How To Beat SAD When You Work From Home

I love my life. I love my work. I’m known for my cheery disposition and incessant optimism. And yet a couple of weeks ago, as I opened my laptop for the working day ahead, all I wanted to do was crawl into a hole and hide.

Worse still, this sudden and unexpected slump into depression had no obvious cause. I’d had a fun weekend away, catching up with old friends. I hadn’t overindulged, because said friends were doing a ‘dry January’ detox. I’d even had a good night’s sleep.

So why did I feel an overwhelming sense that anything I wrote today would be awful; that any admin I’d do, I’d screw up; that if I emailed anyone, I’d strike the wrong note and risk alienating them; in short, that it was just all futile and pointless?

In truth, I’ll never know. But given the time of year, it’s possible I was suffering a mild bout of what’s known as seasonal affective disorder, aka S.A.D.

S.A.D is a mood disorder whereby people who normally have good mental health experience depression, at the same time each year. This happens most commonly (but not exclusively) in the winter. Seasonal affective disorder symptoms can include lethargy, feelings of despondency, the need to sleep for long periods, low libido, irritability, anxiety, difficulty waking up, nausea and an increased craving for carbs.

S.A.D has been estimated to affect between one and ten per cent of the population. Yet it’s likely creatives are even more likely to be affected by it, and indeed depression of all kinds, because we tend to think more deeply about our work (as well as, you know, life, the universe and everything).

But there are two pieces of good news. One is that there is light at the end of the tunnel: symptoms, however severe, do routinely clear up.

And secondly, there are a number of tried-and-tested ways that you can treat S.A.D on a practical level. In the rest of this article, I’ll go through the most common, and how you can apply them to your life and work.

1. Light therapy

One of the most popular explanations for why people suffer seasonal winter depression is the lack of sunlight. People go to work in the dark and come home in the dark. Or, if you’re a home-based freelancer, you might rarely leave the house at all.

The obvious thing, then, is to force yourself to get outdoors more often. But admittedly, that’s not always possible if the weather’s grim, or you’re chained to your desk trying to meet a deadline.

One popular solution is to use a lightbox, which is a device that emits significantly more lumens than a standard lamp. The idea to create a simulation of sunlight so your eyes’ melanopsin receptors trigger serotonin in the brain, which is important for natural sleep cycles and a general feeling of well-being.

You need to sit at a specific distance in front of the box with your eyes open, but not staring at the light, for a period that’s typically between 30 and 60 minutes. This in itself can be a pain, but you can do it while working or doing other things, so it needn’t be a huge time drain; just something you have to be regular and disciplined about.

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