Is SAD Stealing Your Mojo?

Girl sitting quietly by the window with anxiety and season affective disorder.

Getting started is often hard, especially in the Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) months.  Even in sunny Florida, the winter months are much darker than those of the other seasons.  We feel sluggish, it’s harder to get out of bed in the morning and starting any task seems to require Herculean resolve.  Even things that typically pique our interests, don’t even register a blip on our sensory radar.  Nonetheless, being productive even in the absence of motivation is still possible with a slight adjustment of your outlook.

Generally, I advise those experiencing anxiety and depression to stay in the moment and focus on the present; too much focus on the future breeds fear and worry and too much focus on the past creates longing and regret.

Regardless of what it is you’re trying to accomplish, breaking down your end goal down into smaller individual steps can help make the undesirable tasks seem more manageable and less daunting. Taking things one step at a time also makes it easier to act deliberately and find purpose in each moment.  The fictional Date Doctor, Alex “Hitch” Hitchens was on to something when he declared, “Begin each day as if it were on purpose!”   


When folks gripe about how difficult it is to even open their eyes in the morning and face the day, I often suggest that they identify one thing that they can do that day to bring them joy or satisfaction.  Focusing on that one thing provides them with at least one purposeful activity for the day.  Sometimes this thing is an item already on the “to do” list and other times it is inserted amidst other items as an incentive to complete or reward for completing the other tasks.  For example, back in 2014 when TGIT was at its peak, Thursday was one of the easiest mornings to get started, because I knew that after a long day at the office, regardless of how it went, dragons would be slayed once I got comfy on my sofa, switched on the tv and lived vicariously through Olivia Pope and Annalise Keating.  

Sometimes, however, we find ourselves in inexplicable funks, and our favorite tv shows or edible indulgences aren’t rewarding enough to keep everything on our “to do” lists from seeming like weight-laden acts of drudgery.  And it’s no surprise that more people (myself included) experience these funky periods most often between December and March.  During this dark period, restoring motivation actually requires more of a long term, big picture approach and making a concerted effort to connect a less appealing now to a more desirable future.  We must remind ourselves how the humdrum tasks of today are integral steps of the process towards reaching our final goal.

 A common complaint I hear this time of year as people embark upon their New Year’s Resolutions is how eating the boring food on their diets has got them wanting to give in and splurge on sweet and fatty yummies.  And while it’s true, baby carrots are a bland substitute for hot gooey chocolate whatever, each time you chew a baby carrot, instead of a cookie, you are one bite closer to fitting into that CFM cocktail dress hanging in the closet.   In fact, research has shown time and again that picturing yourself at your goal-weight in flattering clothing can help you stay on track, in much the same way that imagining yourself being invited on job interviews might remind you of why you are searching for a job in the first place and compel you to complete or update your resume.  

What complicates matters even more is that motivation appears at different stages for different people, and for different tasks.  Under some circumstances, you may be able to summon your mojo at the outset of a task, while in other cases, you will need to check at least one box on your list before embracing the remaining challenges awaiting you.  The latter is especially more common during the winter months I mentioned above.    

Successful athletes, writers, performers and other professionals will tell you that they work on their craft even when they don’t feel like it.  Most of them report that often times the motivation to complete their projects or work-outs doesn’t appear until after they get started.    The trick is to begin with the second-to-easiest task on your list and use the momentum from that to propel you forward through your next item.   And remember, it doesn’t always have to be perfect.  More often than not, it just has to get done!  So, as the saying goes… Just do it!

I want to hear from you!  What do you do to get moving when SAD sets in?