Short days, grey skies, and a thermometer that keeps creeping downwards - it’s all the signs that winter is rushing towards us with the inevitability of the Black Friday sales.
For some this can lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which is linked to reduced exposure to sunlight during the autumn and winter months.
Even if you aren’t among the one in 15 people affected by SAD, living at a time of year where sunlight starts to feel like a rumour can get you down.
We spoke to Geni, our Enterprise Account Executive, who has been managing her SAD for five years, about the things that help her cope with the darker days.
Even though it’s the last thing you’ll want to do, getting outside to make the most of any daylight during these shorter days is key. Geni recommends keeping tabs on the weather and planning when you are going to go outside - even if it's just for a 20 minute walk.
Geni adds having a purpose to your walk helps provide some incentive. “I found a good way of motivating yourself is by having something to look forward to when you do, such as gardening or visiting your favourite coffee shop.
“Make sure you have small things in your neighbourhood, if you work from home, or places near the office that you can look forward to walking to.”
Timing walks to a favourite podcast or radio show can also work well. “I have a general rule: if Radio 4’s ‘World at One’ is on and the sun's out and I've got no calls, I take half an hour and go for a walk. And then at least when it comes to an end I’ve done something that makes me happy.”
One thing that will make getting outside much easier is knowing that you won’t return looking (and feeling) more popsicle than person.
Geni says that investing in a good winter coat can have a massive impact on how you feel. “Part of the reason why I dread going outside in winter is the cold, combined with the darkness. If you come back wet and cold, you just associate being outside with feeling cold and terrible. Investing in a coat that means that the cold won't bother you, even wandering around in the freezing cold rain.”
Work in a local space
Now that you are prepared for the great outdoors (or just a trip to your local supermarket), try out working at a local coworking space.
Geni uses Desana’s network of spaces to find a local workspace. “I often work in Oru Space in Dulwich, which is about 15 minutes walk from where I am in Peckham. It's amazing to be able to walk to work and get that daylight time by walking through the leafy suburbs of London instead of getting on a dark stuffy tube.”
Another way of getting more Vitamin D is by using supplements to augment what you are getting from the sun, such as a daily Vitamin D spray or taking magnesium supplements to help the body absorb Vitamin D.
For Geni, taking supplements has made a big difference but she cautions that you need to be patient and see what works for you: “I think you have to stick at it for a while in order to see the difference.”
Adjust your hours
If you are able to control your working hours, consider adjusting them so you can get more sunlight into your day.
Geni uses flexible working to allow her to see some sunlight before she sits down at her desk for the day. “I usually start work at 8:30 in the summer but I have started working at nine from when the clocks go back and shift my working day half an hour later. It gives me half an hour extra in the morning to process the day and, because it is dark when I wake up, have that moment to see the sun rise before I start work.
“I find it alleviates a lot of stress if you have a routine in place, even if those hours are different in the winter months.”
As is the case for 99.9876% of human problems, communication is key. But this is especially crucial when you know you may not be at your best.
“Communicate with your manager, communicate with your friends that there will be this big mood shift,” Geni counsels.
“It helps for them to make sense of why you might not always be in the best of moods. Or if it's especially bad at certain times, pre-warn them, because it definitely affects relationships. Communicating about it, for me, helps alleviate the pressure if you're not feeling your best during these winter months.”
Try a SAD lamp or alarm clock
SAD lamps use light therapy in order to replicate sunlight and give the body what it needs. Sunrise wake-up alarm clocks can help make waking up at what feels like the middle of the night more bearable by gradually brightening the room in a way that mimics a sunrise.
As Geni says, “The gradual increase of light tricks your body into thinking it's time to wake up, so you often find yourself awake a minute or so before your alarm goes off; rather than waking up with it being dark outside and feeling like you can't even begin to fathom how you are going to approach the day.”
Consider a workation
If your employer allows you to work remotely, why not make like birds and migrate south on a workation?
Last year Geni spent a month in Lisbon over winter. “I booked Lisbon as a way of maximising sun for a month and travelling. And then when I came back, in my mind I’d already “skipped” a winter month which made the season feel less overwhelming. For me, the flexibility of being able to do that was pretty monumental.”
Track how you are feeling
With all of this it’s important to see what’s working for you (and, just as crucially, what isn’t) so consider tracking what you are doing and how you are feeling. The patterns you identify will encourage you to double down on what you find works for you.
Geni recommends either going old school and journaling or using a tracking app like Clue. Best known for tracking periods, it also allows you to record your mood on a daily basis, as well as make notes on any other changes in your life such as taking a new medication.
Make the most of hybrid working
If you have the option to go into an office as and when it suits you, take advantage of that to work from home when you need to.
As Geni says, “If I have a week where my mood is lower, I can take that time to myself, and be at home, because it's just not fun to be around other people. I can pick and choose when that suits me, which I think has been really beneficial rather than having to be in an office five days a week.”
Be good to yourself - and control what you can
“I feel like people can be prone to punishing themselves and being like, ‘Oh my god, I haven't left the house today.’ But if you're having a spot where you feel rubbish then it's actually okay to lean into it sometimes,” Geni says.
Beating yourself up for not doing what you should be doing is unlikely to make you feel any better. Accept you aren’t going to do all the right things all the time and practise a bit of self-forgiveness.
It can also be comforting to remember what does lie in your control. “Recognize that there's this thing that happens at the same time every year for a number of months, and you can't control it, but you can control things to make it better. For me that is the main thing,” Geni says.
This ties in to some training we recently did at Desana for World Mental Health Day which introduced us to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). CBT focuses on changing what you think and believe through the concept that your actions and thoughts are interlinked. CBT may be helpful if you suffer from SAD.
Go to a GP
Finally, if you think you might have SAD and you're struggling to cope, make an appointment with your GP. They can do an assessment of your mental health and identify whether you are suffering from SAD, as well as direct you to where you need to go for more professional help.
If you or someone you know needs support, here are some organisations and charities that may be able to help: