Every winter I get SAD.
That’s Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), what some call the Winter Blues or Seasonal Depression. I’m undiagnosed but think it’s likely I’m along the 1–2% of the general population that feels its symptoms during months with less natural sunlight.
The word depression feels like too strong a word for what I have though; I’m mindful of how serious conditions are for those with truly diagnosed depressive disorders. For me, I don’t feel depressed by SAD but rather kinda grumpy and irritable. I miss the sunlight and get impatient waiting for Spring.
This happened every year until my wife and I finally noticed the pattern. Having awareness of how I’m likely being affected by the lack of sunlight helps me tremendously in a few ways:
1. Step back and observe.
When I notice myself being particularly pessimistic I can stop myself and question how much of my internal dialog is actually the SAD talking. I try to step back and examine my thoughts objectively as a third party. This helps me sort through how my mood is being highjacked in order to evaluate a proper response.
2. Bring the sun to me.
In my research, I learned about light therapy, also known as phototherapy, as a treatment for SAD. It involves exposure to artificial light for a prescribed amount of time each day, usually in the morning, to help regulate the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle and improve mood. I bought a large lightbox from Amazon to provide the recommended 10,000 LUX of glare-free white light into my retina within the first 20 — 30 minutes I’m awake. Because I already have a habit of reading in the mornings, it makes a great reading lamp, although it’s SUPER bright.
Does it work? I believe I feel better after regular use. Whether that’s the placebo effect or true physiological improvement, I’m unsure. Either way, my mood and coping have improved. That’s good enough for me.
Note: If you try a lightbox yourself, make sure to do your research and get a good one. I learned that brightness and angle into the eye are important for the therapy to work properly.
3. Remember Your Circle of Influence.
During the winter months, I have to remind myself that a lot of what bothers me is outside of my direct control: the weather, air pollution, the number of daylight hours, the negative news cycle, the economy, and on and on. Becoming worked up by these things can make us feel overwhelmed, frustrated, or powerless. Realizing I tend to do this during the winter months helps me to adjust and refocus instead on the things I have control over within my Circle of Influence, a concept popularized by Dr. Stephen R. Covey. As I make these efforts, I have to fight my brain to do it but doing so leads to more fulfilling and effective outcomes.
Disclaimer: None of the above is medical diagnosis or advice; it’s simply my experience. It’s important to talk to a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and treatment.