According to the UK’s NHS, Seasonal Affective Disorder (aptly abbreviated to SAD) is a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons. It can affect us at any time of year (even summer), but is more common in the winter months. Symptoms include lethargy, feelings of despair or hopelessness, cravings for sugary foods, less social interaction and a general and consistent low mood.
Depression is a terrible mental situation to find yourself in, but there is some solace in knowing that yours is seasonal. It means that there’s nothing inherently wrong with you, for a start. But it also means that it too shall pass. One of the biggest burdens of depression is when it seems as though you’ll simply feel rubbish indefinitely. But knowing that yours is seasonal can be of great comfort. Inevitable, perhaps, but it’s also easier to overcome when you’ve got the right tools to hand.
The key to overcoming SAD is running headfirst into its torment and accepting it. After 10 years of living in the UK, where it can feel like twilight for a good few months of the year, I’ve finally cracked the code. Combine acceptance with relaxation and hygge and you’ve got a three-part formula for making it through unscathed.
First up is the acceptance part. What do we know about suffering? It’s caused when we’re in resistance to something. We either feel like what’s happening shouldn’t be, or that something which isn’t happening should be. It’s caused when we’re unaccepting of what is (without sounding all esoteric and vague on you). You simply can’t be happy when you’re in a state of resistance. It’s too draining and uncomfortable. I’ve spent years of my life feeling that it was unjust that I had to endure such cold weather. It was so unwanted and unfortunate (all the ‘uns’). I grew up in the sun and was simply built for the sun. How had I ended up living somewhere so dark and cold where ventures as simple as popping out to the shops required more layers than I have fingers? Why was the universe punishing me so?
I’ve spent many a winter-month pining for warmer climes, perhaps a chance win of the lottery so I could hire a yacht to charter me around the Pacific, or even a Freaky Friday-esque lifeswap with some beach babe killing it in Bali. But no, I’d spend day after day wishing away my time and praying I wouldn’t die of cabin fever before spring had sprung.
And then something shifted.
I was here, living in this place for a reason. And this resistance in me was trying to tell me something.
One day, I stepped out my front door to meet the crisp winter morning and strange as it was, the feelings arising in me were those of anticipation and excitement. The cool air was refreshing and such contrast to what becomes routine warmth in the summer. Don’t get me wrong–I love the heat. But this turn of the season triggered something deeper: a calling to look inside and focus on personal development.
In general, we spend our summer focusing outward. We’re more sociable, more adventurous and overall, busier. Summer is the season of giving yourself to others and experiences. When the winter comes, it’s an opportunity to go inwards. Shorter days and harsh weather means you’re less likely to venture out and instead likely to spend more time nesting at home. If this sounds too depressing to even deal with, I assure you that there’s a lot of good that can come from this, if only you take the time.
So, next up we have relaxation. After a busy season of ‘doing,’ the winter months present you with an opportunity to turn the focus inward and revel in the delights that self-care can offer for overall wellbeing and mental clarity. Once you’ve accepted that winter is the time to snuggle, you can finally relax. There’s no longer the inner battle of feeling like life is unfair or wishing you were someone else, somewhere else. You can be at ease and focus on indoor pursuits instead.
In the quest for never-ending self-growth, the wintertime is ideal for ploughing through that reading list you’ve been forever wanting to tackle, that box set your friend has been harassing you to watch or the endless incredible documentaries available for indulging for thought-provoking perspective. If you’ve been feeling as though you’ve been floating along directionless, one of these media might just be the spark for creative thought and purpose.
Next, pamper yourself. Buy the best cruelty-free and vegan cosmetics that you can afford or DIY some deliciousness and get spa-ing. Give yourself a thorough exfoliation and follow up with hydration, try a body, face or hair mask, paint your nails, experiment with a make-up look you’ve always lusted after but been too scared to try and so on. Think of it like rehearsing for the big show which will come around in the spring: a new you, reinvented and bursting with confidence.
Lastly, the old Danish familiar of hygge. If you haven’t come across the Scandinavian trend that took the world by storm a few years ago, hygge is a word that has no English translation but essentially means ‘all things cozy and warm and comforting’ according to my Danish gal pal. She describes it as ‘the process of indulging in the pleasurable pursuits of life.’ Warm, fluffy blankets are hygge. Candlelight is hygge. Mulled cider with friends around a bonfire is hygge. Baking your favourite pie while your lover strums his guitar in his fluffy socks is hygge. You get the idea. It’s a concept not limited to winter specifically, but best indulged in during those months when you’re forced indoors and may as well make the most of it.
Something Scandinavians pride themselves on are their homes. After all, when they get those winters, they need somewhere clean, warm and inviting to enjoy passing the time. If you struggle with SAD during the winter, embrace hygge and make your space somewhere that feels special. Treat yourself to life’s little luxuries like some ethical wool socks to keep your toes warm, or some paraffin-free candles in your favourite scents. No matter your budget, remember that investing in the right one or two things can be a massive mood-booster to see you through the darkness.
I won’t harp on about the usual ‘and remember to eat a healthy balanced diet and do plenty of exercise‘ because you already know that those things are good for you. What will make the difference this year is simply accepting where you are and being nice to yourself when you’ve done so. Together we’ll make it through.
Do you suffer from SAD? What are your tips and tricks for helping yourself along?