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Every year, a staggering amount of productive time is lost to the waning light and colder temperatures of winter. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) can range from mild to severe, but no matter how you’re affected, it makes being productive a lot harder.
The prevalence of seasonal depression is anywhere from 0–10 percent of the population, depending on the geographic region.
This is a statistical fact for the United States alone, but the “winter blues” is a global phenomenon around the world when seasons change. If you’re struggling through the winter, try some of these tips to keep moving forward.
Note: If your seasonal affective disorder is severe and you feel depressed throughout the winter, please consult a mental health professional or see your doctor. Debilitating SAD can be greatly alleviated with medications and certain therapies.
Get Some Light
One of the reasons it’s difficult to function in the winter is that your circadian rhythm (your body’s internal clock) gets messed up by the lack of light. Light therapy can help ameliorate this problem.
Investing in a full-spectrum lamp, which simulates sunlight, is one of the best things you can do to help your seasonal affective disorder. Just sit in front of the lamp for 30 minutes or so in the morning and your body will do the rest.
When I was using a full-spectrum lamp regularly, I set it on my desk near my computer. You may need more than just one dose. Read the instructions on the lamp or talk to a doctor to get the best advice for your situation.
The Journal of Consumer Psychology did an interesting study to demonstrate the direct correlation between light and emotions. This effect is being exploited by many smart home lighting solutions as well.
But nothing beats natural light. You can also try to take advantage of natural light as best you can. Sit near a window during the day. Get outside when it’s sunny, too. Going for a walk in the sunshine can do wonders for your energy throughout the day.
Front-Load Your Day
Many people with seasonal affective disorder find that they’re the most awake and productive in the mornings. If this is the case for you, take advantage of it! Get up a bit earlier and try to get more done in the morning. If you’re not a morning person, winter is a great time to become one by establishing some new habits.
Try to prioritize your most important tasks for the beginning of the day. Keep a prioritized task list in a notebook or a task management app and use it to motivate yourself to work on high-priority items in the morning. When you can, schedule meetings in the morning, too. This is the time you’ll be most awake and alert.
Of course, if you tend to be more alert in the afternoon, reverse this advice. Everyone’s symptoms are different.
One of the things that’s been shown to help people suffering from SAD is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). And while I highly recommend speaking with a therapist, that’s not always practical on a daily basis. Instead, practice mindfulness and mindful meditation. They’re often paired with CBT to form an even better treatment system.
If you’re not familiar with meditation, try downloading a guided meditation app. That will help you get started on your new meditation habit. Even 10 minutes a day can make a big difference. Mindfulness is good for getting in touch with how you’re feeling, too, which can be very helpful in this situation.
Stress can be both a trigger and a result of seasonal affective disorder. Mindfulness and meditation can both help stress and help you notice when you’re not feeling yourself so you can spend some time on self-care. It’s always a good idea to keep your stress levels in check, but if you suffer from SAD, it’s even more crucial.
Stay on Schedule
Getting in the habit of following a specific routine every day can help get you through the winter. Schedule work, breaks, recreation, and anything else you can reasonably put on a regular schedule. Using a full-spectrum lamp, exercising, and eating can also be done at the same time every day.
While you might feel sluggish throughout the day, sticking to a routine will make things much easier. You can plot it all out on Google Calendar or just make a habit of doing the same things around the same time each day. There are always lots of things that come up here and there that will throw your schedule off, but trying to stick to the same routine every day is especially important if you’re dealing with SAD.
Focus on Goals
Much like establishing a schedule, focusing on your goals can help give you a little push when being productive gets really hard. If you can continue meeting your regular goals, that’s great. But many people will need to adjust their goals and expectations to better fit with the reality of seasonal affective disorder.
For example, if you try to get 15 workouts in each month in the spring, summer, and fall, you might want to aim for 10 or 12 instead. If you can still do 15, great! If not, that’s okay — it’s hard keeping up the same level of motivation and productivity through the winter. Acknowledge that you’re not going to be quite as productive, reset some of your goals, and work toward them.
As with all goals, they should be specific, measurable, and achievable. Set some new goals for the winter to keep yourself motivated. Maybe you want to learn a new skill, or read more books (I love reading more in the winter). Set a couple winter goals to keep you motivated.
Don’t Be Too Hard on Yourself
This is an important one, and it’s easy to overlook. But just because you’re less productive during the winter doesn’t mean you’re failing. It doesn’t mean you’re not going to meet your goals. It just means that you’re going to have to make some adjustments. You have to keep trying. As writer and editor Dayna Evans put in a Gawker article…
Though reading, staying off the internet, going for long walks, and sleeping well are all nice in theory, I fail at these things daily, and probably will forever. It’s the knowledge that I am still trying that makes feeling bad a little less bad, if only for a minute.
If you have an off day where you don’t get nearly as much done as you’d hoped, don’t get down on yourself. Just acknowledge that it’s difficult to keep up your momentum in the winter, and that you’ll do better tomorrow. Berating yourself for losing steam in the winter isn’t going to get you anywhere.
Your Best SAD Tips?
Because everyone is unique, these tips may not all work for you. There is no one size fits all advice for getting through the blues. But these guidelines will give you a place to start. Remember, though, that if your symptoms are very severe, it’s best to see a doctor before trying to tackle your seasonal affective disorder yourself!
What do you do to get through the winter? Do you have any good strategies for dealing with seasonal affective disorder? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Image Credits: Billion Photos/Shutterstock