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Running a business with seasonal affective disorder is a challenge, and it’s something I’ve had to learn how to do over the last 5 years I’ve been in business.
I’ve had seasonal affective disorder for most of my life.
When I was 5 years old, my family moved from Southern California to Northern Utah where winters are long and snowy, but I’m not a fan of the snow.
(I know, the Greatest Snow on Earth and all I do is shovel it off my car.)
From that age on, I remember crying in the winter for no reason. My grades tanked in the third term (and for me, that meant that I didn’t make the honor roll. I was an overachiever!). I ate more, I gained weight, and I associated winter with darkness and sadness.
I’m now 31 years old and I’m only now starting to get a grip on winter after decades of feeling depressed, sluggish, and unhealthy for half the year.
I know I’m not the only one who has to balance business with seasonal affective disorder, but I’m going to show you what’s worked for me so your business doesn’t have to screech to a halt each winter!
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
First of all, what is SAD anyway?
Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is depression and lethargy that occurs seasonally, usually in the winter. There’s a reverse form when depression occurs in the summer, but most people with SAD feel it in the winter.
And if you have SAD or even winter blues (a less severe form of gloomy moods and lower energy that occurs in the winter), you probably know it.
For me, I start feeling a dip in my mood and energy in late October that lasts until April. I’m so sensitive to weather and light changes that I even feel depressed after a few gloomy days in the summer!
SAD can be debilitating. And when you’re freelancing or running another kind of business, SAD can make it even harder to stay disciplined and manage your schedule.
I’ve been a freelance writer for five years now, and I’ve learned a few tricks for keeping my mood up in the winter and staying productive (enough) to keep my business going, even when I’m moving at a snail’s pace.
I know I’m not the only one who experiences this. In fact, it’s estimated that up to a sixth of people in northern climates experience SAD in some form.
If you’re a business owner dealing with SAD, I want to share my tips for running a business with seasonal affective disorder and staying productive and level-headed, even in the gloomiest parts of winter.
Disclaimer: This is just what has worked for me and other people I’ve talked to. It’s definitely not meant to be taken as medical advice. I’m no doctor. Talk to your doctor about some of these options if you think they might help you.
Also, this post does contain affiliate links. This means that if you click the link and buy something, I get a small payment at no extra cost to you. (Don’t worry, I only recommend products I use and that I’d recommend to my friends. Because that’s what you are!)
My top tips for running your Business with Seasonal Affective Disorder
Tip #1: Cover your mental health bases
I want to start with this one because it’s SO important. If you need medication to function, take it. Otherwise, these tips won’t do much good.
For a while in my early twenties, I took medication to cope with winter. I think of medication as a step stool to get you to the level where you can start doing other things to help your mental health. They’re a tool.
There’s a lot of stigma around mental health meds, but you’d take medicine for other ailments, right? If your heart or liver were malfunctioning, you’d get treatment. Why are brains different?
Therapy is also amazing for rewiring your brain. I’m a homebody, so I’ve been using BetterHelp to get therapy online. It’s super easy. You fill out a questionnaire, they match you with a therapist, and you can meet through video chats and send as many messages to your therapist as you want. I love it and it’s been a GAME CHANGER for me.
Tip #2: Get Some Exercise
I know, I know. When you can’t drag yourself out of bed and all you want is to sleep until Easter, exercise is the LAST thing you feel like doing.
But it makes a world of difference. Honestly, I couldn’t maintain my business with seasonal affective disorder without this.
It doesn’t even have to be intense or super work-outy. It just has to be SOMETHING. Even if it’s just for 15 minutes of walking. (Another tip: Get outside if you can.)
In the winter, I like to go for walks and do yoga, with a few more intense workouts like PiYo thrown in if I can handle it.
I currently subscribe to Glo for yoga and I LOVE it. You can also find tons of free yoga routines on Youtube.
Tip #3: Light and vitamin D
This one is HUGE. The shorter days and dimmer light in winter is one of the main contributing factors to SAD. We need sunlight to create vitamin D, which contributes to our mood. When there’s less light, we get less vitamin D. Womp womp.
Vitamin D supplementation is a good idea, but it’s also important to get some actual light.
When the sun comes out in the winter, I’ll drop everything to go outside for a few minutes, even if I just bring the garbage cans in or get the mail. If I feel up to it, I’ll walk around the block.
I also use a light box on REALLY gloomy days, and I’ve noticed it helps.
Finally, I have a wake-up light alarm clock that helps me get up in the morning because waking up in the dark SUCKS.
Tip #4: Acceptance
Two or three years ago, I decided to see what would happen if I made peace with the fact that winter is a lower-energy time for me, and something amazing happened.
When I stopped fighting it, beating myself up, or feeling guilty about my lower energy levels, almost all of the depression and anxiety evaporated.
No more midday gloomies or that horrible feeling of dread on dark winter evenings. No more unexplained crying spells. Way less morning anxiety. Fewer sugar cravings. (I know, I couldn’t believe it either.)
After all, nature takes a break in the winter. Plants don’t grow. Some animals hibernate. So why not us?
We humans often forget that we’re animals too. We’re part of nature, and nature is designed to operate in cycles, with time of production and times of fallow.
And the fallow times are just as long as the productive times, if not longer.
This is tricky because our culture is NOT set up to support this. In western civilization, we want to go go go all the time and never stop producing, but that’s just not how we’re designed.
It’s not that we CAN’T be productive in the winter (or rest in the summer), it’s just that we generally slow down at certain times of the year.
I know it’s hard, but I challenge you to accept that you’re just going to get less done in the winter.
You have less energy. You move slower. You think slower. No matter how hard you try to work as hard as you can in the summer, you just can’t.
I sure can’t. My body and mind simply WILL NOT.
And fighting that will just makes you feel even less productive and more depressed.
Tip #5: Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize
When you know you have less energy to work with, you MUST learn to prioritize.
Managing priorities is CRUCIAL for successfully running a business with seasonal affective disorder.
And you might even realize that when you actually focus and do the most important things instead of the 3,586 other things that don’t make a difference, your business may not actually slow down. In fact, it might GROW!
Kate Northrup’s book, Do Less is an amazing resource for learning to prioritize and plan your tasks and life around your energy cycles. I highly recommend it for business owners, moms, and humans in general.
For me, I usually set my 3 Most Important Tasks (MITs) to do every day. I just put a star by them when I write down my to-do list, and I make sure to do those tasks first thing.
So if I don’t get anything else done that day (which sometimes happens), at least I did the most important stuff and I can feel accomplished.
And you know what? A lot of that other stuff might not need to get done. Those 3 tasks will create more momentum than all the other tiny things you think you have to do.
Have you ever heard of the 80/20 rule? This rule states that 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts, so focus on that 20% to maximize your limited energy.
Tip #6: Organization and automation
This is good advice for any time of year, but especially during the winter: the more you can streamline and automate your business, the better.
Automate as many tasks as you can. Schedule social media content, send automated emails, and automate recurring invoices.
Organize your cloud storage, email, and computer files in the fall and summer before the winter gloomies hit.
Hire a VA or other contractor to help with business tasks you don’t want to do or don’t have energy for in the winter.
Get this in place BEFORE winter hits, because you won’t be motivated to do it in the middle of December. Again, planning ahead is KEY.
Tip #7: Plan around your energy cycles
It took me forever to figure this one out, which is silly because I KNOW winter is coming.
It’s simple, but it works. Do things when you have the energy to do them.
You can plan ahead in tons of different ways:
- Plan your big launch for summer instead of winter.
- If you need to work less in the winter, save more money in the summer to make this financially feasible (take a hint from the squirrels and store for winter!).
- Make a bunch of freezer meals in the fall or on a sunny winter day so you have something easy and nutritious to keep you going when you feel like a slug.
- Maybe this means focusing on reading and educating and writing projects in the winter. Leave marketing, speaking engagements, and networking for when you’re jazzed up with yummy summer energy.
Those are just a few examples! This takes some practice, but soon you’ll get a grip on your energy cycles and when you’re best able to do which tasks. (Do Less is great for this too!)
Tip #8: Appreciate Winter on its Own Terms
Winter can be a beautiful time. Learning to appreciate it can do wonders for your mood.
Sometimes a pink winter sky, naked trees, and snow can be just as beautiful as flowers and leafy trees.
Cozying up by the fire with a good book and mug of tea can be just as fun and fulfilling as a sunny day at the pool or an outdoor summer festival.
Try these tips to learn to appreciate winter, even if you don’t LOVE it:
I used to believe that almost all my local birds migrated in the winter, but I actually learned that’s not true at all.
In fact, some birds like raptors actually winter here in Utah! Robins, chickadees, magpies, goldfinches, jays, and finches stay here for the winter, and some birds like goldfinches and house finches even develop more vibrant plumage in the winter. (Your eyes might have glazed over just now, but watching birds did SO much to reform my idea that winter is a cold, dead time.)
Sunsets are also STUNNING in the winter. Completely different from the rest of the year. Get out one of these evenings with a cup of tea and enjoy a frosty pink and blue sunset. You’ll never look at winter the same way.
Enjoy the coziness.
I love the heat and sunshine of summer, but there’s just something wonderful about curling up in a blanket nest with a cup of tea and a fat book. Now is the time to enjoy ALL the hot tea, coffee, cocoa, chai lattes, and bone broth. Take hot baths. Catch up on your reading or Netflix. Cuddle with your significant other. Get yourself a cute sweater.
Enjoy winter sports
My favorite winter sport is binge reading, and I enjoy it very much. But if you’re into skiing or snowboarding, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, ice skating, or anything else like that, enjoy it while winter lasts!
Growing your business with seasonal affective disorder Doesn’t Have to Suck
Winter is still the most challenging time of year for me mood and energy-wise, but thanks to these tips it’s no longer a slog.
Running a business with seasonal affective disorder is a lot easier than it used to be. I don’t dread winter like I used to and I get so much more done. (I actually launched an ebook this January!)
Here are a few more random tips to hold you over until spring:
- Stay warm. I keep an electric blanket in my office and another by my couch, and I’m a big fan of dressing in layers.
- Music. On those dark winter evenings when I just can’t bring myself to be productive or even read, I just lay on the floor with my headphones on and listen to music. (I really enjoy chillhop lately.)
- Eat plenty of healthy fats and proteins. It’s tempting to load up on carbs, but fats and proteins are far more effective at stabilizing your blood sugar, which can really boost your mood and keep your energy steady. A good fish oil supplement helps too.
- Houseplants bring a little nature and greenery inside. Sometimes I’ll buy a $5 bouquet of sunflowers for an extra pop of sunny yellow to my kitchen.
- Make a list of things you actually like about winter, even if it’s just cute sweaters and blanket nests on the couch.
Your business doesn’t have to come to a standstill in the winter. With a few tricks and strategies, you might actually start to like winter! (Even just a little bit.)
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