She’s only happy in the sun- Ben Harper
It’s no secret that many of us struggle in winter, the dark mornings and nights and dull overcast days can send even the most positive soul into the doldrums; with light deprivation the main cause of SAD the long nights and short days can take their toll. I realised a few years back that I have made a referral into community mental health or asked for help from my GP every year in Autumn/Winter for as long as I can remember. It’s pretty clear then that for me a personal action plan is necessary to help me fight the winter blues.
When I was on maternity leave I found that particular year much easier, I could be out during the brighter parts of the days and felt good about making plans for the late morning period when I knew I could get more of the vitamin D I need from the sun. Once I returned to work the impending sense of doom that the change in the clocks brought about was palatable; I was SAD alright, really bloody miserable! There’s a sense of cabin fever that winter brings and now that I recognise it I am better prepared to treat myself well in winter.
I have learned to manage aspects of SAD over the years and yet it’s definitely harder when you have more than just yourself to think about. During the summer months I really enjoyed going out for a walk with Joss every evening until about 8pm. This routine set us all up for a happy bed time, yet in winter we all have a sense of being ‘stuck at home.’ This survival guide is no replacement for getting advice and support from a medical professional, but it might offer some general well being pointers that fellow SAD mums and dads might find helpful!
SAD Mam’s Winter Survival Guide
Your survival kit might include:
- Access to sunlight daily, even just for twenty minutes. If you’re at home with the kids take them for a walk between 9 – 11 when they days are often brightest, keep yourself from getting down by talking about all the things you see on your walk, there’s a reason why Joss and I have been doing so many leaf pictures lately, it’s because it gives me something to do when we’re walking to distract myself from thinking about what we’ll do next, what we’ll do is get some glue and get sticking! If you’re at work take an earlier lunch break and have a walk around the block to soak up any daylight you can get.
- A SAD or light therapy lamp which can give you a boost on those really dark days when Mr Sunshine stays away and Mr Rain comes out the play. I use mine daily for an hour from about September and do feel a noticeable difference
- Headspace, I have been teaching myself to meditate to help clear the dark thoughts and intrusive ideas that come into my head. I tend to get really glum in winter, it starts with head chatter “I feel bad, why do I feel bad? Is something bad going to happen?” Then it spirals… CBT taught me to control the spiral and I have some brilliant tools that I use to combat anxiety, but in winter it feels easier to give up and I sometimes lose the fight, that’s when taking some time to meditate can bring me back to a more positive way of dealing with the thoughts. I use a few online tools, but the headspace app is a really good place to start.
- Your diary – give yourself things to look forward to, plan to see some friends – life often looks different when we get together with others; look ahead to Christmas if you enjoy the festivities and plan to do something nice, this year we are going to get tickets for Enchanted Parks in December and I’m really looking forward to sharing that with Joss. More recently we’ve enjoyed getting out in the late fresh air for Halloween and Bonfire Night, both nights I had to really motivate myself to get out of the house but we really enjoyed it when we were out.
- A healthy eating plan – step away from the winter stodge, it’s so tempting but try to save that to look forward to over Christmas time! If you can stick to a healthy eating plan, (heck, include exercise and make it a healthy living plan) you’re likely to feel more energised and better prepared to fight off any winter bugs that also get us down. Balance your carby cravings with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and try to take in proteins which can help to boost your seratonin levels try fish, turkey, chicken, beans, pulses, nuts, eggs etc, food high in B vitamins and tryptopan can boost your serotonin levels
- An Advent activity list – in winter it’s harder to motivate ourselves as we experience a dip in energy. I find it harder to think of things to do and easier to sit down and do not much of anything! Last year I had a series of counselling and was given a huge list of 100 activities to challenge my thinking, often my husband would designate me a task for the day and I’d have to engage with it. After a day or two of feeling silly for needing someone to motivate me I thought I could do the same for activities Joss and I could do together. I wrote out a list of fun activities indoor and outdoor and stuck it on the fridge to avoid the old ‘I’m bored and there’s nothing to do’. I really recommend giving this approach a try if you like to have something to look forward to and to set yourself goals, it sets you up for the day with a little activity plan and is something for your family to look forward to as well. Here are a few ideas to get you started. I’ve decided to use this as a basis for our ‘Advent bucket list’ of 24 ideas to do starting 1st December; we’ll try to do them all in the run up to Christmas to keep me motivated and I’ll use each activity to try to increase my mindfulness and focus throughout the darkest time of the year.
Finally, if your symptoms are so bad that you feel you can’t live a normal day to day life and the down days are too frequent, see your GP for medical help.