Thursday, December 4, 2014

Don’t Let the Weather Make You SAD: 5 Tips to Make Peace with Seasonal Affective Disorder

Don’t Let the Weather Make You SAD:
 5 Tips to Make Peace with Seasonal Affective Disorder

One Saturday, on a cold, wet and dreary Ohio day, I posted this on Facebook:
“After being challenged by SAD (seasonal affective disorder) for many years, I can finally see the beauty in these cold, wet, and grey Ohio days. That's not to say and I wouldn't rather have the sun, but by staying present (and dressing appropriately- thank God for my Mountain Hardwear shell!) I can still find peace in the scenery and accept grey as just another color that paints the sky. (Wow, my slightly enhanced meditation practice must be paying off!)” 
I was surprised to get over 30 “likes” and several comments. 
Realizing I was definitely not the only one to take an emotional dive as the temperatures dropped, I figured that it might be helpful to share a few tips on how I have been able keep my spirits up during the winter. (According to, and estimated 10 million people in America suffer from SAD, and that number doubles when looking at a milder form of the disorder).
Before I begin, let me be clear…I can in no way say I have fully overcome SAD, especially considering it is only the beginning of December and I have many months to go.  However, I can say I deal with the season much better than I use to.
[Back track a few years, and many a winter’s night you’d find me alone in tears.  In one instance in college, I can remember myself curled up on my futon not ever wanting to move until a friend “saved” me by knocking on my door to go to dinner at the school cafeteria together.  It really is the little things!]
I’m about to share with you my main 5 tips and then I’ll elaborate on each one.
Here are my 5 Tips:

1. Listen to your body.
2. Get outside.
3.  Accept what is.
4. Stay Present
5. Find a Guru (or friend)

 Sounds simple right?  Well yes and no.  The tips are pretty easy, but they take a whole lot of practice and dedication.  Just like running for me, if I want to get better I have to train almost every day. 

Let’s get started and take our first step into our journey…

1. Listen to Your Body

I am dividing this step into two parts: sleeping and eating, our basic necessities!  Most people’s issue here is that they try to fight our bodies’ natural tendencies.  Here, we are going to learn from our ancestors.
1a. Sleep More- Anyone else crave more sleep in the dark, cold months?  The alarm goes off and you snuggle deeper into you sock monkey bed sheets instead of preparing for the morning’s run with the dog?  Well, that’s normal. Very few people get enough sleep anymore, especially in the winter.  This is not because people are sleeping less in the winter than they do other months, but because it is natural to sleep more in the winter!  “Back in the day” before electricity, people lived from by light of the sun.  Sure they stayed up a little past dark with the fire going and a candle to read by, but not the additional few hours with the home lit up and a bright computer screen shining in their eyes (totally guilty of that right now).  So take rest, hibernate for a while, and let your body heal with some additional rest.

1b. Eat Hearty Foods- With all the holidays, it’s hard not to eat warm, rich foods and maybe gain a few extra pounds.  And guess what? That’s all totally fine!  Of course, I don’t mean  eat creamy, fatty foods full of butter and animal products.  Those foods definitely DO NOT help one stay happy (read more HERE).  For me, this means enjoying lots of warm, delicious soups made of winter squashes or my favorite chili recipe from Scott Jurek.  I also indulge in lots of nuts and seeds, from pecans to homemade pumpkin seeds.  As for the gaining extra few pounds?  Well it’s cold outside!  My body is just trying to protect itself.  Winter is also the time of year where I take time off my normal running schedule, so I view these extra calories as nourishment to help heal body.  – I also don’t get on the scale at this time of the year (or barely ever do anytime of the year for that matter).  Unfortunately, this does not include the additional 5 lbs put on from indulging in too many holiday sweets- that is a completely different matter.

2.  Get Outside

One of the big things for me has been immersing myself in the cold, in the rain, in the grey landscape.  By being in it, taking a moment to truly see it and my place in it, I can see the beauty.  As I run the trails near where I live, I try to take the time to notice the barren trees, dripping with the glistening and melting snow.  I look past the trees to the hills across from me with the grey sky looming ahead to see a quiet peace in the stillness.  Suddenly, the dark and lonely world changes.  It becomes a beautiful place of serenity and reflection.

I see it as no coincidence that as I traded basketball for running, and indoor sport for an outdoor pursuit, my symptoms of SAD also decreased.  While I usually get a gym pass for 2-3 months during the wine, I still make sure I get some fresh air into my lungs, even during the coldest time of year hear (to the disbelief of many whom know my body is not a fan of the cold).  Last year with some many 0 degree days in a row, I had no choice…I put on many, many layers, covered my face with a Buff, put on my mittens, put on Pacer’s mittens, and took to the trails.  So whatever it is you like to do, don’t let the weather stop you.  Push yourself off the couch, get on the proper gear, and play!

3.  Accept What Is

What use to get me most, even more than the cold, was the constantly dark, grey skies. It was like the clouds were telling me to mope, be sad, lie in bed, and cry.  What I recently uncovered, however, was that it was never the skies telling me this, just that little Negative Nancy voice inside my head. 

After all, grey is just a color.  In many other ways, I like the color grey.  Many my favorite shirts are grey after all.  Then there’s my boyfriend…he just painted his office GREY!  My first thought was that it looked like a jail cell.  I didn’t think he actually picked the color out until he proudly confirmed with me later that it was he who picked it out.  Then I thought about it a little more…he didn’t paint his office with the bias so many of us have of the color.  He just really liked it!  (And he did later “brighten” it up with a beautiful picture our sunshine, our beautiful blue merle Australian Shepard.)

Another tip is to just think of it as the sky changing her shirt.  Some days she wears blue, sometimes grey. Sometimes later in the day she even changes into a beautiful evening gown of pink, orange, and purple before changing one last time into a midnight blue.  Whatever the color is, pretend you picked it out! Luck for the sky, she looks great in any color she wears.

4. Stay Present

As always, this one is easier said than done, but really focusing on the here and now can keep your mind at ease.  This point also ties right into point #2 of getting outside.  When you take the time to stop and notice your surroundings (aka “smell the roses”), you see so much more beauty. 

When I first practiced this running, I had to remind myself about 100 times to stay present, but usually when I did I saw a blue jay or other beautiful bird fly by.  I can’t imagine how many I must have missed when I was lost in the pointless chirping inside my own head.  I am slowly getting better. 

This is also a great tip for the holiday season.  Don’t miss the magic and love being spread around worrying about having the perfect party, making the perfect dish, or buying the perfect present.  The best present your can really give to yourself and to others is by being fully present (pun intended) in the moment.

5. Find a Guru

No, I don’t mean you have to go to India and start following some master teacher (though that’s fine too if that’s your thing).  All I really mean is to find a good friend who will listen.  A plus is a good friend who will listen and give great, nonjudgmental insights (note: I did not say advice.  Usually, you are your own best advice giver.  A bit of guidance is all that is needed).  Here I am exceptionally blessed.  I was born next to my own spiritual guru, my twin.  I can tell her anything, even thoughts totally run by my ego, and she will not judge me.  Sometimes after I text her my current issue, she’ll shoot me a text back with mantra that rings truth and leaves me at ease. 

For more insight, browse the self-help and spiritual sections of your local library or bookstore.  Some of my favorite guru authors are Gabrielle Bernstein, Kris Karr, and Gretchen Rubin, but there are so many!  Feel free to browse “My Reading List” tab after your done reading this blog.

Having a “guru” can be a big help in guiding you to find your light in the darkness of the day.


My main advice here is to keep practicing!  Maybe try to see it from your favorite animal’s point of view.  I always look to my dog to show me the way...she never cares what the weather is like when we go for a run...she starts going crazy in my car either way.  

Please feel free to share favorite tips of your own in the comment box below.