Uninspired in the New Year: Seasonal Affective Disorder

landscape photography of snow pathway between trees during winter

A long time ago, I chose to stop treating the demarcation between December 31 and January 1 as a big deal. Partially due to the fact that it is, essentially, a completely arbitrary day. And the other reason is that it felt very triggering for seasonal affective disorder.

Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD for a cutesy colloquial name, is also winter blues, seasonal funk, and probably a whole host of other names. In Ayurveda, it might be Vata imbalance. To a psychoanalyst, maybe it’s cause for medication. But no matter which way you slice it, dice it or call it, it’s a bummer.

It took me a long time to come around to calling it SAD. In Minnesota, we have long winters. And it’s just part and parcel of living here, right? But we don’t have to find joy in every snow fall and sub-zero temperature day. Toss in the few light hours, the hormonal effects of the emotional letdown after the rush of the holidays, plus the season where the majority of people are sick and don’t feel like driving on icy, snowy streets with limited parking? Who wouldn’t be a little SAD?

To be honest, I haven’t officially been diagnosed with SAD or a SAD-related condition (i.e. bipolar disorder is usually associated with SAD). But in my 38 years on this spinning rock, I have identified a few things that do help me feel better. And no it doesn’t involve a happy light (I have one, but I forget to use it all the time).

Seasonal Affective Disorder Tips

  • Balance cold with heat. You can find the recommendation to get outside regularly during the sunlight hours on any SAD list of tips. And of course, it’s backed by science and a good thing to do. For me, I find that I need to eliminate the chill that gets in my bones when the wind is sneaking into my scarf and mittens.
  • Find things that make you laugh. Rewatch Ted Lasso and The Office again, dig up the not-so-kosher mid 2000s bro comedy, whatever it is that can make you giggle for a bit.
  • Push yourself to go out (within reason). Go to your yoga class, book club, meet with people and see things outside of your bubble. There’s power in human connection; there’s a reason we grew as a species when we formed communities!
  • Investing in good quality winter pieces is a must. Go big on a nice coat that will last for years, solid boots that take you across snow and ice.
  • Make time for hot baths or showers, and don’t rush it. Let the warmth sink into your bones. Indulge in some epsom salts, delightful soaps, hair masks, things to make the heat bearable but also replenish moisture in your skin.
  • Hydrate. It’s easy to remember to drink lots of water when it’s 100 degrees, but less so when it’s cold. Try some decaf teas and try to avoid over-caffeinating (I maybe have been guilty of this in the past…)
  • Make yourself a Serotonin playlist. Music that boosts your mood and maybe even makes you dance a bit… Even if that dancing is wiggling in your chair and lip syncing. Here’s mine, it is admittedly very random:

Add to the SAD Tip List

The ultimate cause for SAD is unknown. But it’s thought that drops in serotonin, changes in melatonin, and changes to our circadian rhythms disrupting our internal clock play a part. Finding natural ways to boost or balance these factors plays a big part in finding a little more peace this time of year.

SAD can strike at any time of year, but most frequently in the winter months. What sorts of things help you feel better in these chilly months?

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