Advice for Freelancers

Winter, Seasonal Affective Disorder, and the Writer

It’s beginning to look a lot like January – cold, dark and wet. The Christmas decorations are down for most, although we keep ours up until 12th night (5th), I just don’t have the heart to put the lights on after New Year’s Day night. Summer is long enough ago to be a memory and next summer is far enough in the future to still seem aeons away. It’s no wonder so many people book their summer getaways now. Winter, although I find it has its own beauty and charms, is difficult for a lot of people.

January is the coldest and most miserable month of the year for most people. We’re short of money, heavier than we were a few weeks ago, and facing several months of bad weather with not much to break the tedium except noticing that the evenings are starting to get a little lighter.

The cold and dark are worse if you have SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) as I do. Most years, my mood takes a severe and sudden nosedive in the opening days of January unless the weather is particularly mild with lots of sunshine as was the case in winter 2015-16. That Christmas Eve, I stood on a balcony against a backdrop of bright blue sky. I wore a t-shirt and some cargo trousers and did not feel cold. The warmth was definitely not the joys of the season, although that certainly helped my mood a lot. Those temperatures are rare in England, even here in subtropical Cornwall.

SAD Saps Energy and Concentration

This is probably the first time I have been as honest about my mental health issues on this blog. People who know me know that it affects me although this is not the only way that I experience depression and it has been a few years since my last really bad bout. But SAD is the one I can rely on to turn up as regular as clockwork. This year I had to contend with the death of a great aunt on Christmas Eve who’d meant so much to our family. That coupled with some work instability through the autumn didn’t help and in the last few days, I’ve struggled in some ways to get into the swing of things. My mood is up and down, I’m getting itchy feet and feel the need to go and run it off but I can’t do that because I have a nasty winter bug that has me coughing and wheezing.

This is why it’s so important for writers and other work from home professionals to ensure that they take the time out for self-care in the winter. I must confess that I am bad at this. Skipping a shower today and not shaving is one thing, but neglecting to get some fresh air and eating too much junk food while never leaving the desk is another. It’s amazing (or perhaps not) how destructive to a mood these small actions can be. Trying to be good is not easy, even when the steps need to help oneself is not easy. So I finish this piece with a list of things writers should do while fully aware I’m being a little hypocritical:

  • Take breaks, make sure you go outside during the high point of the day
  • Do something constructive during those breaks – don’t just veg out in front of whatever you’re watching on Netflix. This is fine sometimes, but don’t make a habit of it
  • Go for a walk for the change of scene
  • See people, even if it’s just the barrista at the local coffee shop
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