Feeling SAD? Recognizing it and working through Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal affective disorder

My experience with Seasonal Affective Disorder and what to do about it

My first ever out of the country job was in France. I was super excited to leave the familiar shores of sunny California to go bask in the glory of the Old World haute-couture. August and September were great, October was surprisingly wearisome and by December I didn’t want to get out of bed.

Some days I had a super light teaching load: two or three hours on certain days. First of all, I’m surprised I got out of bed; I waited until the latest moment possible to do so. I’d teach the classes as normal and then I’d return to my room. I felt as if I had worked a 12-hour shift picking strawberries. Dead tired, I went straight back to bed and slept so much. On the bright side, I had excellent skin that winter from so much sleep.

“You’re SAD”, an American friend from French class told me very matter of factly as if my situation were so obvious.

“No, I don’t think I am. I’m don’t feel sad at all; quite happy actually. I’m just always exhausted,” I replied.

I had no idea

As you can see, I had no idea what she was talking about–Seasonal Affective Disorder. When the season changes from summer to fall and winter, obviously there’s less sunlight per day. In some locations, it’s cloudy and grey ALL day. France and Germany were this way, and for me, as a Mexican who grew up in California, my body was not having it!

Furthermore, let’s say you’re a super hero and these trivial things don’t get you down. Great! But it might affect a lot of the people in your town or the locals you interact with.

You’ll be like “Hey man, want to go watch a movie? Grab a beer?”

Your German buddy will be like “Neeee. Bin müüüde.” [No, I’m tired]

Wake me up when the winter ends

It was surprising what a big change there was in the society as a whole; like the people took on the same temperament as the weather, dark and dreary. But then spring comes around WAAH-BAM 180 reversal!

Mmmm….Spring time, me gusta 🙂

Suddenly everyone is nice again and frolicking in the park, taking pictures of the first flowers to bloom, and vagrants go back to drinking outside the metro stations rather than being cooped up inside. Aww, Europe.

Now that I have more seasoning on me as a traveler, I’d like to make others aware of the overall challenges that changes in weather, altitude, and location might have on your body. I’d recommend that you:

  • Start your research early
  • Join a chat or read blogs about your destination far in advance of you going
    • This will help you to uncover challenges others have had that you might not have thought of. Don’t let these boards scare you away, however!
  • Talk to your doctor about your travel plans and stock up early on any recommended meds or supplements

Now, what should you do to ward off seasonal affective disorder?

It really depends on how early you’ve detected the issue and where you are geographically. It’s a game changer if you’ve let the disorder go on for too long, and you have another 10 months on your contract for the awesome gig in Siberia. Is it worth the money? Can you go somewhere sunnier or back home?

Last year, I worked in the Pacific Northwest of the US, known for bleak skies and depression for a whopping 9 months of the year. It’s no joke.

This time, I was so ready for SAD. Remember, I’m not a doctor. But I’ll share with you some ideas of what you can do:

The Game Plan
  • Start taking Vitamin D towards the end of summer and don’t stop til next summer!
  • Before fall comes around, commit to a gym or other physical activity:
    • CrossFit is great because you’ll have a team that expects you to show up and everyone supports each other.
    • Hot Yoga is great because you’ll have a hot room to escape from the winter. And the benefits for your mind and body help combat SAD.
  • Happy Lamps: get one for your office or home. Some people swear by them.
  • Keep happy by staying in the company of people who make you feel good or doing the things that make you feel good.
    • Don’t give up your hobbies because it rains a little (or in their case a lot).
  • Eat your greens and be as healthy as possible.
    • I even had a little Pre-Workout mix before going to work or when I started to feel sluggish. Maybe look for another supplement to kick you into high gear when needed. Something legal and healthy, preferably.
  • Check local events for occasions like: Puppies in the park/plaza or Hug Fests. In Portland, Oregon, they even have a sad festival where they bring out giant UV lights where people can do yoga in front of them. Hopefully the area you’re in has a sponsored event aimed to help the community through the long winter
  • Get specialized help
    • You’ll have to start early with this because most professionals are booked out for a long time!
    • It can be a counselor, therapist, mental health specialist or doctor.

When I was living in Germany, the wait time for a counselor was so long! I was already going crazy, so I had to find someone. I found the help of a business/career counselor who thought he was helping me find a better job, but actually it was a great service just to vent and bounce ideas off each other and help me to keep thinking positively.

Think Positive, Be Positive

So, the advice here is to look for ways to be flexible and find alternative solutions.

Lastly, be sure to know whether your problem is just temporary sluggishness because of the weather and is not something more serious like depression. If there’s way more going on in your situation than the common SAD, definitely enlist the help of a professional; time is of the essence!

Is SAD maybe mixed up with a little homesickness? Click here to read my article about missing home.

Moving away a bit from talk of seasonal affective disorder, I diagnosed a new phenomenon here in India which I coined, as a pun on SAD, sensory overload disorder. More on SOD very soon!

Let me know, fellow travelers, if you’ve ever been SAD or SOD?

I wish you all happy and safe travels.

Pack them bags and ¡Vámonos!