Even though I know I’m not the only person dealing with Seasonal Affective Disorder, it sure feels like it sometimes. Being in London has been a rough ride the entire way through. I spent the first half of the trip reeling from culture shock, and am spending the second half grappling with SAD. It’s a huge bummer to wake up and not have the will to get out of bed or do anything. I spend a lot of time at home cooking comfort foods (I’ve been living off of soups and noodles for a month), watching Netflix, and generally doing nothing. I haven’t been able to focus on my schoolwork, I am often too anxious to even leave the house, and I can’t even concentrate in meditation. SAD has been pretty much kicking my ass.
It seems like every single person who came here for the semester is having a fantastic time. Instagram and Snapchat are filled with “feet-in-leaves” photos, smiling, energetic shots of friends jumping around with beautiful backgrounds, stories of wild nights at bars, and a general sense of friendship and closeness which I do not share. I’m not trying to be part of anyone’s “clique” but it’s pretty frustrating when a lot of classmates are years younger and still have a high school mind set. Yes, it’s not that big of an age gap, but the big difference is that I’ve been able to drink legally for years and they have not. Combine the lower drinking age with being away from parents for the first time and you’re going to end up with some wild late-teens/early twenty-somethings. And I get it. I went a little wild when I first started drinking legally (then ran up a $300 bar tab in one night and knocked it off. Whoops!). That’s not me anymore. I really don’t like drinking and going out. Yet, there is still a persistent voice telling me I’m missing out on life. That I paid too much money to be here to be feeling so down. This just creates a downward spiral that gets worse and worse and worse.
I don’t know if hygge (the danish art of enjoying winter) has always been a thing in cold climates, or if it’s popped up as a trend in the last few weeks. Hygge is all about that warm fuzzy feeling you get at Christmas and making the warm fuzzies last all winter long, according to the happiest country on the planet. Every year I am bombarded from the internet, starting in October, with posts waxing poetic about how romantic and lovely autumn and winter are. How it’s so great to snuggle up under a pile of fluffy blankets with a cup of hot chocolate in front of a roaring fireplace. Or how cute it is to wear a pile of chunky sweaters and blanket scarves (typical Pinterest fasion). But I don’t want that! I understand the whole point is to make the best of what you’ve got. Not everyone can live in Los Angeles or San Diego where it’s sunny 360 days out of the year, and you can’t just “pack up and leave it all behind” no matter what motivational bloggers might say.
But I don’t want to be cozy! I don’t want to be bundled up drinking hot chocolate. I want to wear shorts and flip flops and go to the beach in December and lie in the sun eating In-n-Out and drinking iced tea.
All of that aside, I have managed to find ways to feel better about the long nights and freezing cold days. It’s been raining quite a bit in London and today I walked home in the pouring rain smiling because it felt so good. My host family said I was crazy when I showed up at the door dripping wet, but people from California are a little crazy. We don’t ever have rain at home so it’s pretty amazing to experience it while I can! What a difference I felt today versus a week ago.
I do have some coping mechanisms if you too are struggling with SAD:
Manage your time.
The best way to be less stressed is to plan accordingly. If you’re feeling down, don’t overload your schedule with everything you need to do. Aim for five solid hours of work each day and highlight the tasks you must complete. You will sleep better knowing you are slowly chipping away at your goals.
Make sure to eat fruits, vegetables, and nuts.
Good diet makes a huge difference in your mood and energy levels. Make it a point to write down what fruits and vegetables you eat each day so you can make sure you’re at least eating some. It’s hard to hit the 5-a-day mark when you’re not used to it but any improvement is better than none.
Walk every day.
This has probably helped me the most. Since being here I’ve gotten used to walking everywhere. If I walk less than 3 miles a day I feel lethargic and gross. If that continues for more than a day or two, my back pain starts flaring up and I just feel tired all the time. This past week I have been making a point to walk instead of taking the bus if it’s only a mile or so away, and walking a few tube stations down from the closest one to school just to go for a walk (and I get to avoid those horrible elevators at Russel Square station). On weekends if I’m having a lazy day I still try to go out for an hour and just walk around neighborhoods and parks. Everything feels better. My mood, my body, my digestive system, my legs, and my concentration. Plus walking is the best exercise. Since being here I haven’t done any weight training or exercise beyond all the extra walking and my legs are more toned, my butt is lifted, and even my stomach is tighter without doing any ab work! I plan on keeping this habit when I get back.
Invest in a Happy Light
These SAD lamps are not cheap, but I think mine was worth it. I am currently using a Beurer TL40 Daylight Lamp from Argos (UK). It takes a few days to start feeling the effects but if you commit to using it and trust that it can help, it probably will. Many people have benefited from these lights and if you’re prone to depression even without the season changes, I strongly recommend asking your doctor if it’s ok to use one. This is in no way a sponsored post. I just suffer from depression and I like sharing tools that can help others feel better too!
Read every day.
I know the news is particularly stressful right now for us Americans, and everyone else in the world right now. Turn off your social media, close the news tabs (better yet, turn off push notifications), put your phone on Do Not Disturb and take time to read positive books. This can be a spiritual book, a self-help book, or your favorite book. Taking time away from electronics helps put things in perspective. We can’t totally check out of the world, but it’s nice to take a beak.
Retreat and recharge.
Which brings me to my final point. If you need a mental health day, take one. You don’t have to be running at 100% all the time. Prioritize the things you must get done like the things people rely on you for, but make time for yourself. Every day you should have some sort of routine to help you recharge your energy. I find small things help a lot. Massaging my sinuses, putting on lotion that smells good, lighting candles, meditating while listening to calm music, calling Daniel and my family, and eating some of my favorite foods. Whatever it is for you, DO IT. Don’t let your self care fall by the wayside when you feel bummed from seasonal depression, because that’s when you need to take care of yourself the most.
Looking forward I’m optimistic about these last two and a half weeks in England. I am finally feeling better and I’ve mustered the strength and money to book the things I want to do. I am not going to be held back from fear of judgment from others! I’m here to enjoy my time and I hope to make the most of it.
What are your self care routines? I’d love to hear any input you have on dealing with SAD. You’re not alone and I’m always here for support!