Farmer’s Advice for Surviving Seasonal Affective Disorder

SAD, seasonal affective disorder, affects many in the northern hemisphere in the dark gloomy months without sunshine. However, there are simple ways to beat it.

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by Unsplash/VAYE DRIS

It happens every year for me and a lot of other people, too. SAD, or seasonal affective disorder, occurs in the deep winter months and is more due to lack of sunshine than the colder weather. Those who suffer from this disorder during the shorter days of winter usually feel lethargic, depressed, sleep more and tend to eat more.

I have to admit that this has bothered me more this year than in past years. I think it is because we have had way less sun this year than normal. Being on the farm and in the garden, there is always something to do from spring through fall, sometimes so much so that there is little time for catching up on reading, projects and other things that get shoved on the back burner. For this reason, I have always looked forward to a little down time in the winter. I called it a little time for me. However, I have had that, especially this past year when we were all home more than usual. Closets are cleaned, paperwork is in order and correspondence is caught up. So, now what?

field with leftover stalks from harvesting covered in snow

I never thought of myself as prone to SAD until this past week when I found myself sleeping more than usual, not interested in any movies or books. Not one to give into the elements and being tired of being tired, I knew I had to make some changes because I have more winter to go.

So, I turned my “attitude to gratitude” as they say and decided to use this time for me and some special things that have been on the back burner for quite a while. As usual when I tackle an obstacle, I have a plan and this was no different. So, even though it is still gray outside, this is how I tackled SAD and found some happy.

a tree line after snowfall

Rural Living Remedies for SAD

Bring in the light. First, I had to get past the depression from lack of light. Bright light therapy helps treat seasonal affective disorder by using a special kind of light called a light box that mimics outdoor light. It is believed that this type of light causes a chemical change in the brain that lifts the mood and treats other symptoms of SAD.

Fire. This source of light definitely does help; however, I find that candles and wax melts work even better for me. Mood is just as sensitive to smell as it is to other senses. Candles and wax melts come in all different scents which makes it easy to personalize the ones that lift your mood. Personally, I prefer wax melts since they are safer than candles, provide uplifting scents, can be used over and over and the little bit of glow that they produce makes my space feel cozy and warm. It feeds both senses of smell and sight.

Music is a powerful mood lifter for me. If I really want to get going, I put on some fast-paced feel-good beats. Gospel music always makes me see the positive instead of the negative of any situation and sometimes just listening to my favorite performer is all it takes.

Reading or watching a good movie is a great distraction from what is going on outside. A word of caution here: Usually I go for more than just one book or a single movie. They are too short-lived to get me over the hump of SAD in a few hours. Instead, I look for a series of books where I can’t wait to dive into the next one after finishing one. If it’s a movie that I am craving, I look for a series on Netflix or another streaming medium. These are like the treats dangling at the end of a string; you finish one segment and you have something to look forward to in coming back for the next.

Exercise. This one always trips me up. Yes, I know it’s good for me. Yes, I know it releases chemicals called endorphins that react with the receptors in the brain that trigger positive feelings. Yes, I know I feel so much better both mentally and physically energized after exercising. Even knowing all of this, it is so easy for me to put it off. I bet sometimes that I spend more energy thinking of reasons not to exercise than I do actually exercising. When suffering from SAD, this is the worst thing to do. Even ten minutes of activity is beneficial to the mind and body and there are a lot of ten-minute routines on YouTube that runs the gamut from yoga to HIIT (high-intensity interval training). I find that once I start a 10-minute routine, I feel so much better that I usually go for more! It’s a mind game of telling myself that I am only going for ten minutes that actually gets me out of the chair and going.

Outdoor walks. Another form of exercise, that I really do enjoy and also does wonders for my mood is just getting outside and walking. Even if it is a gloomy day, just the fresh air is motivating. Starting off, the cold air may seem harsh, but it can actually be invigorating, just remember to layer clothing so you can be comfortable. Nature, no matter her mood, always picks me up.

After the warmer is burning with my favorite scent, the music is playing and some form of exercise has energized me, I usually find I want to dig into something. The hardest thing about a project is actually starting one. I know a gal who would always want to try all sorts of things. She would buy the materials and put them away until she had time. She did this over and over, so much so that she had countless projects setting on shelves waiting to be done. The hardest part really is starting.

sunset behind a barn

Tackling Farm Projects to Overcome SAD

I have wanted a wooden cross to display on the front of my garage for a few years now. Recently, I saw the solar lights that would be perfect for it and ordered them. This was the catalyst and all it took to get started. I now have the cross cut, assembled and painted. All is left to do is to put the lights on it and hang it.

Actually, starting and completing a project gives such a feeling of accomplishment which is also a mood lifter and confidence builder. It doesn’t matter how big or small the project is, the main thing is to start it. Sometimes the bigger the project is, the better because it will keep you engaged for longer. On the other hand, sometimes a small project like crocheting a small potholder will lead to bigger ones like an entire afghan.

Now, onto my next problem. Since I found a way to rise above SAD, I am fired up and have a lot of projects in mind. It will probably be spring and time to head outside for the season before I have my list finished! Oh well, at least it got me through the winter blues this year and anything leftover on the list will wait for next year!

Lois Hoffman is a freelance writer and photographer covering rural living with more than 20 years of experience, contributing to Successful Farming, Country, and Farm & Ranch Living. She lives on a 37-acre hobby farm in Pennsylvania. Read all of Lois’ GRIT posts here.

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