12 or fewer hours of daylight & everything is terrible!
October 3, 2017 9:40 PM   Subscribe

I feel like I know all the stuff I should be doing, but what are your mental hacks for combating seasonal affective disorder in the moment? I'm already sick of being irritable and ready to crawl in bed by 8:30PM and it's only the first week of October. What do you tell yourself to feel less down about axial tilt?

Yeah yeah, lightbox, sunrise alarm clock, exercise, vitamin D supplementation, get outside, "embrace the changing of the seasons." Half the year I wake up without an alarm clock to the glorious natural daylight streaming in my bedroom and half the year the sun doesn't peek up over the horizon until after 7AM and disappears too soon. It's October 3rd and once again I've realized I'm unreasonably irritable, there's not enough sun, and I want to crawl in bed as soon as I'm done with dinner. It's not even dark until after I get home yet, and I only have mild to moderate SAD, so things could be worse, but... What do you tell yourself when you feel like shit because of the swiftly tilting planet and it's not going to get better again for another 5-6 months?
posted by deludingmyself to Health & Fitness (23 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
When I lived in Poland I often made incredibly spicy food from places like India or Thailand for dinner on those dark winter evenings, and put on some music that took me somewhere warmer and sunnier. I also invited people over for dinner more to keep the social atmosphere lively.
posted by mdonley at 9:53 PM on October 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

These are environmental and planning hacks that help combat the gloom & readjust my mental state:

1) Lighting—"Cosy" lighting in the evenings. A fireside atmosphere feels very hygge. All of my evening bulbs are of a very warm temperature, and I prefer floor lighting to overhead lighting. Floor lighting seems more natural and inviting (to my eye, at least).

Varying the lighting throughout the day is another thing: I try to mimic the natural passage of daylight so that the day isn't so monotonously grey, and it actually feels like time is passing. So, cool/white/daylight-temperature bulbs in overhead fixtures from 8-4. Cosy lighting from 4-12. Switch off some lights as the evening goes on, until you're in very dim lighting by bedtime. I find this helps with sleep, too.

2) Eating out more—I find that one of the worst parts about winter is the sameness of routine; no one wants to venture out into the cold, so it's work-home-sleep, work-home-sleep. Restaurants are full of people and ambience, little alternate realities to escape to.

Also, eating in with with friends—convivial atmosphere, life and laughter and talking. If you plan a get-together every couple of weeks, it gives you something to look forward to.

I struggle with this every winter, too. Will be watching the answers closely!
posted by fire, water, earth, air at 11:35 PM on October 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

Usually when I wake up I lie in bed a little while and slowly wake up. In the wintertime that seems to take longer, warm bed, cool house. So I turn on the bright overhead light as soon as I am awake. I still lie in bed but not in the dark. Seems to help.
posted by jessamyn at 11:47 PM on October 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

Wake up with a light-based alarm clock?
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:26 AM on October 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

I liked the recent article "The shorter your sleep the shorter your life, the new sleep science" - after citing just how many mental and physical problems can be caused or worsened by sleep deprivation - the author suggests that we should treat the scheduling of sleep with the same seriousness that we might treat our diet and exercise regimes. You are considered "sleep deprived" if you are not getting at least 7 hours per night and the evidence shows that pretty much everybody needs about 8 for their adult life. Getting enough sleep is, arguably, something that is easier to do when the days get shorter - and it will probably make you mentally more resilient to dealing with the short days.

I live in Edinburgh at 56 degrees north - and am working a job which starts at 5am - several hours before winter sunrise. My own solution is to try to get out into the daylight when I can after work - and to try to take a 90 minute siesta in the early evening after it is dark again.
posted by rongorongo at 12:27 AM on October 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

I picked up a stair stepper at a garage sale for those times in winter when I need to do something physical but it's cold and wet out and if there's endless stairs I'll step on 'em. The idea with exercise is to have fun with it. Turns out indoors isn't really that great for hula hoops and jump ropes, so you can rule those out. I've never had a wii, but I've thought for multiple winters that the way to go would be with dance dance revolution.

Winter is a good time to pick up an extra job, just to keep on the move.

Also lots of herbal tea, and inviting friends over for potlucks, and indoor projects, and staring at houseplants because all the outside plants have lost their leaves. And knowing a month before everyone else that spring is on its way because trees are just starting to bud out.

But really, my solution is to get closer to the axis. I will be heading south some time in the next month.
posted by aniola at 12:45 AM on October 4, 2017

What do you tell yourself when you feel like shit because of the swiftly tilting planet and it's not going to get better again for another 5-6 months?
You seem resigned to the idea that your misery is inevitable and no amount of mental hygiene of healthy practices will fix it. So I'd start there, by not reinforcing this idea and creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.
posted by xyzzy at 3:18 AM on October 4, 2017 [5 favorites]

I have the same issues. One thing that helps me is to make sure to get out and take a walk during my lunch break whenever the weather is even remotely accommodating. Its not much, but it makes sure I get at least a little natural sunlight and fresh air during the day.
posted by nalyd at 3:32 AM on October 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Echoing fire, water, earth, air with lamps to cozy up your living space. I put my lamps on timers, so that I'm not coming home to a sad, dark house. I also have them turn on in the morning, so when I'm up before the sun, at least my living space is lit.
posted by sarajane at 4:29 AM on October 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

What do you tell yourself to feel less down about axial tilt?

I am your opposite. I have reverse SAD and it is the worst -- compounded by the fact that everyone is supposed to love summer and be excited for its hellacious onslaught glorious arrival. For me, the feeling that everyone else is enjoying what's making me miserable only adds to the misery, so I kinda tend toward avoiding people who are super into the season. Obviously you don't want to isolate yourself, but if you have a particular friend who loves to wax poetic about the season's joys, it doesn't exactly help (at least, not for me). It's not the most positive approach, I guess, but gritting my teeth, keeping a calendar, and reminding myself that all seasons (literally) pass is what usually gets me through.

If you know you're at your SADdest at a particular point in the season, and you can swing it, scheduling a little break somewhere closer to the equator might give you something to look forward to; that can tide you over until it's time to start looking for little harbingers of the season's change: shifts in light, alterations in foliage, etc. (Easier if you have friends or family in warmer climes, obviously, but maybe sign up for travel alerts. Even daydreaming or pretend-planning a trip someplace can sometimes help.)

Regulating temperature and light, to the extent possible, does help at least a little. The lighting suggestions upthread are great. I know lightbox experiences are mixed for many, but at least two people of my direct acquaintance claim the Philips Wake-Up Light is life-altering. Same really is true for a daily calcium/magnesium/VitD complex -- if you're in the US, Trader Joe's has a decent and cheap one. Try to make sure you're comfortably warm at all times, as well; turn up the heating, if you can manage it. I don't always notice when the temperature is affecting me, because it's subtle, but the effects on my emotional regulation are quite marked and can happen rather quickly. Don't let yourself become a frog in boiling water -- or freezing water, in your case.

If you use f.lux or Night Shift or similar screen-tinting apps, consider turning up the blue or even turning them off, to help compensate for the daylight you're craving. Also, if your body seems to appreciate it: carbs. Snacks can help.
posted by halation at 4:42 AM on October 4, 2017 [6 favorites]

YES lights on timers! If you're into smart home stuff--like automating your lights via a networked system--then this is the perfect use for it. I'm not; I think it's creepy, so instead I use a complicated system of timers and more lights/lamps than necessary to turn the lights on in the morning before I wake up. In my old apartment I also had a kind of charming sculptural Rube Goldberg system of twine running through eye-hooks to create a complex pulley system that I could use to turn on the main room lights from my bed. It helped me a lot, but also I'm someone who likes making complicated Rube Goldberg systems anyway, so it was fulfilling in several ways. Rich, warm light is a psychological improvement over colder tones for me, and I think you can also buy cheap full-spectrum "daylight" bulbs at a good hardware store, too. I'm not sure if they're as effective as the lamps (or if the lamps are proven to be effective, even), but that could be a way to integrate full-spectrum light into your whole house.

Also winter dark doesn't seem so bad once it's actually dark outside, only during the protracted dawn and dusk that never seems to let up through midday. In situations like yours, I've found myself shifting my schedule later and later. It doesn't work if you have specific inflexible morning responsibilities, but honestly--if you wake up at 9, get to work by 10, and leave at 6 and your coworkers understand you're putting in a solid day's work despite the late start, do it! I tend to be much wider awake in the evenings, and right now am productive until about 2-3AM (and have a position that allows it), and to the extent that I can, I embrace it. It helps, since I can indulge in my laziness in the mornings without feeling guilty. It also means that I tend to blur work/non-work time, which in my case is mostly fine but in many others' wouldn't be..
posted by tapir-whorf at 4:48 AM on October 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

Lighting—"Cosy" lighting in the evenings.

For this effect, I use "Christmas" lights. "Christmas" in quotes because for me they're Standard Time lights — it's the early sunsets when we go off Daylight Saving Time that really bug me. They go up, all around the ceiling of the main room, when DST ends in November and only come down when we go back on DST in March. They're on a timer so they come on in the early evening, around when it's getting dark, and go off around bedtime.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 4:50 AM on October 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

It’s not clear from your question whether you do all the “shoulds” you list, or just mention them because you already know about them. They often work, and they work best if you start them now. And it is absolutely 100% okay to seek professional treatment for seasonal depression; for a few years I took antidepressants in the fall and winter and tapered off in spring (and would do so again if I weren’t already on year-round antidepressants).

Get outside or at least sit near some big windows during daylight hours every day, especially now. The sky in fall is often gloriously saturated and the weather is still pretty nice, so it’s a good time to kind of bank that outside time. If your home has any windows that face east, park yourself there after you get out of bed; watching the sunrise is a nice consolation prize.

If you like any of the upcoming holidays, feel free to go absolutely dorko over them to distract yourself. I’ve generally been pretty meh about Halloween, but lately I’ve started embracing all the goofy 2spooky jokes and it does kind of make things suck less.

And... allow yourself to hate winter, if that’s your thing. Winter blows and no amount of Pinterest ideas or Scandinavian hashtags can convince me otherwise. And, provided I’ve got my baseline mood otherwise managed, it does help to just kind of let myself get pissed about boots or hot chocolate if I feel like it. And it also helps to know that there are a lot of people who live in places with cold dark winters and don’t like it. But if you don’t have other stuff in place to help keep your mood afloat, dwelling on the negative will be counterproductive, not cathartic.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:07 AM on October 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Look into making cozy winter drinks like mulled cider, can be non-alcoholic. Lots of recipes on the web.

Make your bed as cozy and warm as possible with good pillows and duvets. Warm socks of 100% natural fiber like wool, alpaca etc.

I'm a handspinner and this is my fav suri alpaca farm. She offers alpaca winter wear. Alpaca is warmer than wool btw.

Breezy Ridge Alpacas

I have some incredibly warm and fluffy angora socks that I almost treasure too much to wear. If you can afford it, many fiber artists who keep angora bunnies spin the fur into wool and knit them into socks, shawls, mittens etc.

This lady is a well-known angora breeder.

Angora garments

Just wanted to share my favorite youtube channel. I play the fireplace videos on dull rainy days when I'm feeling cold since I live in an apartment and cannot have a real fire.

Virtual Fireplace
posted by whitelotus at 6:07 AM on October 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: It’s not clear from your question whether you do all the “shoulds” you list, or just mention them because you already know about them.

Fair point, let me clarify: I am currently staring into a Philips light box at 7am after waking up to my sunrise alarm clock and I've started supplementing Vitamin D at 5,000 IU/day for the past week. I live in one of the sunniest cities in the US and have plans to go to Hawaii with family around the solstice. I get 8-9 hours of sleep, usually more in the winter because it's dark. I try to go outside every day and walk around at lunch, and am making plans to exercise more even though SAD makes that harder, not easier. I've previously sought mental health support and will again if I need to. I enjoy skiing and am going to try to shift my schedule around do more of it once the season starts. It's not my first year trying any of these interventions. They work somewhat, and I try to be more aggressive with them every year.

I guess what I was trying to get at with this question is that in general, the most useful modality of dealing with mood issues for me has been Acceptance and Committment Therapy type stuff. I can usually live with and be kind to myself about a short term spell of sad or irritable by telling myself that okay, it's fine to feel like this. Most of the time this has the benefit of reducing the time I'm feeling down, because I let myself feel the feeling instead of like, half feeling it and half resisting it, etc. This whole strategy doesn't work as well come fall, though, because "it's fine to feel down and hibernate as soon as you come home from work, only half the year to go!" isn't something I actually believe or want to do. (And holing up in bed is also counterproductive to many SAD remedies like exercise and socializing.) I guess I'm trying to find a different, more credible story to tell myself about SAD. Does that make any sense?
posted by deludingmyself at 6:12 AM on October 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

I hate cozy - it's part of the problem. Double up on the artificial light, use soft white bulbs (daylight bulbs are too harsh). Unapologetically set the thermostat to 74 and wear shorts in the house. Go outside at lunch. Is it the lack of light, or also the cold? Do you dress appropriately or do you dress in denial? Invest in nice winter clothes that have thermal protection. Focus on natural materials (i.e., wool) and avoid the technical plastic colorful stuff that People of REI love so much. Wear a hat. Put new windshield wipers on your car and buy new tires now if you're going to need them in the next few months anyways. Is your car battery more than 4 years old? Replace it now instead of Jan 10th in a snowstorm.

Embrace the seasons is decent advice. Pick a hockey team and follow them. Take up cross-country skiing or snow-shoeing if possible.
posted by everythings_interrelated at 6:15 AM on October 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

Is there a hobby you could take up or restrict only to winter? Or do something like try to learn a new hobby every winter? Basically give yourself something to look forward to; if a good association doesn't present itself naturally, maybe you can create one.

Another thing that might be too late for this year is to sort of say farewell to summer in some official way (this is easier to do if you live in a place where there are fairly stark differences between the seasons). Organizing some kind of ritual at the end of summer, and then sort of committing to winter for the next X months, if that makes sense, has helped me. I think it's something about an active rather than a passive acceptance that makes it feel better.

Do you like plants? Having a lot of indoor plants can help if you live in a place where the trees all shed their leaves.

Finally, someone kind of said this above but dark is usually taken by people as a sign it's time to head home or stay in, because it's the end of the day. But in winter it starts so early it's more like the start of a second day. So instead of taking it as a signal to hole up, try taking it as a signal to start your own, non-work part of the day (assuming that's your schedule), and think about how many hours the early dark gives you for that.
posted by trig at 6:57 AM on October 4, 2017 [5 favorites]

Maybe you can accept that your brain is creating this depression based on the environmental changes, and then also accept that you have to get off your butt and fight that.
posted by crunchy potato at 6:58 AM on October 4, 2017

Half the year I wake up without an alarm clock to the glorious natural daylight streaming in my bedroom

Is it at all possible for you to wake up later in the winter, so you could at least wake up to glorious natural daylight?

Mental hacks-wise, yeah, I also totally hate how early the sun sets in winter and it makes me angry. The main thing I try to do is intentionally go outside at night even though it's cold and dark and shitty. I still try to take long walks on well-lit streets, meet up with friends for drinks, and participate in groups and activities. I also make my house really cozy with scented candles, herbal tea, music, and fluffy blankets and pillows. I guess those are more physical hacks than mental ones, but they do help.

When you say you've tried the "embrace the changing of the seasons" strategy and it hasn't worked, what does that mean? It kind of sounds like it just means "accepting that winter happens and sucks" to you, if I'm reading your follow-up correctly. Do you have things you get excited about around fall and winter? Mine are: pumpkin spice everything, butternut squash, beer cheese soup, mulled wine and cider, Halloween costumes, Christmas decorations, drinking hot toddies, making snow angels, working in pajamas and treating myself to pancakes on snow days, wearing sweaters and blankets and boots, ice skating outdoors, seeing the first snowdrops peeking out of the ground in February...
posted by capricorn at 10:38 AM on October 4, 2017

I don't know how helpful this is, but I tell myself "The fact that I feel like crap doesn't say anything 'true' about me or the world. It's only the lack of sun speaking. When it's sunny, I will feel better." By "when it's sunny", I don't mean - in May. I mean later in the day or tomorrow.
posted by kitcat at 11:52 AM on October 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

I try to go outside every day and walk around at lunch,

This seems to indicate that you have a job with standard hours. Any way you cold eke some flexibility out of that? Get more daylight hours to enjoy rather than sitting at a desk? The one thing that massively helped me was becoming self-employed and going out, out, out (running, mostly) as soon as the sun is out. I've gone from being utterly miserable half the year to (still not liking October-April, but) functioning normally.
posted by ClarissaWAM at 2:26 PM on October 4, 2017

It's important to get bright enough lights.

This guy got 90,000 lumens.

I just bought 5 of the off-the-shelf 10,000 lumens-at-24-inches Aurora lights for a grand because I hate doing electronics. That's equivalent to 20 of the Phillips lightboxes, because each Phillips box is 10,000 lumens at 12 inches (square law, so 2500 lumens at 24), and you only have one. The 90,000 lumen apparatus would be something like 35ish of the Phillips lightboxes.
posted by hleehowon at 3:57 PM on October 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

Might I suggest a different mental framing to the Acceptance of Winter? You can still accept that it happens every year, but you needn't be passive in response. What if you treated it like a recurring battle you fight with your nemesis. Winter is your Moriarty or Magneto. You can do dorky things like refer to it as "Old Friend" and plot all the ways you're going to foil its diabolical plot this year.

When you wake up each morning and turn on whatever 50,000 lumen contraption you've rigged up you can think "Do you really think I can be bested so easily? HA!!"

When you take your supplements you can think, "Do your worst, Old Man, I'm ready for you."

As you step off the flight back from Hawaii you can think, "Hello again Old Friend. Did you really think you were rid of me?"

Be aggressive in your hatred of Winter and tenacious in your battle against it. Basically get nerdily medieval on Winter's ass.
posted by JuliaIglesias at 6:10 PM on October 4, 2017 [7 favorites]

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