It’s been a while since I checked in with more of a personal post, and I’ve been practically itching to write this. With so much going on – copywriting, running the blog, and managing Ethical Influencers – I find my mind flitting between different projects and it puts me on edge. Five minutes here, five minutes there, and constantly self-chastising for missing out on other things. Cue, the blues.
I know that this is one of the first signs that I’m going to burn out. I know I’ve had a good work day when I’ve gotten into a “state of flow” – the mental state where I feel fully immersed in an activity.
I’m pretty sure this has gotten worse because of the shorter days, too. The colder weather means I don’t really want to go outside, and when I do, I’m always hurriedly trying to do everything before the sun goes down. This in itself causes some form of anxiety, and again, a never ending list of activities that I should have done already.
Time To Self-Medicate The Blues
So, to help myself somewhat, I decided to put together a guide to beating the shorter day blues – and take more of a holistic point of view. This post gave me an excuse to look into my symptoms, and also commit to writing an entire post in a calmer, focused way.
Beating the shorter day blues isn’t just about getting better sleep, it’s also about looking after your mental state as the seasons change, and tapping into how you truly feel.
What Happens Mentally When The Days Get Shorter?
It’s not unreasonable to notice a change in your body and mind when the days get shorter. For many animals, it’s a natural signal to start building a toasty warm nest for winter, gathering up food stores and getting ready to hibernate.
In the UK, it’s also heightened by our strange practice of changing the clocks.
These changes are produced by our circadian rhythms, and how they adjust to changing external factors. Our circadian rhythms govern everything: from how we eat, to how we sleep, and even to how we reproduce.
We currently understand that humans are subject to these rhythms, but we’re not quite sure why we really struggle with seasonal changes – which is what we call Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.
While it may be easy to dump all your problems on SAD, there may be other factors at play: personally, I know my skittishness around work is to do with burnout, while working from home most days leads to some serious cabin fever.
I’ve included short guides on how to deal with all three – I hope there’s a few ideas here that can support you too.
How To Manage SAD
There are plenty of theories around SAD, but there’s no clear cure. In the past, I’ve really struggled with SAD – I have a tendency to experience a depressive episode every January. This year has been the first that I was able to avoid SAD for the first time.
In my guide to winter wellness rituals, I touched on the routines I employed to stave off that dreaded lethargy. These are:
- Get eight hours of sleep a night, minimum. Sleeping before midnight can also improve your sleep quality.
- Stay warm with ample layers. I love my cashmere jumpers from Everlane and Naadam. (+ Put the heating on if you need it. Just go green* first).
- Supplement wisely. Reduced sunlight means you’ll need a vitamin D supplement*, and I love adding magnesium flakes* to my baths
How To Manage Cabin Fever
Cabin fever is a form of claustrophobia or restlessness that comes from being in the same confinements for too long. Whenever I hear the phrase, I immediately think of Jack in The Shining. Like no, I’m not going to become a murderous, psychotic version of myself when I’ve been cooped up for too long, but I do tend to get frustrated, irrationally angry, or experience the blues.
With most of my copywriting, blogging, and business management happening from my tiny white desk at home, it’s no wonder that I do get stuck by cabin fever towards the end of the work week. Here’s how I’ve learned to keep mine at bay:
- Get out of the house. This can be anything from a simple walk round the block, to a cycle to the park. Hygge proved nature is good for the soul.
- Work elsewhere – this tends to be cafés and the odd co-working space. I find the travel and lack of all my stuff does tend to make me less productive, but so does being itchy at home.
- Exercise regularly. It’s actually impressive how much my mood changes when I work out – currently, my positive vibes are fuelled by Yoga with Tim at home and attending pilates classes.
How To Manage Burnout
And finally, my old friend burnout. It doesn’t matter what time of year it is, burnout is always hovering around, threatening to derail me for a day or two.
It’s why I was really pleased to find Calmer and their Reignite Project earlier this year. The organisation is working with freelancers and entrepreneurs to support them managing their mental health, while being aware that most forms of pastoral support have melted away since leaving the conventional workplace.
Full disclosure: after being so enthused by Calmer, I’ve since started working with Founder Tania Diggory on her campaign. It’s a labour of love, and you should definitely subscribe to their free burnout campaign if you feel the same as me.
Here are a few other ways I keep my burnouts at bay:
- Reassess routines – I think everyone loves a routine, but it’s hard when there’s a lot of work on. Instead, I like to work in 7-hour batches, and give myself time off when I’ve worked longer hours.
- Make a list of everything that’s in your mind. I try to do this every morning, and dump out all the excess tasks that distract me from getting my flow on.
- Commit to what’s possible. It’s hard to estimate what you can do in a day – probably a lot. But a healthy day for me is ticking off one or two big tasks only.