Every winter, the grip of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) impacts nearly 10-20% of Americans. It comes in many shapes and sizes: melancholy, depression, anxiety, or just an overwhelming desire to bundle up, cancel plans and watch Netflix.
Unfortunately, as people living with diabetes, we already have a 4x higher chance of experiencing depression, and SAD can hit some of us pretty hard. Oftentimes SAD and what is called “diabetes burnout” become synonymous, which includes feeling unmotivated to stay on top of our blood sugars, remain active, or manage the pesky housekeeping duties that come with diabetes. We can feel isolated and exhausted. In really serious cases, some people stop taking their insulin or testing their sugars altogether.
After a bad bout of diabetes burnout and SAD a few years ago, I went on a serious quest to make sure that it didn’t happen again the following winter. I tried everything from happy lamps, essential oils, exercise, travel, self-help coloring books, talk therapy, CBD oil and meditation apps.
After my journey to a less burned out and happier self, I felt like I’d filled my toolbox with strategies that would help me and others bypass the dreaded winter months, and the emotional baggage that comes with them. It wasn’t easy, and it goes without saying that everyone’s experience is different, but here is my list of what I tried, and how it helped.
Also, know that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to overcoming SAD or diabetes burnout. And, most importantly, if you find yourself feeling more than a little down, seek help immediately. Depression is not something to mess with, and there are many professional resources to help get you back on track.
TherapyThe most important thing that I pursued during my rough winter was therapy. Finding a neutral person to speak to about my journey with diabetes and other aspects of my life that were making me feel anxious and exhausted was extremely valuable. I got to know myself in ways I never expected, and felt a weight lift after every session. Sadly, talk therapy can be cost and schedule prohibitive, but there are resources like TalkSpace to explore your options if you’re open to them.
Sunshine + TravelWhen winter approaches, make a plan! Whether it’s a long weekend somewhere warm, or just a quick getaway somewhere that distances you from the stresses of daily life, prepare by setting aside a little travel money throughout the fall so that you can responsibly book something in budget that will bring a little vitamin D and excitement into your life. Plus, having something to look forward all winter will motivate you to stick to a healthy routine.
Keep MovingYes, I know, there are hundreds of amazing shows on Netflix right now, but watching TV does not create one of the most natural and effective hormonal highs you can experience. Have you ever felt the rush of endorphins?! Getting a workout in just 2-3 times a week can make a massive difference in your overall mood and willingness to keep your blood sugars and nutrition in check. An important trick is telling yourself that just because it’s dark at 4PM doesn’t mean it’s 8PM. You have time. Allow yourself the experience of feeling sweaty and strong for a few hours a week!
Simplify Your DietOne of the major causes of diabetes burnout is chasing your blood sugars all over the place after meals. Give yourself a break by simplifying your diet. Remove unnecessary carbs and sugars that add guesswork and extra effort. This will allow you to save up some energy and apply it to other areas of your life, or just a chance to have a little extra pep in your step because you’ll be in range and feeling awesome.
Limit Screen TimeOne of my favorite quotes is, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Teddy Roosevelt had it right when he said this, knowing that one day we would all get sucked into Instagram and Facebook vortexes that do nothing other than stir up anxiety! If you’re in a bad bout with SAD, my advice is to stay off social media as much as possible. There’s no worse feeling than assuming everyone else is thriving when you’re going through a tough time. It’s best to just focus inward.
Explore Holistic PracticesCrystals, essential oils, and palo santo may seem like an odd or hippy dippy way to treat SAD or burnout, but I have to say that trying out these more holistic ways to clear energy and charge up was really fun for me. I found that I was taking more time to slow down, reflect, and bring some mindfulness to my day when I burnt my smudge stick and diffused oils. It made me feel like even if it was purely spiritual, I was doing something intentional and uplifting. Open your mind and give it a try!
Libby Russell is the creator of the type 1 diabetes lifestyle brand and shop, I Have the Sugars, and the in-house copywriter for a NYC-based fitness tech company. You can find her exploring Brooklyn on the weekends, designing her latest collections for www.ihavethesugars.com, and on Instagram at @ihavethesugars.