The next several months mean cozy sweater weather, curling up in a fuzzy throw blanket, and holiday get-togethers. The changing landscape across the country is stunningly beautiful. But they also mean driving to work before sunrise and home after sunset. Dropping temperatures. And for 15% of us living north of the 49th parallel, it means SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder.
For that 15%, the shorter days of fall and winter means pervasively grey feelings. We have extreme difficulty waking up and dragging ourselves out of bed in the dark. We feel tired earlier in the day, so we climb into bed earlier… and we pass on social invitations after work or a long day on the home front. For that 15%, those evenings out feel like extra work that we just don’t have the energy for. It’s more than “winter blues.” SAD interrupts your daily life, impacting personal relationships as well as professional output. It can also impact the space around you, with cleaning becoming more overwhelming than usual. That can begin a negative cycle in which the mess becomes detrimental, leaving you feeling too overwhelmed to declutter your home and clean.
So how do you know if you’re one of that 15% of people living with SAD? More importantly, what can you do about it? Here are 10 ways to help alleviate the symptoms of SAD this year. But first …
What is Seasonal Depression and why does it happen?
The Canadian Mental Health Association defines SAD as a form of depression that comes and goes based on seasonal changes. It usually creeps in during the fall, sticks around through the winter, and goes away during the spring and summer. It’s also sometimes called Depression with Seasonal Pattern, but SAD is much more apropos.
Sadly, (no pun intended) experts don’t agree on the cause of SAD. Some believe it’s influenced by exposure to sunlight, which drives our natural internal clocks. That clock regulates things like mood via serotonin levels, and sleep via melatonin levels. These factors also impact how we feel on a daily basis. Other experts relate SAD to mood changes related to being inside more. We then have less opportunity to engage in the outdoor activities and hobbies we enjoy.
So how do you know if you’re in a brief slump or a SAD situation? Next up is a checklist of common signs and symptoms that may point to SAD.
How do I know if I have SAD?
Do you feel any of these symptoms on a scale that impacts your ability to function day-to-day? (Checklist courtesy of the Canadian Psychological Association.)
- Are you feeling perpetually low-energy? This might mean you feel tired all the time, or heavy, or lethargic despite getting a good amount of sleep?
- Speaking of sleep, experts say oversleeping is quite commonly reported in people experiencing SAD.
- Has your appetite changed? You might be craving foods that are higher in carbs, starch and fat, aka, “comfort food.”
- Is the thought of doing something you used to do now making you want to sob? Losing interest in things you once enjoyed can happen, too.
- Are you stressed, distracted, sad, guilty or hopeless? Some or all of the above, much of the time?
- Is “stuff” building up around you? Is decluttering your home starting to feel like a major chore you keep putting off?
If you are have several of these symptoms for a period of 2 months or longer, experts may classify your experience as depression. If these symptoms typically happen during particular times of the year (likely fall and winter), SAD will be a top contender based on its clinical definition.
10 ways to fight back against SAD
As the days get shorter, you can change some habits to help you deal with the darker days (literally and figuratively). Some of these things you can implement as a team at work, like regular mind and body breaks. A partner or small group may lessen feelings of loneliness and help keep you motivated. In our own Scrubbi HQ office, for example, we break everyday around 1:30 p.m. for a 5-minute meditation. When energy levels wane around 3 or 4 p.m., we do squats for the duration of a single song. It gets our blood flowing, our energy levels up and our brains sharp.
Here’s the complete list:
- Soak up as much natural light as you can. Keep those blinds and curtains open.
- Move the furniture so that you sit near a window.
- Stay active with a regular exercise routine. It doesn’t have to be intense – just keep your body moving with short “action” breaks to relieve stress and boost energy.
- Stick to your regular sleep schedule and try to avoid oversleeping.
- Pick fresh produce and protein-packed snacks over heavy carbs, starches and fats.
- Talk to your doctor about light box therapy.
- Talk to your doctor about Vitamin D supplements to replace the Vitamin D you’d normally soak up on a sunny spring or summer day.
- Talk to your doctor about medication, like an antidepressant, to help pull you through the dark months.
- Consider planning a mid-winter vacation to a warm, sunny destination. Just remember that your symptoms will likely return when you get back and enjoy the reprieve while you’re away.
- Give yourself a break and reduce the amount of things to do on your plate so you have more time to practice self-care and relax.
“But … how do I figure out what things to take off my plate and which things are beneficial for me to do myself?”
Great question. It’s true that the very act of cleaning can help reduce symptoms of depression and by proxy, SAD-related symptoms. (We’ll dig deeper into that in next week’s blog.) But generally, house cleaning involves two phases: First, you declutter your home, and then you clean and sanitize. You’ve probably heard the expression “cleaning before you clean” and it’s an annoyingly accurate reflection.
To be clear, “clutter is ‘in the eye of the beholder’,” as Darby Saxbe, associate professor of psychology at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles aptly told Everyday Health. She means that some people have higher clutter thresholds than others, but there is usually a tipping point. We’re not talking about the cute collection of ceramic frogs that adorn your kitchen window ledge. We’re talking about stuff that accumulates around our living spaces as we go through our day-to-day routines. Pardon the French, but we’re talking about the crap.
“Clutter is ‘in the eye of the beholder’.”
– Darby Saxbe, University of Southern California
A 2016 survey of Americans and Canadians dug deeper into the idea of the “dark side of home” created when the experiential quality of home is compromised by clutter. Survey findings supported the theory that losing control over your physical home environment via clutter can bring on feelings of defeat, stress, depression, or anxiety.
So yes. Dealing with clutter can be a beneficial step of the cleaning process that experts agree may help combat SAD symptoms. You are the best person to declutter your home (because you know best what’s important to keep, and what’s not). But do you also have to be the cleaner who wipes, sanitizes and scrubs after the decluttering is done?
Nope. You declutter your home, and let others do the cleaning
An easy way to cut the pressure is to offload simple tasks that eat up your time and energy but don’t require your specific talents to achieve. Tasks like weekly or monthly house cleaning. The added benefit of regular housekeeping appointments is that each upcoming appointment motivates you to declutter before the cleaner arrives. This may help prevent massive build up of the kind of environmental pollution that breeds stress and anxiety, potentially contributing to SAD and exacerbating its symptoms.
Invite the light: 2 Easy, effective window cleaner recipes
Wait, what? What does glass cleaner have to do with SAD? Windows mean light, and any kind of grime impacts how that light is filtered and perceived. Keep your household windows clean and clear. That way, when you lift those blinds or throw back the curtains, you can bask in unblemished light to beat back SAD symptoms.
If you’re not into washing windows yourself (all good, it’s a tough job), Scrubbi offers interior window cleaning services you can add on to any cleaning appointment. If you’re up for the task, here are 2 easy recipes for effective window cleaning solutions you can make at home:
Vinegar-based glass cleaner
Easy peasy: Fill your spray bottle with equal parts distilled white or cleaning vinegar, and water. To cut that vinegar scent, add a few drops of your favourite essential oil and give it a gentle shake. Pop a label on the bottle and you’re ready to clean!
Rubbing alcohol-based glass cleaner
Mix 1 cup rubbing alcohol, 1 cup water and one tablespoon of distilled white vinegar or cleaning vinegar into your spray bottle and shake. Label the bottle and start cleaning! When storing this solution, keep it away from heat sources … it’s alcohol-based, after all.
Hot tip: Buy a new spray bottle for your homemade glass cleaner. Reusing spray bottles that have contained other cleaning solutions means your cleaning solution might be tainted with harsher chemicals that impact your glass cleaning solution.. T