- Melissa Petro is a freelance writer based in New York where she lives with her husband and two small children.
- As someone who struggles with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), Petro says she's found it especially difficult to balance her health with work and family responsibilities this winter.
- To boost her spirits and be more productive, she wakes up earlier, created a childcare schedule with her husband, hired a professional house cleaner, and rented a small office space so she can work with minimal distractions.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Although I am not clinically depressed, each year the colder weather ushers in subtle changes to my mood, alertness, energy and appetite. It strikes hard around my birthday - which just so happens to be New Year's Eve. I feel an enormous pressure to take stock, reset my life, and become healthier and more accomplished (immediately!) even as the colder temperatures and fewer daylight hours make me want to clock out, skip my workout, and comfort eat under a cozy blanket on the couch in front of the TV.
According to Cleveland Clinic, seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, affects 5% of adults in the United States, and about 75% of sufferers are women. Another 20% of Americans are met by a milder condition known as the "winter blues."
For obvious reasons, many of us who struggle with seasonal depression may be finding this year even harder.
Shuttered businesses, economic uncertainty, and high rates of unemployment in the US, as well as fear and worry about getting sick, have taken an unprecedented toll on our nation's mental health. Last week, a record number of Americans died from COVID as pro-Trump rioters violently stormed US Capitol. If grim statistics and political violence leave you feeling nervous, anxious, distracted, dazed, and overwhelmed, you're not alone.
Like everyone else, the past year has left me emotionally exhausted. But also like everyone else, I have responsibilities, including two young children and bills to pay. So rather than succumbing to feelings of hopelessness, I'm controlling what I can, and staying relatively cheerful and productive as a consequence.
In spite of *gestures widely at everything,* here's how I'm holding it together:
Sun exposure plays a role in seasonal depression, and so I wake up around sunrise.
Okay, let's be honest: Like many parents of young children, I have little choice. The kids are up every day just before dawn, demanding my immediate and undivided attention.
Like most people who suffer from the winter blues, I'd almost always rather be sleeping, but especially so at 5 a.m. But research has long showed that people do best when they rise with light, and exposure to bright light in the morning can help people feel more alert.
Don't tell the toddlers, but I'm sort of glad for the alarm clock. As difficult as it is to crawl out from under my covers, I know that when I wake up early, I feel calmer, less hurried, and more ready to start my day.
I stick to a daily schedule.
A typical day looks like this: We wake up and spend a little time together as a family before my husband gets to work in his home office and I get to work at my unpaid job as "mom." After I put the house in order and get everybody dressed and fed, I usually try to take the kids outside or engage them both in an indoor activity. Other days, I clean the house while the kids play independently (aka destroy their bedroom).
Mid-morning, the littlest one takes a nap while my 3-year-old indulges in a little screen time and I squeeze in a quick run. After lunch, there's more housework. Then, I try and do something relatively educational: I might read the kids a book or lead them in an art-making activity before I hand them off to dad.
With a set schedule, the day flies by. Dad does childcare in the afternoon while I focus on my freelance work. Before I know it, it's dinner and bath time. There's no time for doom-scrolling on social media or binge watching Netflix until after the kids are in bed and by then, I'm too beat to feel blue.
I embrace the routine.
Yes, everyday is a bit monotonous, but for me, having a routine is comforting.
According to doctors, there's a reason for this: Routines generate a "positive level of stress" that helps us feel upbeat and focused, rather than depressed. Experts say routines are good for kids, too; following a predictable schedule in the home gives children a sense of safety, and helps them feel like a part of a smoothly running household.
I maintain a dedicated workspace.
With kids' crying, laundry everywhere, and toys strewn across the floor- not to mention my partner interrupting my concentration every five minutes to ask a question or share a funny meme- pandemic protocols made it impossible to focus. Because of this, at the start of the summer, my husband and I set up a pop-up office on our porch.
When it became too cold to work outside, I wasn't ready to surrender my solitude, and so I began subletting a nearby private office space from a friend.
Now, for a couple hundred dollars a month, I get the priceless experience of peace and quiet, a change of scenery, and minimal distractions while still adhering to physical distancing protocols. I'm sitting in my office at this very moment, finishing this article while my husband takes care of the kids so I don't have to worry, which is absolutely magical.
My partner and I are on the same page.
I've been a WFH mom since my son was born three years ago and so, when the pandemic first hit, not much changed other than the fact that my husband was there, too, dirtying dishes and disrupting my routines. Initially, I tried to carry out my typical day around him, and he helped, but both of us parenting and working at the same time was often more frustrating than helpful. Then we started alternating childcare duties, and now our family is functioning better than ever.
We hire a house cleaner.
My husband and I work as a team - and when things get extra stressful, we take housework off our 'to do' list and pay to have the house professionally cleaned.
In non-pandemic times, we would hire a nanny or send at least our eldest kid to daycare, but with new "super strains" of COVID on the rise we're simply too afraid. Hiring a housekeeper felt like a safer option, especially after we learned that Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, employs a house cleaner every two weeks.
To be careful, our whole family fully vacates the house for the duration of our housekeeper's visit.
I fight the urge to overachieve and focus on the positive.
Under normal circumstances, I would be setting ambitious new year's resolutions, but this year's circumstances aren't normal. These days, it's an accomplishment to eat right, exercise, brush my teeth and wash my hair, and get myself and my kids dressed in the morning.
It's also an accomplishment to stay sober and not eat a pint of ice cream by myself until the kids are asleep and it's the end of the day, when I most definitely do eat that pint of ice cream because *everything.* For now, I set aside lofty ambitions and focus on caring for myself, and tending to the health and emotional needs of my family. Before we know it, winter will be over. The new administration will be inaugurated, we'll all be closer to getting vaccinated, and it will be spring.