How I’m coping with Seasonal Affective Disorder

I am a lover of all seasons, but as long as I could remember, I have always struggled with the dreary darkness of November here in Canada.

The lack of daylight, the gloomy skies and the bone-chilling cold are but a mere reminder of the long winter ahead of us for the next five months.

It also kick-starts my Seasonal Affective Disorder. For an outdoor spirit and sun-chaser like myself, this seasonal shift is not always easy, and I have mentally struggled with it a lot last Winter.

As we enter our third year working from home in a condo that does not get any sunlight during this season, I am choosing to approach this from a different mindset.

I am choosing to:

  • Accept the reality of this season, instead of fighting it.
  • Find beauty in the gloominess.
  • Make the best of what I currently have right now.
  • Dream and plan the sunlit rooms we will soon have in our future. Imagine: big windows, sunlit breakfast nooks, reading nooks and garden nooks – give me all the sunlit nooks!

This acceptance and mindset shift has inspired me to adjust my WFH routines and habits, and create a space to maintain inner happiness right now, during a season that historically feels gloomy to me.

This year, I want to take back control of how I make myself feel.

Just like the seasons and daylights are changing, so should our routines and habits.

I thought I’d share what I’ve been doing and how its been helping me in this blog post, in case anyone else living in the Northern Hemisphere also finds it hard to cope with the darkness of this season.

Bring in additional light

Having a wake-up light has been a game changer for me. I can’t recommend it enough. This alarm light simulates the sunrise, and wakes me with a soft orange glow that gets progressively brighter as it reaches the time I set it to. Being woken up by light makes my mornings feel much more balanced and natural, rather than being jolted awake by a loud phone alarm when it’s still dark.

For that premature 5pm darkness, I recently started using this therapy lamp that I like to use in the evenings. I set a timer and brightness level, and like I having it near me when I read or when I’m on my laptop for that subtle addition of warmth and light.

Create an enjoyable morning routine

The way we start our day can set the tone for how the rest of our day will feel, and that’s why it’s so important for me to have a phone-free morning and carve out some alone time before I log into work.

It’s my quiet solo time to journal, blog, get inspired, tidy up, pamper myself with a mask, and on the odd occasion, wrap myself up in a cozy scarf and pick up a croissant and cappuccino from our neighbourhood coffee shop across the street before logging into work. This adds variety to my work week, and boosts my mood before starting my busy day.

Create a relaxing evening routine

One thing I learned about myself when working from home during the winter months is that an evening routine is just as important to my mental wellness as a morning routine. Transitioning from work mode to home life is a mental shift that I often need to be prompted about.

So I created my own prompts. During the day, I wear makeup, jeans and indoor sneakers, and I accessorize myself with jewelry and perfume. It’s my way of feeling put-together, productive and in “work mode”.

When the work day ends, it’s my cue to remove my makeup, change into my loungewear, slip into my cozy house slippers and transition into home life. Playing a lo-fi playlist, lighting up a candle and listening to a good podcast while cooking dinner or folding laundry mellows me out after a busy work day.

Reduce your screen time

This includes all screens: laptop, phone, and yes, even Netflix.

This season, I created effective boundaries for myself by setting up curated DND settings on my phone, most of my notifications are entirely turned off , and I do not have my work inbox or Slack connected to my personal phone.

As for binge-watching a show every night, a break was needed from that too. We still commit to a show but we don’t binge as much as we used to (we are currently switching between Boardwalk Empire and Golden Girls). My husband and I set a time for “TV on the couch”, and we fulfill our evenings with non-screen related activities.

Create a cozy book nook

Less screen time means more time to dive into a book in my cozy corner of the couch curled up under my velveteen blanket.

From the healing poems of Morgan Harper Nichols and Rupi Kaur, to the empowering stories of Glennon Doyle, to the practical life and career advice from Liz & Mollie and Melissa Urban, to the aesthetic magazine pages of Bella Grace, my current line up of literature has been a joy to have by my side, and has made my evenings and weekends more fulfilling.

Enjoy a hobby (new or old)

Hobbies are important to have all-year round, but I find it especially necessary to have during this gloomy season to fill in the void of the premature darkness in the evenings.

Recently, a new little hobby of mine has been playing with wax seal stamps. My husband got me a custom-made wax seal kit for my birthday, and it’s been so fun learning something new, creating something with my hands, and using it when I mail out my handwritten cards to friends and family (collecting stamps and stationary is another hobby of mine!).

Sign up for a fitness class

When the work day ends at 5pm and it’s cold and pitch black outside, it’s very hard to motivate myself to leave the house for a leisurely walk to keep my body moving. So this year, to force myself out of the house and to stay active, I signed up for spinning classes at a nearby studio. This will not only motivate me to stay active, I will be reunited with a favourite fitness routine I used to enjoy a lot before the pandemic.

Have lots of tea and candles

My daily tea consumption has tripled this season, and nothing delights me more than enjoying a warm cup of luxurious herbal tea under a cozy blanket. One way to add whimsy to my tea routine is using a pretty vintage teacup or a cozy artisanal mug. It elevates the tea-sipping experience and makes me appreciate this cold season a lot more. Paired with a candle, nothing feels more fitting for this season.

Order yourself some fresh flowers

May Sarton said it best: “If someone asked me what my idea of luxury is, I think my answer would be: flowers in the house all year-round”. I can’t agree more, and I can’t express how much more special this is during the gloomy months.

Setting aside a monthly flower budget or signing up for a floral delivery subscription is an instant way to “treat yo’self” and have some happiness delivered to your door. If your budget is limited, or you don’t want to spend $100 a month on fresh flowers, then something as simple as picking up fresh eucalyptus or inexpensive flowers from the grocery store does the trick to boost your space (and mood) with fresh petals.

Take your vacation days

This November, I made a conscious effort to book some vacation days. I learned from my past: November is such a dreary month, and with nothing to look forward to, it just drags on and on. But November is actually not so bad when I have time carved out to unwind, sleep in, go for walks, soak in some daylight, catch up with a friend, and read a book at a cafe on a weekday.

Until that golden sun spills into our room again, or until we enjoy the golden hour in a new space, these intentional habits and routine changes have been key in maintaining lightness and structure in a reality I think we are still trying to figure out.

I hope these ideas and suggestions have sparked some inspiration and comfort to your winter routine.

Is there anything that helps you that you’d like to share?

Stay warm, and take it easy on yourself this season.

xo 💛🧶

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