Mental health isn’t something I write about often in this blog, but it’s something that is a very big part of my life and a topic that is extremely important to me. As someone who has been diagnosed with depression and anxiety from a young age, I’ve gone through just about all of the ups and downs I feel like one can go through with these mental illnesses. Over the last few years, I’ve started to pay more attention to my routine, diet, exercise and energy levels/emotions and try to find a pattern in order to learn what works best for me and find ways to work around the times that I know tend to be more difficult. Winter is definitely a period where I find my mood and energy is the lowest, more specifically because of the lack of daylight. Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD is a type of depression that is related to the changing of the seasons. It can occur during the spring and summer but is most common during fall and winter. Vancouver is predominantly dark and wet from October to February, so because of this, many Vancouverites feel the impact of this seasonal depression. Since we are nearing the end of October and the days are quickly becoming shorter, I thought I would share with you some of my tips on how I fend off the worst symptoms of my SAD.
Give yourself small goals to start your day
Waking up in the morning when it’s still as dark as night can be incredibly difficult. I know most mornings, I never feel well rested and from a mental standpoint, getting out of bed seems like an impossible feat. When looking at the big picture, attacking the day seems like too big a task, but when I break down what I need to do into much smaller steps, I find it easier to take on. For example, when I wake up and I feel like I don’t have the energy to start my day, I’ll say, “okay, just get up and go pee.” I mean, I usually have to anyway, so if I can just do that then at least I’m out of bed. Once I’m up, I’ll give myself one more task, like turn on lots of lights. This helps create more “daylight” and then I don’t feel so gloomy. Once that is done, I’ll either stretch and/or meditate to get my body and mind warmed up. I’ll also make sure I have easy, read to eat snacks for breakfast like bananas and granola— foods that are packed full of nutrients and vitamins that get my metabolism going. I’ll grab my breakfast and then head back to my room to start doing my makeup and listen to some upbeat music or a podcast.
*I’ve yet to purchase a therapy light mainly because my room has one giant window that faces east and it gives me fairly good light most days, but if you have a darker room or find that you aren’t getting enough light in the morning, you can find alarm clocks that simulate the sun rising and can really help with waking up.
Stay active and get outside
This one has been really tough for me in the past, although now that I have a gym in my building I’ve realized just how beneficial being physically active is for my mental health. I work full time in the restaurant industry so because of this I am walking 15,000+ steps a day but on my days off I like to enjoy the fact that I don’t have to be on my feet all day. I’ve almost always been an active person, so for me, doing something that is “active” means doing quite a lot and on my days off, that’s the last thing I want to do. I do allow myself time to rest and recoup, because everyone should give themselves downtime during the week but I’ll always give myself a goal for the day and I’ll usually set this up in my agenda at the start of each week. I try to work out on one or both of my days off and then one or two other nights after work. Living with a roommate helps as mine is quite active as well so we tend to motivate each other to get our butts to the gym. If, on one of my days off I don’t get to the gym though, I’ll make sure to get out to the grocery store, or get outside for a walk. Again, I’ll try to plan all of these things at the start of the week and pencil them in so that they feel more like obligations and I feel more responsible for getting them done. I’ve been adding some of my favourite exercises to my Instagram stories lately, so if you are curious about what I get up to then make sure to follow me!
It’s really important to know that if you struggle with SAD, that first, it’s okay and secondly, if you know you are struggling, there are ways to be proactive and work around it. One of the ways I find helps the most is to prepare for the mornings at NIGHT when I tend to have more energy. Lately, I’ve been making my own granola. Having a ready to eat breakfast on the go really works wonders for me because I’m not the kind of person who likes to get up any earlier than I need to, in order to make breakfast. I can eat this granola on its own or mix it with my favourite coconut yogurt and some banana slices. *If you drink coffee and use a coffee maker, you can also program it the night before to start when you get up so that you have hot coffee ready for the morning!
I also like to set out what I’m going to wear for the next day, the night before. Having an outfit already picked out and laid out a) saves me time, and b) gives me something to look forward to.
I’ll also make sure my makeup brushes are clean and ready to use, I have a glass of water by my bed to drink in the morning and my alarm is set with enough time for me to hit snooze about 5 times. (Yes, I do prepare for that as well.)
Make plans and Treat Yo’ Self!
I touched on this a bit earlier, but when the weather is shitty and you don’t want to leave the house, having plans already set up makes a huge difference. It’s always okay to rain check but if you already have something set up, you are more inclined to get out and do it, then if you just make plans the day of. They don’t need to be big, and they don’t always have to include other people! You can make plans to do your laundry, or walk to get a cup of coffee. Either way, have something to look forward to and when that day comes you’ll be glad. You should also make sure to do things for yourself. Whether it’s getting your nails done, going to a Yoga class, or going out for dinner with friends or family, these are all things that you can do to add joy to your days.
Living with a mental illness shouldn’t be debilitating. Although it can feel like it at times, it’s important to remember that it doesn’t control you. These tips I’ve shared aren’t the solution to it all. Sometimes we need something more whether it’s medication or therapy and if that is the case, that doesn’t make you weaker. The stigma around mental health needs to change, but in the meantime, there lots of people out there who are dealing with it in some form or another. Whether you or they are vocal about it or not, this is just an example of the things that I do to help me fight my battle, and if they can help anyone else, even if it’s only one person, then I’ll feel like I’ve made a difference. Beauty starts with how we feel on the inside, so I hope that moving into this coming dark season, you can practice self-love and know that just beyond the darkness there will always be sunlight.