Developing a yearly SAD plan

Renee C. Editor
  • "Autumn, the year's last, loveliest smile." - William Cullen Bryant

    Here in the Northern Hemisphere, September is under way, and Labor Day-that unofficial last day of summer-has come and gone.

    I love Autumn. I love crisp weather, September blue skies, and the gilded edges of the outdoor world. Still, as a person who suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), autumn is a time to be cherished and appreciated mainly because of what is to come.

    THAT time.

    Winter time.

    If you're reading this, I assume that, like me, you share my SADness, which means you probably also understand why this time of the year is so bittersweet. Around the time that the neighborhood kids go back to school I begin my frantic attempt to organize my life in a way that will take into account what winter does to me: the fatigue, the apathy, the feeling of distance from my "real" life.

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    Over the years I've developed a small arsenal of things that help hold the darkness at bay. Some of them are methods that are well-known among SAD sufferers; getting outdoor exercise, even when it's cold, or the 10,000 lux light box that my best friend bought me as a gift (note: you know you're a real thrill to be around when that's the kind of gift you're getting). But some of the ways I try to combat the winter blues are-I think-particular to me. Or at least they're not things I usually hear other people talking about.

    And I thought if I have these small, odd things that help me, then maybe you do too. Feel free to share your methods of combating SAD in the comments. I'd love to get some tips.

    As for me, here are a few things on my current "SAD Plan." Please bear in mind that these are personal-they may work for you, and they may not. But most of them are free, so it may not hurt to try!

    Celebrate Seasonality: Bear with me here. I know it sounds like a trick to say that we should celebrate the season that is hardest, but part of what makes winter such a drudge is how everlastingly LONG it is. I live in the Midwest, so winter around here lasts almost half the year.

    And let's face it, except for the brief shining glory of Christmas in late December there's a whole lot of nothing at all for most of those months. So part of my SAD Plan is to fill up my winter calendar with "holidays" and celebrations that couldn't happen at any other time: apple picking in September at a local farm, a pumpkin carving party (even if it's a party for one) in October, and other private rituals throughout the winter. I even have seasonal books and desktop decorations I pull out as the winter progresses-things that help me feel anchored to the months as time to be enjoyed, instead of simply weeks to get through.

    Organize: All of that seasonality doesn't come easy, believe me. It means that for the last weeks of summer I drive my family and friends crazy trying to plan get-togethers that they'd prefer to think about a few days beforehand. But that isn't going to work for me. On a dark, bad day, anything sounds more appealing than getting dressed and going to see a play, and I know I'm going to feel that way in advance, which means it's even more important to have things to do. Pre-planned things. Things I can't cancel easily.

  • One other thing organization does is help cut down on the unnecessary stress. The holidays can be a time of brightness in the midst of a dark winter, but only if you're not adding to your depression by feeling behind or absolutely incapable of making merry. So I start planning early-really early. Christmas-cards-ready-to-be-mailed-in-October early. It doesn't make December a breeze, but it does help.

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    Give yourself a break
    : I have a friend, a Jungian analyst, who says that he's been helped every year by thinking of it not as SAD, but as SAO. "Seasonal affective order," he calls it. Having studied American Indian culture, he found that many tribes put on moccasins this time of year because it was a time to "walk softly on the sleeping earth." That idea-that there is something intrinsically quiet and meditative about fall and winter--helps him give himself a break. And it's helped me too. We live in a go, go, go culture, but many animals and native people believe winter is a time to turn inward. So by all means, do what you need to in order to feel better, but when you're having a down day try to cut yourself some slack.

    Use Technology: I've never considered myself a techy person, but when it comes to SAD-related gadgets, I'm your girl. I've got a light box, a dawn simulator, and I've been known to put all of the lights in my bedroom on an early-morning timer. A few weeks ago I broke down and bought an Apple iTouch, and now the world of Apps is open to me.

    It turns out, there are some apps that may help ease me into the morning.

    The popular "Ambiance" app allows users to wake up to the sounds of nature. Keeping that in mind, I downloaded a few files of birdsong, and one lovely wind chime sound. Now, even if the air outside the window is subzero, I can wake up to the sound of spring.

    Another new app is "BluWave"-a blue light therapy application that uses the iPhone/iTouch's LED screen to deliver light that some experts say can help regulate circadian rhythms. For $2 I'm willing to try!

    What about you?

    These are just a few of the things that make it easier for me to bear the long winter. What about you? Do you have any tricks-besides medication, and other well-known treatment therapies-that help you through your SAD months?

Published On: September 11, 2011