Saturday, 28 September 2013

SAD 2013: Be kind to yourself

(Disclaimer: I’m not in any way an expert in diet, exercise, mental health or health in general.  All my advice on SAD is based on my own experience of it and on information I’ve picked up on the way.  If you believe you’re suffering from SAD or any other health condition your first port of call should be with your doctor to rule out the possibility underlying illness.)

So far this week I've written posts on:

Beating SAD 2013
Seeing the light
A cunning plan
Food to lift your mood
Fit not fatigued

In this final post I'm including other ways to boost your well being through Winter that don't fit into the other categories.

  1. Gratitude:  Make a list of your favourite things.  Listing the good things in your life that you're grateful for shifts your focus from lack to abundance.  Every year around October time I sit down and make a list in my journal of things I enjoy about Winter and things I'm looking forward to, for example:
      • Playing in the snow
      • Crisp air
      • Having a hot drink under a blanket at the end of the day
      • Drinking coffee in bed at the weekend whilst rain hammers down
      • Making Christmas gifts
      • Visiting my friend at the other end of the country
      • Fairy lights in trees
      • Satsuma season!
  2. Meditation:  This is something I'm beginning to learn about so I can't vouch for it's effectiveness with SAD, but it's been shown in many studies and anecdotaly to reduce stress, help with depression and promote equilibrium, as well as being beneficial to overall physical and mental health.  I avoided meditation for years until recently because I believed I'd have to empty my mind of thoughts, but it's more a case of learning to control your breathing and gently observe but sit back from thoughts and feelings, letting them pass you by without actively engaging with them. is a clear, easy to understand and inspiring introduction to how to meditate in the modern world. Although I've only just begun I'd reccommend meditation to anyone trying to find some peace in their day to day life.
  3. Pressure: You have to take the pressure off yourself.  The second best thing I did to help myself last Winter, after regularly using a daylight lamp, was to take pressure off myself to carry on at my usual pace with no let up.  For me this meant cutting out anything uneccessary, such as extra housework, being careful of taking on extra jobs at work when I was exhausted and accepting that if I didn't fancy doing the things I usually enjoyed that was fine.  On those days when you feel you could have done better - and this applies to anything at all - don't tell yourself "I'd better do it properly tomorrow, I've let myself down".  Just think "Tomorrow I'll do better."  That way you've focused your intention on making a small change for the better rather than chancing everything at once.
  4. Be kind to yourself:  If a close friend said to you "I'm so tired and fed up, I feel tearful all the time and I need a rest but the house needs cleaning, dinner needs to be cooked, I've got to get to the supermarket and I need to decide whether to take on that new project at work. " What would you tell them?  Would you tell them to stop moaning and get to work? Probably not.  You'd offer a shoulder to cry on, tell them to sod the house work, have beans on toast for dinner, order their shopping online and turn down the project if it was going to wear them out.  Cut yourself the same slack as you would for anyone else you love.  Gentleness towards ourselves often takes second place to the needs of others, but all of us need to love and nurture ourselves.  You're a unique person, beautiful in ways you may be unable to grasp, and you deserve your own care and understanding.  If we were all more gentle with ourselves think of how that attitude would spread and make the world a better place to live in.
  5. Routine:  Establish an efficient morning and night routine before Winter kicks in.  Put aside half an hour at night to wind down before getting into bed.  TVs and computers keep your brain in waking mode long after you've turned them off.  Quiet time before bed gives you time to reflect on the day, write in a journal, read something uplifting, listen to relaxing music and take your time getting ready for bed.  In the morning I find it helps me to have a set routine for getting ready for work, including 5 minutes of sitting quietly after I've eaten breakfast.  Routines ease you in and out of the day and simplify things when you havn't much energy.  Forming habits now, in Autumn, will help see you through, whether it's getting into the habit of regular gentle exercise or trying out slower burning foods.
  6. Turn up the heat:  I'm much grumpier when I'm cold and I don't want to do anything but try to get warmer.  Try to stay comfortably warm in Winter or you'll feel even less like leaving the sofa.  Feeling cold and miserable about it just reinforces the feeling of grim Winter.
  7. Track it:  Keep a simple record of your energy, mood and health during Winter.  I forgot to do this regularly last year but I did end up with enough information to see how my energy levels and mood changed, when things started, peaked and eased off.  I also identified certain things that kicked in when I stopped sleeping properly, like severe daily headaches.  Thanks to last year's overview I can see that SAD kicked off after I had a virus and my energy level was already low, so I need to take extra care to boost my immunity this year, which brings me to...
  8. Colds and flu:  If you're sleeping badly and tired all the time you're more vulnerable to viruses like colds and flu.  Good food and gentle exercise help to keep you healthy, and you can boost your immune system by taking Echinacea every day.  I've got a cold at the moment as as soon as I felt it coming on I started taking maximum strength Echinacea.  My colds passing unusually quickly and has been mild, which isn't at all like the ones I usually get.  Ask your doctor about getting a flu jab as you may be eligible for a free one depending on you age and health conditions, or you can pay to have one for around £10.
  9. Stay in touch: It's all too easy to fall out of regular contact with friends and family when you're feeling unmotivated but it's important to put the effort in to maintain relationships.  Try to keep on going out and seeing people; a text message or an email is better than nothing and will stop you falling out of circulation. 
Finally, celebrate Spring!  Be ready to notice the signs of new life appearing and when Spring does come around welcome it with open arms.  If you make New Years resolutions you could make them as Spring dawns rather that on 1st January in the dead of Winter.  Get outside, breath deeply, soak up the light and feast your eyes on the green buds and early flowers.  Shake off hibernation and that Winter feeling.

If you've got any tips, information or resources that help you cope with Seasonal Affective Disorder I'd love to hear about them.  I hope these posts have given you a better understanding of how you can help yourself to have a happier Winter season.  

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