Surviving Seasonal Affective Disorder

Daylight Savings Time is upon us. It is cold, dark, and the holidays are just within reach.

I am learning that Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD- what an accurate acronym!) is common for so many people- not just for people who are already susceptible to depression.

However, as someone who is in the midst of both a mental health and chronic illness struggle, it has been a major curve ball. Functioning has already been hard enough with the cold increasing my fibromyalgia pain. Sleep is already complicated enough without daylight savings time throwing off my circadian rhythms. Can we talk about how most of us don’t get home before it’s already dark?

Here are some ways I am  trying to counteract the effects of SAD this season:

1. I finally purchased a Lightbox! I’ve been told for a few years that I would benefit from one. I turn it on when I first wake up in the morning and try to get ready in front of it for 30 minutes. I use it again in the afternoon to combat the temptation to take a nap for another 15-30 minutes. I’m surprised how much it is lifting my mood and taking the sleepy edge off. (By the way, Lightbox produces 10,000 lux!)

2. I’m trying to fill my house with flowers and growing things. It helps me to remember that winter is not forever. Things can still grow (even me!). Life still exists. Lately, I have even been saving fall leaves (preserving them in paraffin wax) and hanging them on the wall like a garland. The more outside I can bring inside, the better. Come Christmas time, this house will be full of all the evergreen and pinecones I can find.

3. This is a big one. I am trying to set my own meaning for the holidays. A huge part of SAD is all of the stress that comes with Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years. This is super frustrating because it’s also supposed to be “the best time of the year.” Part of finding my own meaning is removing the giant expectations that often come with the holidays.

For instance, Thanksgiving is not the time to try and summon up a whole year’s worth of gratitude. New Years also brings on the expectation to discern all the things you should change in life and start NOW.  I’m trying to preemptively give myself permission to feel down on those days. I’m still seeking out my own meaning for these days. One day does not change everything, and that’s okay. I am hoping I can find small ways to simply enjoy those days.

Lastly, I’m giving myself permission to set boundaries. Let’s be honest. One of the most difficult things to navigate during the holidays can be family. Expectations. Traditions. Ignoring tension in the name of something meaningful. I am trying to accept where I am right now with myself. Putting on a holiday facade can be so exhausting. Fibromyalgia and anxiety do not magically go away on Christmas Day. So, I am giving myself permission to not pretend I have it all together.

4. I am challenging myself to find things about this season that I do like. I like cozy sweaters and layering. I like having a reason to use cute mugs.

I really do enjoy finding the “perfect” present for the people in my life. I find a lot of meaning in sharing meals around a table. Oh, and I love getting to light so many candles! It’s taking time, but I am starting to embrace parts of this season.

5. Lastly, I am trying to remind myself that SAD influences my depression. Sometimes, I find myself panicking or asking “What is wrong with me?!?” when things feel harder than normal. It feels like self-compassion to remember that the outside world literally being colder and darker can make my world feel colder and darker too. The truth is that it will pass.

Overall, I’m trying to stay present in this season even when it’s uncomfortable. I’m trying to give myself grace for feeling sad (SAD) and hoping I can keep showing up anyways.

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