I love to go outside. As I’m the girl behind Hannah Goes Outside, you probably aren’t surprised to hear that. But starting around September, something bad happens.
Autumn weather is arguably my favorite. I love the cool, crisp nights and mornings and the golden sunshine at afternoon. The yellow and red tones in the foliage are quite beautiful. But in the meantime, the sun starts to spend less time in the sky, and I’m not able to go outside as much, because it gets so dark so early. So, my exposure to sunlight reduces, triggering my seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
About 5 years ago, I noticed that the lull in my mood seemed to always occur around the same time of year. Then, I did some research and learned about the impact that light has on our brain.
What My SAD is Like
In autumn, everyday tasks get more challenging for me. I don’t want to get out of bed, I lose motivation, and I find myself crying for no reason. In general, I just feel crappy. But after powering through it for a few years, I finally have come up with a treatment plan that keeps it at bay. Now, here is an obligatory note letting you know that I’m not a doctor! This is no substitute for professional therapy. I am sharing what works for me.
That being said, these are my 5 favorite tips for ways to get more sunshine (physically and metaphorically!) to help you make it through the winter & enjoy the process.
Five Things I Do to Curb My Seasonal Depression
- Sun Lamp: The most effective treatment for my SAD (besides exercise) is probably my sun lamp. It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor or therapist about choosing the right one, but I use this lamp (it’s $40). My therapist told me it’s best to position the light at 10 O’Clock or 2 O’Clock, rather than directly across from you. Since 20-30 minutes in front of the lamp is optimal, most people do some sort of activity while they’re sunning. I usually write in my journal and do a mindfulness meditation session, but you may find it useful to keep it in your bathroom so you can use it while you get ready, or on your kitchen table so you can eat breakfast near it. Since my lamp has a timer, I don’t need to worry about checking a clock or running late for work. The cats also love to hang out with me in the sunshine.
- Keep Warm: You might be thinking wOw HaNnAh, I nEvEr ThOuGhT oF tHaT! But I think that people neglect dressing warm in favor of fashion, or to save time and/or bulk. But when the weather gets cold, I think it’s a good time to prioritize function over fashion. Leave the flats at home, and opt for wool socks inside cozy boots. Wear a puffy, warm coat and a scarf, hat, and mittens in your favorite color. My rule of thumb is to always wear at least two long sleeve layers under my coat. You’d be surprised how much warmer you’ll be if you wear a long-sleeved cotton t shirt instead of a short sleeved one, and throw even a thin cardigan over top. Bundle up, and the winter gets just a teeny bit more bearable.
- Afternoon Walks: Starting in fall, I go on daily 20-minute walks during my lunch break during work. It stimulates my creativity while allowing me to see a little more of Mr. Sun while he’s shining at his brightest. Getting outside, even for a few minutes, lifts my mood & calls my inner child out to play. It reminds me a little of recess.
- Cozy Nights in With Friends: In winter, inviting your friends on a hike, picnic, or camping trip is probably a hard sell. But social activity with your friends works wonders for lifting the mood. So why not organize a cozy night in? I like to cook dinner for my friends, especially a comforting classic like chicken pot pie, meatballs and garlic bread, or lasagna. After dinner, I heat some mulled wine or spiked hot cider on my stove. Drinking your mugs of hot cider with whiskey while you play board games or watch a classic movie will help you reconnect & share with your friends while all of you fight the winter blues.
- Exercise: Going for a run in the winter is hard to make yourself do. But if you can fight through the feelings, your mood really will reward you. Modern people typically live unnatural lives. Human beings are evolved to be hunter/gatherers, but we tend to live sedentary lifestyles that fight against our natural instincts. Looking at a computer screen for hours while sitting in one place doesn’t make sense to your brain. Moving your body for a while helps get you back to living a more natural lifestyle. My other therapist (I’ve been to lots of therapy, OK?) told me that no study has proven a more effective treatment for depression than regular exercise.
Here’s an illustrated how-to on “How to Enjoy Autumn,” from a blogger and illustrator whose work I love, Cindy Mangomini! She was kind enough to give me permission to share her drawing.
I highly recommend following her blog and looking at the pictures she shares. They always get me in the mood for the upcoming season!
So, if you’re enjoying the beautiful autumnal scenery and your mood takes a dip, try some of these techniques. It’s also not a bad idea to find a therapist who you connect with.
We’ll get through winter, just like we do every year, and there will be plenty to celebrate along the way.