Well it has been a little over a month since I started exercising in the morning to combat my Seasonal Affective Disorder. I thought I would write a post to follow up on how it has been going:
Actually, it has been great! Now, don't get me wrong, I don't pop out of bed singing in the morning... exercise is not some magic bullet. However, it has made a huge difference. In my post about SAD and its effects on me, I tried to explain what it was like for me to wake up each morning when it's been dark. For some reason, the lack of light in the morning has really hit me hard. Setting back the clocks at the time change helped a bit and it was a bit lighter in the morning, but only for a week or two. Today when I woke up it was as dark out as if it were midnight. Before I started exercising regularly, this made it incredibly difficult for me to get out of bed. Have you ever taken cold medication and had it knock you out, and then try to get up? You know that feeling like your limbs are made of lead and your head is underwater? It was something like that, except that when it happens under the influence of cold medication, you can pretty easily laugh it off. Maybe not at the time, but later anyway. When it isn't the result of something you can control though - and it happens morning after morning - it become depressing very, very quickly. There were times that I found myself wondering if having a job was worth it. Not that I would actually act on that, but these ridiculous (though regularly occurring) thoughts show how bad it was getting.
It didn't matter how much sleep I got, either. I tried going to bed earlier and that just made it worse! Even if I felt like I was going to be able to fall asleep when I went to bed, once the lights were off I became restless and ended up being awake far past my normal bedtime, which meant I was overly sleepy on top of everything else!
So, a little over a month ago, I began exercising...
I am getting up 40 minutes earlier than I was. That gives me time to get up, get into my workout clothes, go downstairs and turn the lights on, then exercise for 25-30 minutes. I'm not doing anything terribly strenuous - some yoga stretches and light aerobics, mostly. (In the evenings, I try to do another hour, but that depends a bit on how busy I am. I've been able to do it most nights, though.)
The exercise has made a big difference. I still wake up wishing I could sleep in a little longer, but it's that normal "weekday wishing it was the weekend" feeling. It isn't depressing at all. As a coworker of mine who gets up really early said - "it isn't getting up an hour or two earlier that is hard, it's the first five minutes." In my case it isn't even that. The first minute I open my eyes I might be wishing the alarm hadn't gone off, but a moment later I am dressed and downstairs, and by then, everything it fine.
I'm feeling really good and glad to have shaken that depression. In addition, I've gotten the side benefit of losing a little weight. It seems the past few busy months have taken a bit of a toll on my waistline. I managed to eat pretty healthy, but I was eating rather late at night. I'm talking dinner at 10:00 p.m. - or much, much later. In my younger years this was no problem, but I have finally come to accept that, now that I am in my late 30s, my metabolism has changed. The late meals were not good for me, and that will be something I will have to work on when I get busy again. Anyway, the exercise has been great and I am now pretty close the same weight I was when I was married (which was the last time I had a scale.) I have to believe that those few extra pounds weren't helping my sluggishness any either!
I received a lot of supportive and interested comments on the original post. If you are dealing with SAD, I encourage you to check them out - along with this advice from my friend Tracey:
I too, have difficulties with SAD and everything you said is awesome!I am sure you have done your homework on this, but medically SAD is thought to be caused by lower levels of the hormones/chemicals Melatonin and Serotonin in the body. It is also considered an Environmental Psychiatric condition, so all that you're doing to change your environment is wonderful!
I strongly dislike taking any medications/supplements, etc..But when it gets really bad for me I take Melatonin in a small dose. There is a very respected health-food store in our area (you know the one), and they are VERY educated on SAD and can recommend anything from vitamins to different teas to help.
www.ei-resource.org is a great reference for SAD. And www.melatonin.com has a lot of info as well.
Here's hoping to a happier winter!
Photo of figure in Cobra pose (one of the poses I do in the morning) by: The Other Martin Taylor