something seemingly small or seem weak by admitting they may not be feeling their best, or simply because they just don’t know what SAD is or how to even talk about what they’re feeling.
So, if it’s something that can/has happened to anyone, then why aren’t we talking about it? Why don’t more people know what SAD is, even though we probably each know someone who’s affected (whether they know it or not)? We can’t just sit here, feeling crappy every autumn and winter and let that turn into a deep depression. What are we gonna do about it?
After researching, talking with some friends, and doing completely unofficial Instagram polls, I drafted up a few ways you can help defeat your autumn and winter blues. I’ve also made a handy-dandy infographic that you can save and share with whomever you think may benefit.
Literally just get up! As soon as you start feeling cozy or completely de-motivated, just get up. Go pace your place, go get your mail, walk down the block or go for a drive. It may sound silly and simple, but trust me, when you’re feeling completely sedentary, getting up is the hardest, but most rewarding thing you can do.
Chase the Sun! Do what you can to get some sun. The sun helps us raise serotonin levels in our body which correlates to better moods and a sense of happiness. So whether you go outside, or pull open the drapes, try to soak up whatever sun you can find.
Quit Hitting Snooze! Establish a regular sleeping schedule. It’s winter and you’re already only getting 8-10 hours of daylight, so you need to maximize on this time by being well-rested and getting a head start on your day.
Make Plans (and follow through) with your crew! Whether the plan is to meet up after work or get together on the weekend, give yourself something to look forward to and a reason to get out of bed. Also, it’s good to make plans with those who you know are good for it, won’t flake, and are even the type to drag you out of bed when you can’t seem to do it yourself.
Consider Light Therapy or a Light Lamp! Studies have shown light to be beneficial in helping regulate your circadian rhythm. So, if you’re not getting enough natural light during the winter days, invest in a light therapy lamp. This can help you feel more energized during the days and the circadian rhythm regulation will allow you to get your sleep schedule back on track (refer back to point 3!).
Keep Yourself in Check! In all seriousness, while we all get sad or de-motivated sometimes, watch out for symptoms of SAD in yourselves and even in your friends and family. If you’ve noticed a severe drop in your mood/motivation, and the days you’re spending tucked away in bed are higher than those spent outside, feeling good an enjoying life, go see your healthcare professional. Medicines or therapies can be prescribed, but it's up to you to be an advocate for yourself and get the help you need.
Well, that’s all I’ve got for you all this time! I hope you learned something new or could relate to something here. If you’ve got any questions or comments, feel free to leave a note below. If you’ve got your own remedies and practices to beat the autumn blues, I’d love to read those in the comments section, as well! Also, be sure to share this post with your friends, family, or someone who you think may benefit from it. Thanks for taking time to read, and as always, Take Care :)