How I deal with seasonal affective disorder

woman exercising winter outside


As the temperature is starting to plunge, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) comes into play for sufferers around the country, especially those in colder climates. This mood disorder has a seasonal pattern and can result in poorer mental, physical and nutritional health during winter. 24-year-old Account Manager and SAD sufferer LAUREN McNEIL shares how she’s changed her behaviours and learnt to make the most of the cold.


I grew up in Adelaide where it was always sunny. You’re hard pressed to get a bad day there. Growing up, my dad’s catchphrase was: “It’s always sunny in Adelaide.” And he was right. I constantly had shorts on and was grazing my knees, running around without layers in the front garden with my sisters. 

Moving to Melbourne was a bit of a shock. My family and I moved here in 2006. My dad had a change in job, which came with a change in location. We’ve been here longer than we were in Adelaide, but I’m still not used to the weather. It surprises me just how bitterly cold it can get every year when winter comes around.

There’s a definite emotional and behavioural shift that happens. My mood makes me enter hibernation mode. I don’t want to go out because it involves taking a coat, and I’ll do my hair, but if it’s windy and rainy it’s completely wrecked the minute I walk out the door. It’s like the weather is working against me. If there’s a planned night out, you really have to be a good friend of mine to get me to go. I pre-empt I’m not going to have a good time, therefore I’ll avoid going if I can. It means I end up feeling a bit more isolated.
I find some small comfort in nesting. As I spend more time in my house, I try and use this to my advantage by listening to a lot of podcasts. It really helps to get me through my household chores I’d otherwise feel unmotivated to do.

I make an effort to ensure my entertainment is also educational. I’m always looking for interesting TV series and movie recommendations in winter. If I can fill my hours at home with a good mini-series or documentary, I feel like I’m still using my brain and not just vegetating. It doesn’t necessarily have to be uplifting. Anything related to true crime or with David Attenborough narrating will always keep me occupied and interested.

I’m obsessed with lighting candles. They make me feel so relaxed and zen; as zen as someone who is yet to give meditating a crack can be. If I have a night to myself in winter, I love jumping into bed early, lighting some lovely-smelling candles and reading a book or putting on a good documentary. It’s comforting, and a really quick and easy way for me to improve my mood and feel relaxed and warm.

Going to sporting matches also makes winter enjoyable. I like taking advantage of winter sports in Melbourne by going to the footy with mates instead of going for walks or out to brunch with them. Supporting an interstate team means I book tickets in advance for when they play a match in town, which gives me something to look forward to. I’ll also tag along to watch Richmond, the team my boyfriend supports. It’s a great opportunity to get out of the house, immerse myself in the game and try to forget about the weather.

It’s all about the small things. I know my mood will inevitably shift in winter, so I try to find the little threads of comfort that make the colder weather more bearable. For me, a lot of it has been a mental shift away from just complaining about the weather towards giving myself the space I need to do things that actually improve my mood.

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