If you're a big fan of the colder months, turning the clocks back will be the promise of nothing but good things. What could be better? Cosy, dark nights, the return of Autumn/Winter fashion, and waiting patiently for another repetitive attempt at festive advertisement from no other than John Lewis.
Can't flipping wait.
On the contrary, if you're anything like me, then turning back the clocks is like signing your life over to a 4 month period of inevitable misery. Of course, nobody really likes getting up for work when it's pitch black, or losing the daylight before you even manage to get home, but it's important to remember that the emotional wellbeing of many people can be impacted quite severely by the change.
And, if you're one of those people, you are absolutely not on your own.
I first started to get anxious about the later calendar months approaching when I was around 15 years old, and I simply thought I was turning into a scrooge. As someone that used to love Christmas, (and I'm talking lets-play-fairytale-of-new-york-in-august levels of love), I figured that perhaps I'd just grown out of the excitement. I assumed the regular 'I can't deal with Autumn/Winter' breakdowns were caused by my general nostalgia, because I no longer cared about halloween, or fireworks, or Santa, and growing up saddened me.
The fact of the matter was, I preferred Spring and Summer, which a lot of people do! Simple.
But, with every passing year it was getting worse.
Any symptoms of anxiety and depression that I experienced year-round would heighten when the longer days drew to a close; my motivation faltered, depressive episodes became more frequent, and the existential anxiety felt almost inescapable. Of course, because of this, anything beyond September kind of became hideous to even consider. And that's when I started looking into Seasonal Affective Disorder.
It's perhaps worth noting that I've never actually been formally diagnosed with S.A.D, I've simply grown to be very familiar with the effect of it through my own research. I am no expert by any means, but being a little bit of a control freak, I like to understand everything. I like to have a name for things, I like to have a reason for things, I like to validate things. So, for me, learning about S.A.D has helped me manage the expectations that I set for myself over the winter months.
Of course, the reason for me writing this article isn't to start throwing diagnosis' at people; I don't want to sit here and tap out recycled facts like some second-hand Wikipedia.
But, if any of this resonates with you, the reader, then it's super important that your expectations are managed, too. Of yourself.
Now, for me personally, the following things have helped a lot in terms of regulating my mental wellbeing in the later months. Obviously, I know each individual is different, but even if one person finds one thing useful, it's all worth sharing!
So, without further ado...
5 Things I Do To Help Myself When The Clocks Go Back:
1 - I no longer make solid commitments to plans in the winter.
My poor sister texted me the other day and asked if I wanted to arrange an overnight stay somewhere for the Christmas markets. She was very enthusiastic, and I (very pleasantly) declined. I also asked her to never mention Christmas to me again until...like...no actually, just ever.
On a serious note, though, I really did say no, which is a lot of progress for me. The person I was two years ago would have said yes, just for fear of coming across miserable. I used to make plans, just for the sake of "being normal" and theorising that I could feel okay that day.
And it's true. I could. Sitting around would do me no favours, anyway.
But, I grew to learn that setting a plan in stone like that always resulted in me putting a lot of pressure on myself to be okay, which then flared up my anxiety before I even reached the damn day itself.
Of course, if you find yourself saying "yes" to plans in the winter because you think it'll be good for you, sure - embrace it! But don't say "yes" just because you feel like you should. There is no rule book, and you don't have to commit to anything, especially if you know it could be detrimental to your mental wellbeing.
2 - I work with my emotions, not against them.
I used to think that being a miserable b*tch was just in my nature.
Shock. She doesn't like Halloween, she can't stand Bonfire Night, and she makes the Grinch look like Santa Claus' biggest fan.
From the outside looking in, everyone seemed to be embracing traditions, and I just couldn't bring myself to. Why? Well, I know now that I associate said traditions with the darker months, and having that awareness has completely altered my mentality.
I no longer force myself to try and be hyped for Christmas. It is obviously unfortunate that it falls during a period of time in which I really struggle, but that's okay. I accept how I feel, and you should too.
You love Christmas? Go wild with it. Put those decorations up, watch festive films like there's no tomorrow, dress your bitmoji as a flipping bauble, hell, dress yourself as one!
I may not do any of the above this year, but that's fine, also. I've experienced enough Decembers to know how emotionally daunting they are for me, and if they're daunting for you too, it's okay! Spend each day doing what works for you, no matter what anybody else is doing.
3 - Nature is a great therapist, and I try to make use of it!
Sometimes, on a particularly bad day, my chest feels so heavy that it's almost like I'm walking around with a backpack full of bricks on my front. This makes the symptoms so much harder to combat, because there isn't just a school of negative thoughts that I can challenge - there are physical feelings of sadness, too. This kind of heaviness can make me feel really restless, to the point where I feel claustrophobic in my own house.
Of course, in the Spring/Summer, daylight stretches up until as late as 9:30PM at it's peak, and so I can easily escape the indoor environment. I think one factor of the changing seasons affecting me so much is the loss of this freedom.
Once the clocks have gone back, the days draw to a close at around 5PM. This means that if I do experience a bad spell of anxiety, I don't have the sunlight on my side for long.
So, I get fresh air as often as I possibly can. Whether it be walking somewhere instead of taking the car, standing with the back door open for a five minute breather, or even just opening the window when I'm in my bedroom. I know that all sounds a little futile, but it reminds me that darkness is just darkness, and walls are just walls.
I‘m not trapped, and nature is a constant, no matter the cold or the lack of light. A little like a friend that never leaves your side, which is so comforting to have.
4 - I try to be productive, even when it feels like a huge chore.
So many people struggle to pursue their plans and maintain productivity when the winter months strike, because let’s face it - the cold and dark evenings make us want to hibernate.
However, if you’re like me and you‘re prone to experiencing symptoms of S.A.D, then it’s really important you try to stay busy.
Although it is far easier said than done (and I really do know that), fighting the urge to stay in bed a little longer, or making evening plans and resisting the temptation to stay in, could make a huge difference to your mood. It’s okay to relax and take time out, of course, because we all need that, and if it’s what you feel would be beneficial to you - do it! But, usually we avoid plans and productivity because the dark mornings and nights make us feel like doing so, and if you’re anything like me, feelings of “I‘m wasting the day” follow suit.
Don't give those feelings the opportunity to present themselves and stay occupied, no matter how much of a chore it may feel.
If the dark nights interfere with your plans, then they take a little bit of control from you. If the dark nights make no difference to how you pursue your day, then they have no control.
The less control they have, the less daunting they are, and the less daunting they are - the less they can induce your anxiety.
5 - Talk. Always, always talk.
I suppose this one applies all year round, but I do think it's harder to do so at this time of year, especially when everybody is throwing themselves into festivities. It's quite difficult to announce that you're feeling like shit when 80% of your Facebook friends keep sharing how many Mondays there are until Christmas Day.
Nobody wants to be the killjoy, after all.
But, telling others that you're feeling low does not automatically make everybody else feel low, and that took me a while to learn. I assumed that the minute I told someone I was having a bad night, they would start having a bad night as well.
Lo and behold, it's not true.
Those that love and care about you will want to help. Please, read that sentence as many times as you need, for as long as it takes to sink in - people want to help you.
I spent a long time not saying that the dark nights made me feel trapped in my own house, because what kind of freak feels like that? But of course, the longer it went unsaid, the more trapped and isolated I would feel.
So, I opened up about it, and now? Well, we keep the living room blinds open, even when it's dark out, on the nights that I'm struggling. Something as small as being able to physically see the outdoors can help ease my anxiety; it's something that wouldn't be in place had I not spoken up.
And, if any of this resonates with you at all, it's okay for you to speak up, too. I don't give a sh*t what time of year it is...
support from others and support from yourself can brighten even the darkest of nights.
All the love,