How to Create Through Wintertime Sadness (SAD)

We’ve all experienced that moment when autumn changes into winter. The season of leaves crackling under our feet, hot pumpkin lattes, and leather jackets slowly fades into cold, bitter temperatures. And then you start to feel an overwhelming dread: winter isn’t coming any more; it’s here. Goodbye productivity.

If you experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD), you’re in the 5 percent of adults in the U.S. that suffer from this type of depression every winter, with women being four times more susceptible to experience it than men. It’s like night and day. Suddenly, you lose the passion for your work. You experience changes in appetite, and even sleep, and your energy levels go way down. In almost an instant, your mood correlates to the drop in temperature.

The fact remains, you rely on your creativity to make a living, regardless of the weather outside. So, even if you don’t have SAD officially, it can be a challenge to deal with a mild case of winter blues while getting those creative juices flowing, so you can deliver content to your patrons.

You’re not alone; Patreon artist gg, has published a graphic novel called I’m Not Here and creates cover illustrations for books, including Mary H.K. Choi’s bestseller Emergency Contact. After a brief hiatus from the platform, she came back to Patreon to share her collection of sketches, works in progress and experiments, and she write about the process, materials, and general ideas behind her projects.

She mentions lack of sunlight and shorter days can affect her productivity and ability to kick off projects. But even though she feels bogged down by cloudy, cold days, she tries to find the slower, quiet days of winter “productive because there are less distractions calling to me from outside. I’ve been using Patreon as a daily blog to help me reinforce a routine.”

So what can you do beyond that? Pull up your mug of hot tea and maybe even burrow under a weighted blanket — we’ve got you. We did some research so you can set yourself up for success in spite of SAD.

Break down tasks to smaller, approachable pieces

“The best way I have found to stay motivated (and this is really only a recent discovery for me) is to have a good routine in place and make sure that tasks are broken down into smaller pieces so that I don’t get overwhelmed by big projects,” says gg. Try to do one thing at a time as multitasking can make you even less efficient.

To make it a little easier to follow the routine when you’re dragging, gg shares that she blocks off her day in advance so she knows exactly what to do throughout the day. Knowing how her day is going to look like helps her stay on track.

“I think that the thought of having patrons who may be waiting for me to post something helps me stay on track. That relationship drives me to want to do more for them and make better work — which makes me better creatively and with time-management in general.”

She’s right. A recent study found that maintaining a daily routine is important for your mental health, including a decreased chance that you’ll develop a major depression disorder and even helps you get better sleep. Consider investing in a light therapy box to use while you work too, as it mimics outdoor light and can ease your SAD symptoms.

Allow yourself to take breaks

“It’s necessary to forgive yourself for being human and needing to take breaks. It’s natural to get tired. This is something that took me a while to learn and accept, but resting is not the same as being lazy,” she says. She suggests taking the time to read a book or exercise in order to stimulate your brain with other things instead of the project you’re stuck on.

A 2017 study found that one hour of exercise a week can help you prevent depressive episodes. A quick way to implement this is by heading outside and taking a walk around the block while listening to your favorite playlist or podcast.

If it’s hard to leave the house wearing 37 layers to stay warm, jump on YouTube for free workout videos. Get moving and then take the time to recover by eating a good meal. If needed, get an accountability buddy to take those winter breaks with you.

“I believe that rest is an important part of the creative process because that’s when ideas expand and develop the most,” gg says.

Surround yourself with support

Whether it’s your close friends or your fellow Patreon entrepreneurs, having a support system to reach out to during this time is essential to move forward. Your support circle can encourage you to stick to your routine when your motivation levels are low or they can be a sounding board for your ideas when you’re feeling unsure.

“If things move slower in the winter, don’t feel bad and just let things be slower and look for a good rhythm in that. Maybe that means only doing a tiny bit each day and that’s totally fine,” says gg.

Beyond friends, it’s vital to build an environment that fuels your creativity around your work area by keeping it clean and organized. Too much clutter actually overwhelms the brain and your ability to think creatively, according to a recent Princeton University study.

“Focus on what you’re able to accomplish, no matter how small, and the joy of accomplishing it. It’s important to get joy out of what you’re making. Otherwise, what’s the point?”

Winter’s cloudy, cold days can get to you and that’s okay. Create a plan of action that involves a routine with a buffer for breaks and daily movement when possible and a strong support system.

While your creativity and productivity levels may be lower than the rest of the year, use the slower time to think more about how you can grow your membership on Patreon and goals that you want to accomplish once your energy kicks in once again in the warmer months. If this isn’t your personal season of productivity, you might just find it’s a perfect season for planning your attack. Rest up, strategize, and go get ’em when you’re back in the swing of spring.