Consider this blog post a second in a potential series, following 50 Ways to Practice Self-Care when your Mental Health is Crap. There I touched on mental health stuff kicking my ass and seasonal affective disorder starting to sink in.
Seasonal affective disorder, conveniently named the acronym SAD, is an onset of depression at the same time every year. For myself and most others, the symptoms begin in the fall and winter months. They take the form being more tired than usual (often exhausted), loss of interest in activities that normally bring pleasure, irritability, negative perspectives, increase or decrease in appetite, and sometimes suicidal thoughts.
Everyone is affected a little bit differently, depending on genetics, life circumstances, present situations, and if they’re already struggling with mental health. It’s not uncommon to self-medicate if you haven’t developed healthy coping mechanisms. Speaking from personal experience. :P I’ve dealt with SAD since at least age 12. I used to heavily self-medicate in the winter with drinking, drugging, and acting out. I got sober soon after the death of my grandmother snapped me out of my alcoholic sickness. She died on Christmas day in 2013 and I got sober almost exactly a month later. Needless to say, this time is loaded with memories that give me all sorts of feelings on top of whatever chemical stuff is going on in my brain.
Symptoms often don’t let up until the flowers begin to sprout in the spring, but that’s still pretty far away, and I don’t like being miserable. So, what can we do to batten down the hatches and hang in there, possibly even thrive?
Self-care to the best of our abilities! Don’t worry, I promise not to shower you in fluffy bullshit. My tips are a mix of go easy on yourself and push yourself when you don’t want to. Because trust me, I understand my mind being a war zone and getting out of bed being an impossible task. When someone tells me to make my bed and smell a candle, I want to punch them. Those things are fine, but they need to be coupled with solid action (or, inaction) when mental health is involved. Everyone is so individual, so take what may work for you and leave the rest. Or, get inspired to make your own list.
Here are some ways you can practice self-care in the midst of seasonal affective disorder.
20 Self-Care Tips
Consider getting a therapist if you don’t already have one. There are all different types of therapists. Some specialize in certain issues like eating disorders and PTSD. Others are trained specifically for communities like the LGBTQ community. Even if you’ve never had one before and don’t feel you’re “bad enough,” counselors can be helpful for everyone. I’m big on breaking the stigma. I love my therapist!
Congratulate yourself for putting pants on. Honestly, the suggestion of running a bath and showing up for an hour long yoga class, then eating a salad is a cute one, BUT very unattainable for some of us. Especially when we’re really suffering and then feel even shittier for not meeting expectations. I’m being dramatic, but honestly, the simplest things can take the utmost effort when depression strikes. Sometimes literally just getting out of bed and putting pants on is something to congratulate ourselves for. Make it to work, too, and do a mediocre job? AWESOME. Forreals.
Implement tools while you’re still okay. Use some of the practices to keep yourself safe and healthy while you’re still feeling okay so that they’re easier to do when you feel awful. For example, it’s a lot easier for me to pick up the phone to tell a friend I’m struggling if I’ve been regularly calling friends, anyways.
Connect with an activity that grounds and heals you. I’ve been SUPER into coloring books lately. I literally carry a bag of 4 books and hundreds of crayons and markers around with me in my car. When I’m at parties, meetings, or friends houses, I’ll bring them in as a way to self-soothe and I’ll share them. Crafts not your thing? What about music? Jam out to your favorite tunes.
Get a light therapy box, but make sure to run it by a professional first. Seriously, I have bipolar and I actually am not supposed to use those as they make me manic. BUT, if it’s safe for you, they seem to at least help some people. They can be purchased on Amazon for as little as $50.
Be okay with “good enough.” Again, there will be days where meeting basic needs and minimal responsibilities feels like running a marathon. In AA we call those “just don’t drink” days, but for anyone we can say just try to stay alive and do your best days. I’ll fill you in on a secret I’ve learned: at any time, we’re doing the very best we can. Not to say we can’t do better, but we’re always doing the best we can at that very moment.
Join a community of some kind. I can recommend my communities all day, but what works for you may be very different. I love my hockey community. What about you, always wanted to try kickboxing? Ask a friend to try it with you! What about sewing? Or photography? Meditation? Communities help us feel connected to others, combating feelings of loneliness and isolation that SAD often bring.
Practice a daily decadence. A luxurious self-indulgence. I learned this from the lovely Lauren Marie Fleming. Treat yo’self at least once a day. This doesn’t have to be anything crazy, but make it decadent! Savor it. Could be something as posh as a massage or as simple as mindfully eating your lunch instead of scarfing it down while overlooking a screen.
If you’re on medication, get a pill organizer and prioritize taking them. I’m speaking to myself, too, when I say this. We’ve got to take our meds! SAD is a bummer enough, missing doses of antidepressants, birth control, or anything else is a surefire way to worsen things. Get one of those daily boxes and put them in a place you’ll see, like right on the bathroom counter.
Watch for a mean mind. When I’m depressed, overwhelmed, or anxious, my mind finds something to fixate on. It’s usually my body. My mind pulls the fire alarm and tells me that my fat makes me unloveable. It goes into panic mode and my world shrinks. But, just noticing that the bigger picture is seasonal affective disorder and some other life events going on, I’m able to shut the alarm down and know that my body isn’t actually the issue.
Make a really nice homemade gift for a loved one. This can give you a sense of purpose and help you to feel connected. For example, I’m interviewing my grandfather about his life and putting it together as a book for my mom and aunt for Christmas. (shh, it’s a secret!)
If you’re up for it, get some exercise. Know that exercise doesn’t have to mean crossfit or a bunch of miles on the treadmill. It can just mean moving your body in a way that feels good and breaking a bit of a sweat. I get it though, I’m rarely up for exercise even when I’m doing well, never mind when it’s already a battle to get out of bed. Be gentle with yourself if exercise can’t be in the picture right now.
Join a 12 step group. I’m an obvious advocate for this one, they’ve saved my ass. They have them for drinking, drugging, gambling, overspending, underachieving, overeating, family members and friends of alcoholics, sex and love addiction, and codependence.
Join a Facebook group. If you can’t find an in-person community or your SAD is just totally wiping you out, a FB group is a great way to connect with others. It’s a wonderful way to find your particular brand of people and help you feel like you belong here. I’m a member of a few blogger groups and sometimes I’ll write there when I feel like I’m doing this website for no reason. They encourage me and remind me why I write.
Write random “I love you” cards. This is actually one of my favorite things in the world to do. Choose a special someone, or many special someones, in your life and tell them all the reasons you’re glad they’re in your circle. It’s a good way to uplift your heart and remind you that love is everywhere. If you don’t have it in you to even write, a store bought card with some loving stickers is still a nice gesture.
Push yourself when you can. I’m definitely one for throwing up my hands and telling myself it’s okay you stayed in bed until 1:30pm (yeah, I did that yesterday), BUT when I have a little bit of willingness, I push myself. For example, I had a dinner this week with my LGBTQ group at work and I always am excited for those. I wasn’t and I didn’t want to go, only because I wanted to go isolate and lay at home. I told a friend I was feeling that way and I promised to still go anyways. Ended up having an amazing time! So, if you can, push yourself when you’re really getting that ugh I don’t want to feeling, but you think you could do it anyways.
Stop spending time with people that make you feel bad. This one isn’t so easy for all of us, huh? It’s taken me awhile to recognize who’s contributing vs. who is only taking in my life. When our emotional bank is already low, surrounding ourselves with people who take and take just drains us dry. It’s more important than ever to spend time with people who nourish you. Call that friend you adore. Tell the friend who drives you bananas that you’re really busy. Say yes to yourself today.
Know your resources. 800-273-8255 is the national suicide hotline. There’s always someone just a call away if you’re feeling suicidal.
Reach out! Reach out, reach out, reach out. Please. SAD is isolating and can feed us thoughts that seem true. You’re bad, unloveable, unworthy, stupid, etc. These thoughts are not true. Be sure to keep in touch with people who will remind you how loveable you are. Feeling like you have a shortage of those in your life? I’m available for an emotional support buddy - reach out!
Let go of perfectionism. I’m definitely learning to push myself when I can, but at the end of the day, it’s most important that I’m still in one piece. Being gentle with ourselves is underrated. I don’t know about you, but perfectionism is such a driving force in my life. One of my best and worst attributes. It does not play nice when it comes to SAD. It tells me how much I’m not doing. Instead, it’s best to just throw up our hands and say we’re done fighting. Put down the bat. Don’t beat yourself up. Let yourself be imperfect. After all, we’re doing the best we can.
Usually, my posts take weeks to develop, sometimes even months. I pay an editor to edit most of them and I put a lot of care into publishing quality work. It’s Saturday while I’m beginning this post, with an upcoming deadline of Monday morning publishing. The perfectionist in me screams DON’T publish something that isn’t perfect, how dare you. But, the more loving voice inside says that it’s okay because there’s no such thing as perfection. So let this piece be a gesture of self-care to myself by letting it be unpolished.
What are some ways you treat your SAD? Leave them in the comments below!
Originally published on 11/21/17