This time of year is a bit like Marmite – people either love it or hate it. With shorter days and colder temperatures upon us, many of us are not the type to jump with excitement as soon as the leaves start to fall.
For about 5% of people, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is severe enough to mess with their daily activities like work, and relationships. Scientists have studied SAD as a psychological disorder since the 1980s and have come to the conclusion that another 15% experience milder symptoms, known as subsyndromal SAD (S-SAD) (1).
If you tend to experience the causes and symptoms of seasonal affective disorder like more mood swings, lack of energy and maybe even depression in the colder and darker months of the year, there are a few surprisingly easy things you can do to not feel so down, and pick up your energy levels at the same time. Sometimes tiny lifestyle tweaks can be really beneficial to help you stay feeling your best. Here are 3 easy ways to prepare for winter and boost your happiness at the same time.
How to avoid seasonal affective disorder
1. Get yourself a Wake-Up Light alarm clock
Let’s face it, getting up in the morning is just a whole lot harder when it’s still pitch black outside – and that’s not just you, it’s biology. Your body is sensitive to light, and when it’s getting lighter around you while you’re sleeping, this will send a message to your brain that it’s time to wake up.
You can mimic this process by getting yourself a light therapy box or Wake-Up Light, like this Lumie Bodyclock Starter 30 Wake-Up Light Alarm Clock with Sunrise and Sunset Features. These alarm clocks will simulate a sunrise by slowly increasing its intensity of light, which will make waking up less of a shock to the system.
2. Follow nature’s lead and slow down
Life is cyclical, and nowhere can this be better seen than in nature. While animals and plants are very much in tune with the seasons, humans seem to have evolved beyond that, and it’s not necessarily a good thing. We live our lives in the fast lane and very few of us stop to give our bodies a break. In the colder months, a lot of animals slow down and plants go dormant, but for us, it’s non-stop. The thing is, there’s some surprising logic in following nature’s lead and slowing down in Autumn and Winter. Reduced levels of sunlight mean you naturally have lower energy levels and if you consistently try to fight against this, you’re simply depleting your body. Your body functions best when you alternate between activity and rest – and in the darker months your body asks for more rest, so give it what it needs!
Slow down and use this time of year to nourish yourself and recharge your batteries, so to speak. Give yourself a little bit of extra TLC – try to get at least 8 hours of sleep, tone down the intensity of some of your workouts, cosy up with a good book and hot tea on the regular. Remember, stop pushing yourself so hard – you’re allowed to take it a little bit easier. You’re doing your body a favour by taking it slow, so don’t feel guilty about it.
3. Keep a gratitude journal
It might sound a little strange, but keeping a gratitude journal is a surprisingly effective way to increase your wellbeing and life satisfaction – and it’s backed by scientific research. A study conducted by the Harvard Medical School asked participants to write a few grateful sentences each week, focusing on particular topics. They realised that the 411 people involved immediately exhibited a huge increase in happiness scores. This impact was greater than that from any other intervention, with benefits lasting for a month (2).
All you have to do is take a couple of minutes out each day, preferably in the morning, to note down some things you’re grateful for that day. This doesn’t need to be anything big, it can be as simple as the warm cup of tea you’ve had. Regularly expressing gratitude is a powerful thing and it doesn’t cost you a penny, so give it a go.
Don’t let the Winter Blues get you this year. Give these 3 hacks a try and you most likely won’t feel as down come January or February.
Lastly, if you feel like you need extra help in supporting your mental health or are more concerned about seasonal affective disorder, please speak to your GP or another qualified health professional.