Seasonal Affective Disorder: 7 Tips That Might Actually Work

Hello Darkness my old friend.

That’s the verse that popped into my head earlier this week, as I finally admitted that I’m back in the tunnel again. I came up with the word ‘tunnel’ years ago to describe how I feel from September until January, when the days are bitterly cold, nightfall comes too soon and I experience a feeling of melancholy I can't seem to shake. For 20 years now, I’ve dealt off and on with seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

seasonal-affective-disorderIt’s typically in late September that I notice something is amiss. I feel sad and tired. I am moody and pessimistic. I eat pretzels by the truckload. Carbs, give me my goddamn carbs! By December, I’m like a marathon runner who collapses 100 yards before the finish line and commando crawls the rest of the way. Just let me get to January 1, I plead with the calendar. Please let me get me to January.

Why am I a driveling mess every fall and early winter? It’s probably a combination of lack of sun, freezing cold temps, being stuck inside (I am no snow bunny), with some crappy genes thrown in for good measure. Despite what I know is coming, every year I fight my depressed ass off to feel better because who wants to wake up on January 1 and discover she has gained 10 pounds, done nothing productive career-wise and lost all of her friends because she has avoided human contact for 100 days?

I've learned a few ways to combat the effects of seasonal affective disorder, and I'm sharing the ones that seem to work best (at least for me) below. Please note that I am not a doctor. If you feel more than the blues or if you think you may be a risk to yourself or others, call your doctor or 911. Please.

1. Go outside

I dislike the cold. Tremendously. But for some reason when I leave my home and go outside, even if it’s just for 10-15 minutes, I feel better. Today, though it’s zero degrees here in Chicago, there is still a very good chance I’ll be outside at some point, boogers plastered and frozen against the lower half of my face.

2. Exercise

I know, this is a tough one. Trust me, the only exercise I want to experience is lifting juicy baked goods up to my already crumb-filled face. But even a 30-minute stroll on the treadmill gets the blood flowing and improves my mood. Throw a couple of sets of free weights in there, and I feel like my old self again.

3. Have sex

Sex can definitely help boost your mood, even when it takes place under three comforters and a heating pad. Perhaps this would be a good time to incorporate some fantasies, like being an alpine racer who meets a sexy ski instructor right before hitting the double diamond. Or you can pretend you’re Maria in the The Sound of Music with the snow-capped mountains all around you. Heck, if Carrie Underwood can do it, we all can.

4. Read

I figure I might as well keep my brain cells semi-functioning during hibernation, so I read. Real books, not the gossip magazines I sneak on my iPhone. I tend to gravitate towards stories that remind me of my past and my family’s history. When my spirits are particularly low, I pick up "The Collected Stories of Isaac Beshevis Singer." Reading about Warsaw, the Upper West Side of Manhattan and Tel Aviv – all places I’ve lived – reconnects me to my loving grandparents and to all the wonderful experiences I had abroad and in NYC.

5. Sleep

During my first month of Peace Corps training, I received a packet that contained, all the way in the back, advice from Volunteers who had completed their service. The most useful piece I remember, aside from 'don’t stick your drunken face through a fence when an angry and hungry dog is behind it', is “Sleep when you need to.” I’ve had psychiatrists tell me I should force myself to stay awake during the day or else it will mess up my sleep at night, but I don’t care. Sometimes a gal just needs a long slumber on a Saturday or Sunday or any other day she can squeeze it in.

6. Light Therapy Lamp

This year I finally caved in and bought one of those therapy lamps that mimic natural light. I have to admit, I thought it was total BS, but it actually seems to help. Since sitting in front of it for 15 minutes every morning, I notice I have more energy throughout the day and don't feel quite as blue.

7. Be nice

I find that volunteering or simply doing nice things for others gets me out of my head and puts my troubles into perspective. Recently I have been helping Kwagala Project, an organization that serves trafficked women, sell their gorgeous jewelry. Just writing a short article and telling my friends and family to purchase some beautiful and inexpensive holiday gifts reminds me that I am part of a bigger world, even when I am hiding in my bed.

If Darkness is your old friend, too, I wish you luck during these last few weeks before the holidays, which I find are always the hardest. If you have discovered other effective ways of dealing with the winter blues, please share them below!

(photo credit: dan/

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Filed under: Families in the Loop

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