If you have worked in an office, you know the pain of wintertime: you arrive just as the sun is making its appearance, and by the time you leave, it is pitch-black outside. Though many people crave longer days of bright, sunny skies, other people actually suffer from a condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). As defined by the Mayo Clinic, this condition affects certain people at the same time each year, creating feelings of depression and low energy levels in sufferers, thanks to the lack of light outside. Often touted as the “winter blues,” it can be an extremely rough period for those who are hit the worst. If you are among this crowd, remember, you are not alone! And more importantly, there are solutions that have proven successful for others. Here, helpful tactics from those who suffer from SAD that could work for you, too:
Create a Fitness Goal
There is nothing Ashley Davidson hates more than being cold. As a media and industry relations director based in Alexandria, Virginia, this means many months of the year are spent holed up inside. She admits she finds every excuse to stay in the warmth, and only ventures into freezing temperatures when she has to. But since she works from home, this can mean she can feel disconnected from the outside world, leaving her sluggish, agitated and anxious. To combat SAD, she has found various coping strategies, and one of the most effective is to nurture her love of running.
Each year, she forces herself to sign up for races in the winter — including 5Ks and half-marathons — so she will have to run outside to train. With a goal in sight, somehow, it boosts her motivation and bravery to battle the cold. “It seems counter-intuitive for someone that hates the cold to go outside to run in the dead of winter, but I also warm up really quickly once I get moving, and it really helps,” she shares. “It helps me beat the cabin fever while also getting a much-needed boost of vitamin D and endorphins.”
Open the Window or Get a UV Lamp
Since designer Veronica Silva was born in Mexico, closer to the equator, she has struggled with SAD any time she does not receive enough sunlight. When she worked a traditional 9-6 job in New York City, she dreaded leaving her home and returning with no daylight, depleting her energy and mood. These days, she called Lisbon, Portugal home, and though she does not suffer as much from SAD, when she did, one of the easiest solutions was opening a window. While it seems crazy — and ineffective — Silva says it made a huge difference in her state of being. “Many people don’t open the curtains or windows during winter, making their space really dark. I like to enjoy as much sunlight as I can, even if it’s indoors,” she recommends. If you can, ask to move to a desk where you can at least peek outside, and perhaps, crack open a window for fresh air when you need it.
If it is far too cold to even let any of the outside breezes indoors, consider purchasing a UV lamp that could mimic the sun’s rays for much-needed vitamin D.
Find a Local Haunt or Join a Group
For most folks who can’t seem to muster up the motivation to do much of anything during the winter, the thought of leaving is just as painful as the act itself. That’s why Davidson says having a go-to restaurant or bar can be a smart way to trick yourself into making a “commitment” to be social. She and her partner discovered a cool happy hour down the block from their home, and they make a point to visit at least once a week to catch up, unwind and well, get out of the house. “If you have the luxury of eating away from home a few nights a month, do it. Even a slight change of scenery can help,” she recommends.
If you are not a big drinker, consider joining a club or a volunteer group that meets weekly, giving you a real purpose to leave. (And even better: people who are counting on you, which makes it more likely you will make the meetup!)
Go for an Indoor Swim
For Silva, swimming is her preferred form of exercise, year-round. But taking her laps indoors in the darkest, coldest days of winter is not just a bonus for her cardiovascular health but her mental perspective, too. When she escapes to a heated pool, she is instantly warmed by the temperature, soothed by the healing properties of water and perhaps most importantly: reminded of beach days in the summer. Even if you can’t quite make it to a hotter climate during this season, you can feel transported — and squeeze in a workout! — with this enjoyable tactic.
As kiddos, our parents would bribe us to do tasks we disliked by offering a sparkly-and-fun gift. Though you are technically an adult now, you can play the same mind hack by giving yourself a reward at the end of the day, or merely because you went for a walk outside. For Davidson, having something to look forward to each evening helps her to battle feelings of angst. It can be anything that you enjoy — a night out with pals, a cup of tea and a Netflix binge. The point is to have it on your radar so you stay focused on happiness, and not your gloomy feelings.
Strategize Your Vacations
Sometimes, our vacation days are out of our control. Or, they are taken over by commitments to friends and family, who have events throughout the year. Regardless of how little time you have at your disposal though, saving a few days to escape to a warmer climate can improve SAD symptoms dramatically. In fact, it is Silva’s go-to advice to anyone who can’t handle the wintertime sadness. Even if it is a long weekend, she says taking a break from the frigid outdoors makes it easier to return with a refreshed perspective. “I come back ready to walk on snow and not being able to feel your fingers,” she notes. (And hey, for even more motivation, consider having a long weekend in the depths of the coldest days, and then another when it starts to thaw, to really raise your spirits!)