For those of you who are not yet aware, there is such a thing as ‘Seasonal Affective Disorder‘ (SAD). It is appropriate that this condition is abbreviated to ‘SAD’, as that is exactly how it makes you feel. I had never experienced or had even heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder until my thirties, when I moved from Australia to The Netherlands.
Now you may perceive the weather in the Netherlands as ‘not that bad’, but coming from Australia, it was initially quite a shock to the system. Going from an average of 3000 hours of sunshine per year to 1500 hours per year will affect you, both physically and mentally.
My first winter in the Netherlands was a looooong one. I felt like winter was a six month long season, running from October to March. The difference between daylight hours from summer to winter is dramatic here. In the peak of summer, the sun will rise just after 5am and set just after 10pm (a whopping 18 hours of daylight!) compared to the middle of winter where the sun will rise around 8:30am and it will be dark by 4:30pm (a mere 8 hours of daylight). Meaning that in the Winter, most people drive to work in the dark and drive back home in the dark. This can be quite depressing if you are not used to it. Let’s be honest, even the Dutch struggle with the lack of both daylight hours and sunshine every winter. By February most of them are fed up with it and you will find the majority of them complaining about the weather on a regular basis. So for someone who came from a country where winter was mild and lasted just a couple of months, adjusting was tough. I struggled, really struggled, through the first two winters.
I found myself feeling very moody, depressed, with no energy and I did my best to avoid going outside at all. I just wanted to ‘do as the bears do’ and hibernate away. Some days, I’d start crying, but I had no idea why? Every time I’d put it down to home sickness. Day after day of grey, rainy days and sometimes going weeks without seeing the sun really got to me. I was miserable and my terrible mood swings and lack of energy lasted well into spring each year.
During my third winter, I stumbled across an article online about SAD. I decided that this Winter, I was not going to suffer the ‘winter blues’, I was going to fight it!
Firstly, I found myself some kick-arse Vitamin D capsules. These little yellow balls of sunlight contain 500% ADH – Aanbevolen dagelijkse hoeveelheid (Recommended daily intake). I began taking them in Autumn and the packets lasts me four months. Boy do they help! These capsules have now become my go-to saviors every winter.
Now that I work full time, I am also forced out of the house. No longer can I ‘hibernate’ away during those long, dark winter days. I have to go out. During my lunch break, as long as it is not raining, I go for a twenty minute walk. The daily exercise helps to keep my mood up and prevent muscular stiffness. Even if you don’t feel like going out, force yourself outside for a little walk, the fresh air and exercise will help more than you think.
I’ve also learnt that, whilst in Australia you seek out the shade, in Holland you must seek out the sun! Where I am from in Australia, if you wake up and it looks like a sunny day, it will usually stay that way all day long. In the Netherlands, you will experience four seasons in one day, every day. You can’t plan the day ahead according to the weather. If you see a half an hour window of opportunity where the sun is peaking out from behind the clouds, you take it without hesitation! Even on cold winter days, if the sun is shining, you go find a spot out of the wind, sit in the sun and you soak up those precious golden rays!
Doing all of these things can help increase your happy hormones. The Dutch winters are still difficult for me, but much more manageable now that I have taken the above steps. It also helps that every three years, we leave the winter here and head back to enjoy the Australian summer for a month 🙂
So don’t brush off that yearly feeling as simply a case of the “winter blues” or a seasonal funk that you have to tough out on your own. Take steps to keep your mood and motivation steady throughout the year.