By all accounts, it would appear it is “that time of the year“. Sweaters, scarves and boots are starting to be your go-to pieces in the morning, everything is pumpkin spice flavoured and if you live in Canada, you may have already had your first snowfall. It won’t be long before Christmas carols are being played on the radio and you want nothing more than to cuddle under a warm blanket with hot chocolate and your favourite movie.
As nice as all of that may sound (you know, besides the snow and cold) there is also another side to this time of year. The side where every day is cloudy and gloomy. Where the sun becomes a very rare sight and there really is no reason to go outside. Where it gets harder and harder to get out of bed in the morning. When the sun rises later every day and sets earlier. If you’re anything like me, you struggle this time of year. In fact, 4-6% of American’s are said to struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder, with up to 20% of people having a mild form or it (why are stats for Canada so impossible to find?).
It’s important to recognize when you are using destructive behaviour as a method of trying to cope with this feeling. I know that I need to really focus when I lose all desire to be active, want to shop just for the sake of shopping, and crave all the comfort food. My worst month is always December, but the symptoms always creep up in the months prior. I’m already starting to recognize some of the signs, which means that I need to refocus myself and do what I can to combat the symptoms. Otherwise, I’m just going to be depressed, broke and unhealthy!
Here are some ways that I alter my symptoms in order to benefit myself.
What lifts a person’s spirit more than treating themselves? It’s this feeling that makes shopping so desirable. You find that item online that makes you feel so excited. You quickly fill out your credit card information and soon enough it’s on its way to you. You obsessively check the tracking every day and it’s a great moment when you finally get to open the package. Then the feeling is gone. You put the item on your shelf or hang the top in your closet and start shopping for the next item. It’s this cycle that makes it so dangerous to your wallet.
That thrill of looking forward to something is so important when you feel as though you’re merely floating through each day. Rather than wasting your money on impulse buys, why not save up and REALLY treat yourself? Go out for a meal at your favourite restaurant or go see the new movie that has your favourite actor. Take it a step further and treat yourself to a relaxing day with a mani/pedi and massage. Go out for an awesome date with your loved one. Activities like this are great in so many ways. You have the excitement of looking forward to something but it’s also mentally and physically refreshing. It allows you to spend some time relaxing, being in the moment and just letting go of everything.
I really do love working out and being active. When the sun is coming up by 5am it’s so easy to get out of bed and go for a run or hit the gym. I workout in the mornings because I know that by the time I get home from work I will be mentally drained and just want to relax. Things change this time of year. It’s no longer getting light out when I start working out, in fact soon enough it will still be dark when I finish my workout! Not to mention the days when there is a fresh layer of snow on the group making it difficult to drive anywhere or get out of our parking garage.
There is no disregarding the fact that being physically active helps with SAD. Serotonin and endorphins are a real thing and working out does help produce it. It can be very hard to reach your weekly activity quota when you just don’t have the drive or ambition. There are a few different things you can do at this time.
You can really utilize your weekends or days off. Let yourself sleep in and let the sun rise first. Aim for a mid-morning workout so that you don’t have too much time to get comfy on the couch, but you still have a lot of the day left afterwards for whatever else may need to get done.
Try parking further away so that you get some extra steps in when you go for groceries. The added benefit here is you save time not driving around looking for that “perfect” parking spot, and you avoid all the people walking to and from their own vehicles.
There are a lot of other easy ways to get that physical activity in like choosing a restaurant that is close enough you can walk, or going for a walk around your neighbourhood to look at Christmas lights. Like it or not, those lights are starting to go up.
Grilled Cheese. Pizza. Ice Cream. Pasta. Chips. Shall I continue? Comfort food is real. When you’re so drained it’s really hard to continue eating healthy. Not only do you have to keep up with your weekly meal planning, you actually have to make the food. Who has the energy for that? The quick, and unhealthy, options become more and more appealing.
Plan ahead. I know for myself that I’m going to be the least motivated to eat healthy at supper. I don’t want to get home from work and instantly spend 30 minutes to an hour standing in the kitchen mixing ingredients and putting something together and then wait for it to finish. Since I know that I struggle the most later in the day, I make the most effort early in the day. I’ll have eggs and fruit for breakfast, something healthy for lunch, and I’ll snack on vegetables or some of the healthier options that I get from Nature Box or Love With Food. Eating this way gives me the leeway that I know I will need as it gets later in the day.
Portion control is also pivotal. Is there anything wrong with grilled cheese and soap for supper? Definitely not. Do I need three sandwiches? Definitely not. It’s important to limit how many helpings you take because balance is key. While you’re at it, throw some frozen veggies into the microwave and steam them with some water. It’s a quick way to fill your plate and get some much-needed nutrients.
You can also meal prep. If you’re feeling great on the weekend and have some spare time, go ahead and cook some food. You can grill up some chicken to use in dishes over the week, or make a few casseroles that you can freeze and use when you’re in a bind. This will cut down on your cooking time during the week and will help you eat healthier.
An added benefit to eating healthy? It will help your immune system. I know mine is always worse this time of year and I’m often sick with something. Feeling sick when your mood is so low can be extremely tough. Especially when there are Christmas parties, Thanksgiving meals and different get-togethers.
These are just three areas that you can focus on to try and make the best out of a tough time. They won’t make the low mood go away but they can certainly alleviate some of the symptoms and help you end your year on a positive note. At a time that can be quite demanding with family, friends and different events and activities it’s important to do what you can when you can.
And if all else fails? Book a flight to Hawaii.
You’ve earned it.
How do you notice your mood being affected this time of year? What steps do you take to avoid the inevitable slump?