It’s 3 p.m. and already dark outside. Even though I fell asleep at 9 p.m. and woke up at 9 a.m., I am ready to go back to sleep. My whole body aches, and just thinking about leaving the couch feels like an impossible task. Even though I’ve had anxiety and depression for most of my life, its sudden appearance in this moment surprises me. I have no idea where it’s coming from. I get a text from a cute guy I matched with on Hinge, back on a day when the sun was out and I felt like a person. Hey! Are we still on for tonight? Can’t wait to see you ;).
My attempts to telepathically get my date to cancel have failed so now I’m going through my mental list to figure out a new excuse I haven’t given this guy yet, which include but are not limited to:
- “Mysterious illness.” (One that apparently can only be cured by blankets and trash TV.)
- Mercury in retrograde?
- A series of unfortunate events, each more laughable than the next.
Once I’ve cobbled together my chosen excuse for bailing on our date, followed by my multiple apologies and a vague promise of a raincheck, I put my phone down in shame. Instead of feeling relieved about canceling plans, I feel even more anxious and depressed than I already was.
When I had gone on dating apps in early autumn, I hoped to find someone who’d go on cute fall dates with me. But autumn is over, the pumpkin patch is closed, and I don’t want to be charming and fun. I’m exhausted, and I look like a major flake.
Welcome To Seasonal Affective Disorder: The Ultimate Cock-Block
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, “a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons.” This type of depression most commonly occurs in late fall to early winter and goes away during the spring, although SAD can also occur during the summer months. Seasonal affective disorder is estimated to affect 10 million Americans each year and is four times more common in women than it is in men. Common symptoms of SAD are very similar to major depression and include low energy, weight gain, hypersomnia, and social withdrawal.
As someone who already has chronic major depression, SAD always knocks me off my feet. While it comes at the same time every year, I am never quite prepared for it. — so what’s a single gal to do? Do I give into the depression and send a massive group text to all my potential suitors that says, “Sorry but I am hibernating for the season. If you are interested in me, please text me back after the snow melts?”
Trust me, I’ve considered it, but after many, many flaky excuses and dating setbacks, I have learned some hacks to survive SAD season without going into my self-made blanket fort. Maybe they can help you out if you’re struggling, too.
Video Chat Your Date Before Meeting
As a single woman who works remotely and lives in a small town, I date exclusively through dating apps. While this is handy, it adds additional anxiety to a first date. How do I know this person on Plenty of Fish isn’t a huge creep? I’m an anxious person on a GOOD day, so add seasonal depression and meeting a stranger from the internet? Hard pass — I barely have the energy to do my dishes and take a shower. Now I have to put on a cute outfit, get an Uber, and eat dinner with a potentially boring person?
I’ve found that when I ask to FaceTime/Skype/Snapchat/call my date before agreeing to meet them, I’m really getting the first date out of the way in the comfort of my own home. I’m a people pleaser, so if someone I’m so-so about asks me out, I’ll say yes, hoping I’ll like them more before the in-person date happens — only to cancel at the last minute because I’m feeling iffy. Saying, “I’d love to get to know you more before meeting, want to FaceTime?” is a great way to meet someone on my terms when I’m managing my mental health. If I end up liking the person over FaceTime, I’m more likely to want to go an actual date with them instead of canceling because I’m feeling down. If I don’t like them after FaceTiming, then I didn’t have to waste a lot of spoons meeting them and we both can move on. Plus, video chatting is good online safety in general. Modern problems deserve modern solutions!
Push Through It (While Acknowledging How You Feel)
When I talked to Dr. LeslieBeth Wish, a noted psychotherapist and author of the new book Training Your Love Intuition about dating with seasonal affective disorder, I expected her to say that it’s okay to cancel plans and wait until you feel better. I was surprised when she said the exact opposite. “In general, pushing through a bout of depression and anxiety is your best strategy. The result is a feeling of triumph and belief in your inner reserve of strength and emotional bravery,” says Wish. She recommended that if you feel overwhelmed by your depression or anxiety, try working around it by either arranging for you and your date to meet up earlier, or say you have to leave early. To motivate yourself to leave the house, she recommends choosing to go somewhere you already enjoy, somewhere close to home, or to something you’ve been looking forward to. Wish says, when you are considering canceling on your date, “pretend that you live in a galaxy that does not allow date changes.”
It sounds counterintuitive to be social when it’s the last thing you want to do, but it revealed itself to be solid advice for me. After talking to Dr. Wish, I had a date that I wasn’t really interested in keeping, but I had run out of excuses. I decided to go anyway, and was surprised when it actually improved my mood. I don’t think I’ll go on a second date with that person, but just getting out of the house, being in a warm public place, and talking to another person who laughed at my terrible puns made me feel better. Plus, the knowledge that I overcame my SAD even for a few hours made me proud. “Get rid of the belief that you have to feel good before you do something that is emotionally challenging,” says Wish. “Waiting to feel better can actually make you feel worse because you feel as though you've failed yourself one more time.”
Remind Yourself That You Can Do It
A common symptom of both SAD and major depression is a feeling of hopelessness, which includes getting into the negative thought pattern that you can’t do something for X number of reasons. “I can’t go out because I don’t have any energy,” “It’s too cold,” “I won’t be any fun,” “I’m too anxious.” Wish suggests countering this thought by reminding ourselves of all the times we’ve overcome challenges in the past.
“Pushing through works best when you can think and say out loud a statement such as, ‘I've done this before when I…' (fill in the blank),” says Wish. “Don't [just] think it—be sure to say it out loud several times. Then, say it out loud while looking at yourself in the mirror. Boosting these thoughts with these behaviors calms your anxiety and mood because it activates the pleasure areas in your brain”
You have survived winter before. You can do it again, and enjoy yourself.
Know and Respect Your Limitations
Wish says that, while canceling on a date should ideally be a last resort, sometimes it’s necessary for your mental health. You know your health better than anyone, and if the thought of going out makes you overwhelmingly anxious and you’re certain you’ll feel better if you cancel, then cancel. You don’t have to tell your date the exact reason why you can’t go — especially if that person is basically a stranger. Saying,: “I’m not feeling well, can we reschedule?” is all the info they need. Don’t feel guilty for taking a mental health day, but I do suggest that you first consider every possible way to make the date happen. Otherwise you could end up with years of bad dating karma like me (I’ve been single for three years and get “u up?” texts from the people I’ve ghosted).
So with the mistletoe out and cuffing season in full swing, I hope to empower you to get out there and start dating again. You never know what could happen, and you might just feel a whole lot better.