How to Stay Motivated While Coping With SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder)
Motivation vs Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Today is a Motivation vs Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) day.
All day, I have been sitting wrestling with myself.
I need to produce articles for my website. I have a pile of things that I must write, organise and complete by certain days. I have planned it all out, made notes and rough drafts. All the preparation has been done - all I need to do is sit and write.
For some reason, even though I love to write and it comes naturally to me, I can’t seem to muster up enough enthusiasm to start.
There is nothing different about today. Nothing different about my routine. So why does it feel like my brain has been surrounded by a think fog? Why don’t I feel the usual motivation to get my work done? Why don’t I feel like making food, and just want to snack? Why am I feeling tired even though I have had my usual amount of rest? Why am I trying to resist grabbing the duvet, curling up on the sofa and watching films all afternoon? Why does nothing seem to light that rocket fuel and get me going?
Why? Well, it’s October. That’s why.
This is the start of it. This is the start of my SAD days.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) - It’s not just ‘Winter Blues’
For those who suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), I am sure that you are nodding along in solidarity with me.
For those who don’t suffer from SAD, I wouldn’t blame you for thinking that it’s all just a case of the ‘Winter Blues’, and that I just need to, perhaps, take it slower today, then I will be back to my full speed tomorrow.
That’s the normal advice that folk give to people having a rough day, and it’s lovely and supportive.
It’s just that it doesn’t work when you are suffering from SAD.
What Makes SAD Different?
SAD is a bit like having brain fog that affects your whole body - not just your mind. Your body slows down like a tortoise and you struggle to stay alert during the day. It’s like you are fighting the need to hibernate.
SAD is a regular occurrence. Every year, around the same time, you will first feel the panic of the nights getting darker. You have this feeling that you must make every day count.
You are operating on full speed, then one day, you feel like someone has switched your engine off, and about to store you in the garage for the next few months.
Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, feels like it takes so much effort and energy. You feel like crying for no reason and crave carbs like your life depends on them.
You feel like your life is shutting down around you and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.
The Problem with SAD
To be honest, I could live perfectly happy with my SAD if I could just go into hibernation every October through to February.
Pass me the duvet, the remote and the carbs and I will see you when the days begin to lengthen again!
Lovely as it may sound, it’s not that simple!
People who suffer from SAD still have to carry out their daily tasks as they would in the summer months. Their lives don’t change. They still have the same responsibilities to take care of. They just have to find a way to do it while feeling less than 50% switched on.
With this in mind, I have decided to share my own top ways to stay motivated while suffering from SAD.
1. Plan Ahead
If you know that you suffer from SAD, then make sure you are prepared for days when you really don’t feel like doing very much.
Organise your work into smaller projects or more manageable chunks. This will take away the feeling that you are trying to climb a mountain with a rope tied around your waist, pulling you back down to base camp!
Having smaller tasks to face each day, that you can tick off as you complete them, will make it easier for you to start them and motivate you to complete them.
You can always add more tasks once you have completed the initial ones on the list.
2. Use a Timer
If you really can’t face a task, or find it hard to get started in the first place, then try using a timer.
Set your timer to go off in 5 minutes and try to keep you focus on the task at hand for all of these minutes. When the timer goes off, if you want, you can take a couple of minutes off, before setting the timer to go off in 10 minutes. Again, take a couple of minutes at the end of this block of time, if you wish.
Keep going until you can set your timer for 25 minutes, with 5 minutes break in between. This is known as the Pomodoro Technique, devised by Francesco Cirillo.
Before you know it, you have completed your task without too much of a struggle.
I, personally, use this method when I have days that I am really struggling. I have a ‘Pomodoro’ app on my phone and it helps me to time my 25 minute sessions, my 5 minute breaks and keeps track of the work that I have managed to complete in a day. It’s a great motivational tool.
3. Find an Accountability Partner
Being made accountable will always help you to work harder towards a goal.
Find a friend or colleague who is happy to join you in sharing your plans and goals. Then make regular dates to catch up and discuss these plans with each other.
Did you achieve what you set out to do that week? What did you find difficult? How did you overcome problems? What can you do in the week ahead to focus more and complete your goals?
The practice is not there to make you feel bad or to shame you if you didn’t complete everything - it’s there for moral support and to help motivate you (and your friend!).
Having that human contact and weekly check-in (or however often you want to do this) will help you break down the tasks. You will feel more in control, and ultimately, feel that you are succeeding in accomplishing your tasks.
Take Action and Don't Ever Feel Alone
There’s no doubt that living with SAD is challenging, but by making little changes within your daily routine, you can stay in control and make the winter months pass by more smoothly.
Take action and don’t let SAD hold you back living your life.
Note: Sometimes SAD or having the 'Winter Blues' can have similar symptoms to depression. Never ignore these symptoms and don't suffer alone. If you think that you suffer from the symptoms of SAD or feel depressed in any way, then take the time to chat it over with your health professional. They will be able to give you a proper diagnosis and provide you with the help, support and advice that you need to help you through this challenging time. Remember - they understand and want to chat with you.