Seasonal Affective Disorder affects hundreds of thousands of people in the US alone. But it doesn’t have to stop event planners from a productive winter.
While countries in the Northern Hemisphere are moving ever closer to the shortest day of the year, the decline in sunlight and warmth on top of everything else we’ve been facing in these tumultuous times can have even the most balanced person feeling a little bit off. And then there are the quickly approaching holidays. Whether you celebrate Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, or the winter solstice, we’re facing a different season of celebration than we usually get to enjoy.
Some of us aren’t able to be with family and friends. Others are scrambling to find ways to abide by the pandemic guidelines and still connect with our loved ones. Throw in the pressure on event planners to pull off memorable virtual events or in-person ones that don’t break any regulations. It seems like the perfect storm for something everyone wants to avoid: burnout.
This season can be challenging for everyone, but it’s even more of a struggle for those of us who deal with SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder. Worse than just the mild “winter blue,” SAD is a type of depressive disorder that affects around 500,000 people every year in the US alone.
What Is Seasonal Effective Disorder?
SAD was officially recognized in 1984 after being formally described by Dr. Norman E. Rosenthal. Dr. Rosenthal has dedicated his career to studying SAD and has also had to overcome it in his personal life. SAD seems to run in families and usually shows up in people once they reach their 20s. It’s more common in women than men but not limited to one gender, and the instances of SAD rise the further north from the equator you travel.
I first noticed I was experiencing SAD when I was a teenager. I grew up in the remote Northern Manitoba town of Snow Lake, in Canada, which has a latitude of 54.9° N.
While winter in the gold mining town was often breathtakingly beautiful, with frozen lakes and frost glittering on the bare branches of the birches and deep green needles of the evergreen trees, the lack of sunlight and grey days left me feeling like a muted version of myself. Despite this, it wasn’t until I’d had children that SAD really kicked in for me. In one of my worst winters, spanning Christmas 2017 and into the new year of 2018, SAD contributed to a relapse of my anxiety and depression.
I’ve done a lot of reading and researching about SAD since then, and I’m happy to say that I can enjoy winter now. I might not like it as much as the warmer months, but if I stay on top of it, I can avoid the feelings of depression that come with it. Others experience fatigue and a decline in concentration and creativity. But for me, my main symptom was feeling sad whenever the sun went down.
The Stress of Event Planning And Seasonal Affective Disorder
Event planners aren’t 9 to 5 workers who get to check out at the end of the day and not think about work again until the next morning. Event planners thrive on the unexpected, fast-paced world they work in. And wouldn’t want it any other way. At least event planning software can help, right?
But if you find yourself affected by SAD – feeling like you want to withdraw from others and stay away from social events, the desire to indulge in comfort foods a little too often, feeling exhausted all the time, or just feeling downright depressed, there are things you can do to help reclaim yourself in the winter months.
It doesn’t help that winter coincides with a lull in business between wedding season and engagement season. But there’s help.
Remember, any time you feel that your mental health is impacting your life, seek the help of a professional. There are so many things that can be done to help you. No one needs to suffer. Find a doctor you trust and work together to create a toolkit that will help you feel better.
Additionally, there are things you can do if you believe you are suffering from SAD, or even if you get a diagnosis that makes it clear you are, that will help you get your sparkle back. As an event planner and a human being! Keep reading to find out my top tips to help you cope with SAD or even just a mild dose of the winter blues.
How Event Planners Can Avoid Seasonal Affective Disorder:
Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
I know, I know, when it’s dark outside, and you’re exhausted. It can be tempting to sleep in as much as you can. Especially when you’re feeling less energy than you usually do. Likewise, it can be easy to zone out in front of the television and binge watch Netflix until you pass out on the couch.
Trust me, it’s much better for your mental and physical health if you stick to a regular bedtime and waketime. In winter, our circadian rhythms can easily be thrown off by the changing light. If you keep your sleep routines in place, you’ll be much better able to handle the stress of SAD or anything else that comes your way.
Invest in a good quality light therapy box
My lightbox has been my saving grace during the winter months. I recently upgraded my years-old, clunky, somewhat unwieldy one to a slim, portable Verilux lightbox that’s about the size and width of an iPad.
Every morning I set it by my computer. I put the alarm on my phone for 40 minutes, the time I’ve discovered is my sweet spot for late November/early December. But I definitely made some blunders while figuring out how to make the most of this valuable tool.
When I first started using light therapy, I would sit in front of my light when I felt my winter depression was worse – at sunset. While this made sense to me in theory, it actually kind of sabotaged me. The bright light made my body think it was much earlier than it was, and as a result, I had a lot of trouble sleeping and felt much more anxious and keyed up. Once I read Normal Rosenthal’s book Winter Blues, I realized that I should have been using my light early in the morning. Actually, shortly after I woke up, and I should have started small.
This fall, around the end of October, I started using it in five-minute increments and worked my way up. If you’re unsure how to use your light, I would highly recommend checking out normanrosenthal.com for a lot of beneficial information!
Get outside, preferably in the morning.
There’s nothing I want to do less, on some winter days, than bundle up in my down parka, put on my scarf, hat, mitts, and winter boots, and brave the weather. In the Canadian prairies, where I live now, we can get lows of -40 C in the dead of January and February. The wind gets so cold that sometimes we cannot leave our homes for any amount of time longer than it takes us to dash to the car and back without suffering painful windburn.
Still, on the days that there are no extreme cold or wind chill warnings on my weather app, I force myself to get out there. Even if it’s just a walk around the block, the sunlight and fresh air make a world of difference. Dr. Rosenthal says that even when the sun is hiding behind a thick layer of cloud, enough of its rays penetrate our eyes to make a difference. He recommends going out in the morning, which I also enjoy. As much as we’d like to hibernate, we’re not bears. Sometimes the best walks I’ve taken, with the most natural beauty and a chance for reflection, have been in the wintertime. I’d have missed a lot if I chose to stay in my warm house.
Supplement with Vitamin D.
Most people in North America and Northern Europe don’t get enough Vitamin D, especially in winter. This can cause all sorts of physical problems but can also contribute to feeling depressed during winter. It is such a big problem in Canada that our milk is infused with extra Vitamin D since so many of us lack this essential vitamin!
Read up on how much Vitamin D you need, get your levels tested by your doctor if you wish, and invest in a good quality supplement. You’ll be glad you did!
By now, I’m sure we’ve all heard about the quintessential coziness that is such a part of Danish life. When the hygge craze first began, I purchased a book on it, but I don’t think that’s necessary.
Do things that make your home cozier. Invest in soft lighting, get some scented candles (or, if you’re like me and they give you migraines, you can find some beautiful beeswax ones). String up some fairy lights around your home, and sit down with a cup of hot chocolate or tea with your fuzzy socks on.
Make winter as comfortable as you can, and if at all possible, involve others. Even if you live alone. Perhaps your comfy “hygge” time can be when you make a cup of tea, sit down on your couch beside some candles and under a warm blanket, and video chat with your friends. Read a book in a candlelit bath, bake some healthy treats in the kitchen. Whatever you choose to do, make sure it’s cozy and warm.
Get into your cultural celebrations.
Winter can be the most magical time of year, even if you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. Whether you’re lighting another candle on the menorah or singing Christmas carols as you decorate your tree, there’s a lot to be said for the rituals our ancestors practiced. When it comes to feeling a warm sense of peace and togetherness while the storms rage outside, the oldies are goodies.
And you don’t need to be religious to enjoy these simple things. You can even create your own traditions. Have fun, and use your imagination. What you start doing now may be what your grandchildren and great-grandchildren do in the future.
Eat nourishing foods and go easy on alcohol and sweets.
It seems a big ask to tell people not to indulge at the holidays, so I won’t. But I will suggest that you don’t overindulge. If you’re getting together with family and friends, even just on a Zoom gathering, of course it’s fine to have a glass of mulled wine or eggnog or whatever you enjoy most. And what would Christmas be without pudding, or Hanukkah without Sufganiyot?
Just make sure that you exercise moderation. On the days when you’re not celebrating, stick with foods that energize you and give you what you need – lean proteins, whole grains, and lots of vegetables and fruit.
Don’t Try To Tough Out Seasonal Affective Disorder On Your Own
If you find that you’re genuinely struggling and that your winter blues impact the quality of your life, reach out. Don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor about SAD, and don’t be afraid to talk to people you love and trust. Chances are, SAD has appeared somewhere in a branch of your family tree, even if it wasn’t ever fully understood. I can clearly remember my grandmother telling me that the start of autumn made her sad. Lucky for her, she and my grandfather were able to journey from snowy Northern Ontario to Florida every winter for most of their senior years. Remember that you’re not alone and that there are many things you can do to help yourself. Do some research, read Dr. Rosenthal’s works, and learn as much as you can.
Be honest with yourself about how much you can accomplish at this time.
Some people with Seasonal Affective Disorder will just never be as productive in winter as they are in summer, and that’s okay. They can still get to a place where they’re no longer a prisoner to winter depression. With careful planning and foresight, even in-demand event planners can find a path of least resistance that helps them keep up their standard of excellence while also leaving them room to take care of themselves.
The Cyclical Nature Of The Seasons And Of Life
At the risk of sounding cliche, remember: this too shall pass. Winter always gives way to spring. Light always overcomes the darkness. You might not be feeling your best right now, but brighter times are just around the corner. Do what you can for yourself, and then let the rest go. Keep pressing on and remember that everything is temporary and changing — what we’re struggling with now won’t’ always be present for us. Be kind to yourself. Remember all the things you’ve accomplished and think about all the dreams you still want to go after.
Winter Can Be A Time Of Joy
Whether you suffer from the winter blues or SAD or just don’t like winter, or whether you skate through the colder, shorter days with ease, it’s my hope that this winter and this holiday season will be a time of peace, joy, and togetherness for everyone. We’ve all been through a lot this year, so let’s be kind to each other and to ourselves. Here’s to hoping for better and brighter things in 2021!