Navigating Seasonal Affective Disorder As A Creative
Fall has always (and likely always will) be my favorite time of year. When the leaves start to change, the weather gets cooler and all of my favorite holidays hit the calendar. I’ve always noted this time of year with thoughts of cozy nights in, quality time with family and all of the comforts of your favorite fleece sweater.
When I started to take blogging and freelancing to the next level, I disciplined myself to work on a flexible but productive schedule. I’d work my day job from 9-5, come home and make a quick meal before setting up to work on my passion and side hustle. I’d always try to wrap by 10 pm and usually found that this system worked well and allowed me to get things done without sacrificing a healthy sleep and bedtime schedule. I’m naturally an early riser, and get the bulk of my work done as the sun is rising, so late nights were never ideal for me. Still, when you’re managing a day job with passion projects, burning the midnight oil every once in awhile is almost unavoidable.
I made it work.
As my favorite season rolled in, it became harder and harder to maintain this schedule. Coming home and pulling out my laptop felt more taxing than ever before. I wasn’t inspired to create, couldn’t find the words to type and could not even imagine getting my inbox under control. Doing the bare minimum required every bit of energy I could muster and going above and beyond simply was not an option. I couldn’t accelerate my business or execute my vision because I simply did not have it in me.
This would last, in varying degrees, from late October through late February. The shorter my days were, the harder it was to maintain any motivation to get things done. I brushed this off, assumed I was just having a creative dry spell. But after battling the same issue for months with no relief, and no longer being willing or able to put my blog and business on hold, I decided to do some research and get down to the heart of the matter.
We hear the term “winter blues” thrown around a lot this time of year. It usually describes feeling a bit down or unmotivated during the colder, winter months. It’s a seasonal funk that impacts your moods a bit, which doesn’t seem like a big deal. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a much more than a fleeting moment of sadness.
Now, I’m not a medical professional, but here is a simple, easy to digest breakdown of what Seasonal Affective Disorder is, and how it impacts you:
S.A.D is a type of depression associated with the changing seasons.
It’s most commonly felt during the fall and winter months but can also impact you as the seasons change to spring/summer. The symptoms most commonly displayed are a lack of energy, fatigue, insomnia, difficulty concentrating and mood swings, just to name a few. You not only feel the effects of SAD internally, they disrupt your physical being as well.
Personally, I’m impacted the most with SAD symptoms very early into the change from summer to fall. It always starts with extreme fatigue and difficulty concentrating. Imagine laying in bed at night, consumed by thoughts, to-do lists, and unfinished projects and, regardless of how tired you are, never being able to sleep. And even when you do sleep, you never wake up truly feeling rested. Have you ever had the feeling of needing a nap only hours after starting your day? I would feel that almost every day from October to early December.
Doing one simple task seemed to take all of my effort and energy. Finding motivation to work through a to-do list would leave me as exhausted as if I’d run a 5k. Working on one simple task would take twice as long, because I just couldn’t focus.
My blog was suffering, my business was suffering, and I knew that I wasn’t okay. I pride myself on putting an emphasis on my self-care, and I knew there had to be steps I could take to feel better and to get myself back on track. So, I did a bit of research into what could be happening with my body and brain.
the "winter blues" you're currently experiencing may be seasonal affective disorder. learn more about it and how to cope this fall/winter season.
Changes in serotonin, melatonin and your body’s circadian rhythm (your body’s internal clock) can all trigger Seasonal Affective Disorder. Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in your serotonin levels, which is a mood-controlling chemical in your brain. Less sunlight and this drop in serotonin make it harder for your brain to regulate your mood, sleep schedule or emotions.
Your melatonin levels help to control that circadian rhythm (aka internal clock) I mentioned. It helps to tell our bodies where we’re at within a 24-hour cycle, helping us to know when to sleep and when to wake. The short days and dark weather means our bodies produce more melatonin which causes some internal confusion about when we should be sleeping. It throws off all of our regular routines and habits.
Focusing on these things, you can work to manage your seasonal affective disorder and take your routines and life back.
A few things that worked for me:
Getting outside regularly during the day works wonders. I cannot stress this enough.
It’s easy to head to the office, work through lunch and not breath a fresh air again until heading home after work (where we go inside again). Even if you can only escape for 10 minutes, getting into the sunlight and out of a dark office with horrible fluorescent lights makes a huge impact in your mood and hormone levels. Take your eyes off of a screen and let your body get a bit of natural light. Remind your brain that even though it’s dark at 5 pm, you don’t need to feel sleepy and ready for bed for a few more hours.
Paying attention to what you put into your body is also crucial if you struggle with any degree of SAD. Make sure you’re eating vitamin-rich foods and taking any supplements that you need. Slow down on the caffeine and keep yourself hydrated throughout the day.
Coming home and cooking a meal is therapeutic to me. And that’s a real thing! Doing simple things that aid in helping you lead a better, healthier life does wonders for your mental health. Tidy up your living space, take a relaxing shower or spend a few minutes journaling. This time of year requires an extra special amount of self-care.
Doing these things and keeping myself on a routine, especially waking up and putting myself to bed around the same time consistently, has been a major key in managing my moods and energy levels during the winter months. I also went to my doctor earlier this year and learned that I have a vitamin D deficiency, and could use a boost in some other areas, too. So taking those vitamins and supplements year round has helped to improve my disposition overall.
Don’t be afraid to go to your doctor, say how you’ve been feeling and why you think that’s off. It’s okay to ask for a blood test to check on what’s going on under the hood. Especially if you’ve tried to remedy your symptoms at home without much luck.
It is so important to take care of yourself. Put your health before your work so that both can thrive.
written by amber burns
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