mental health

How I Deal with Darker Mornings & Evenings

How I Deal with Darker Mornings & Evenings | Writing Between Pauses

It’s well-established that I do not like the summer months. However, every single Fall, when the nights start coming earlier and I start waking up at 7am to pitch black outside… I’m shocked. I always kind of forget how early it gets dark in the Fall and Winter.

And as much as I love Fall, it is kind of a bummer to wake up totally in the dark every single morning. It can be really hard to start happy & healthy with such early nights and late mornings.

I live in Oregon, which can also be a bit dismal the entire Winter: it can be rainy & cloudy for days, weeks, months at a time. And without any snow, there isn’t even any cheery winter vibes either. Just rain, just clouds, just dark mornings spent driving in the rain. I know many can relate when I say that it can get old fast; it can make days feel longer; and it can make your mood go south fast, especially if you’re pre-disposed depression.

People often ask (not just me, but everyone) how to deal with seasonal affective disorder, or just how to deal with those dismal, dark mornings and evenings. I thought I’d share a few tips that have helped me over the years—so I can love Fall without being miserable.

1. Invest in a good light therapy lamp.

A few years ago, Danny & I bought a Happy Lamp, a light therapy lamp, at Costco and it was a total game changer for both of us. We both noticed that during the winter, we both got sluggish and tired. (This has only increased since we had Forrest and I’m beginning to suspect it’s just my life now.) But the Happy Lamp worked a lot: we would turn it on in the evening as we sat and watched TV, or worked in our office. Within a few weeks, we noticed a marked improvement in our moods.

We’ve used it religiously ever since.

We moved in July and now have separate offices, so I’m looking to buy my own light therapy lamp. As I said, we bought ours at Costco and it was around $40, totally worth it. It’s not a sun lamp, exactly, but mimics the light from the sun to help us get more vitamin D. I’ve found a few contenders, but I think I’ll be purchasing this one for my office this year.

2. Establish a routine that brings you joy.

For me, this is:

  • Light a candle

  • Take a bath

  • Read a good book

On days where the darkness is just getting to me, this helps me feel better and break me out of the cycle. It might be different for you though! This definitely isn’t prescriptive. Doing something that makes you happy, that comforts you, is perfect for those dark mornings and evenings. So whether you’re starting your morning with something you love (like going for a run) or ending your day with a good self-care ritual (like a face mask and painting your toenails), find something that brings you joy to lessen the darkness.

3. Get outside.

“But Michelle! It’s pouring down rain/snowing/20 degrees below 0!”

Ok, extreme weather not-withstanding, go outside. I promise! Really! Taking a 10 minute walk outside is better than sitting inside your house until it gets dark, then feeling miserable. Put on a good podcast, lace up your sneakers (or invest in a very good pair of rain boots), and go outside.

4. Talk to your doctor.

If you notice yourself getting really miserable and struggling with how late the dark starts and how early it ends, talk to your doctor.

In the US, seeking mental health help can often be a huge pain in the ass; it’s not accessible to everyone, which is why I’m sharing some other ways to help yourself. But I’m not a doctor! If you’re really struggling, antidepressants might make Fall & Winter just that much more doable for you this year.

Book Review: A Book That Takes Its Time

Book Review: A Book That Takes Its Time | Writing Between Pauses

Do you ever impulse buy something that turns out to be done of the best decisions you ever made? 

That's about how I feel about this book: A Book That Takes Its Time, by Irene Smit and Astrid van der Hulst. I bought this on impulse at Target in late March; it was on sale, it looked pretty, and I was intrigued by the mini notebook that the book opened to automatically. (They know how to sucker me in, honestly.) It was only when I got home that I realized this was more than a fun journaling book; it was a book dedicated to helping people learn mindfulness in a way that is creative and helps ease anxiety. 

Take time to breathe. Take time to create. Take time to reflect, take time to let go. A book that’s unique in the way it mixes reading and doing, A Book That Takes Its Time is like a mindfulness retreat between two covers.

Created in partnership with Flow, the groundbreaking international magazine that celebrates creativity, beautiful illustration, a love of paper, and life’s little pleasures, A Book That Takes Its Time mixes articles, inspiring quotes, and what the editors call “goodies”—bound-in cards, mini-journals, stickers, posters, blank papers for collaging, and more—giving it a distinctly handcrafted, collectible feeling.

Read about the benefits of not multitasking, then turn to “The Joy of One Thing at a Time Notebook” tucked into the pages. After a short piece on the power of slowing down, fill in the designed notecards for a Beautiful Moments jar. Make a personal timeline. Learn the art of hand-lettering. Dig into your Beginner’s Mind. Embrace the art of quitting. Take the writing cure. And always smile. Move slowly and with intention through A Book That Takes Its Time, and discover that sweet place where life can be both thoughtful and playful.

I've been pretty open about my mental health here on my blog (although there are certain things I am hesitant to share and I still wonder if my mental health story would be more full if I shared them--but c'est la vie, right now, I'm not sure if I want them as part of my public history). I've shared about my postpartum depression. I've shared the habits I've started to help reduce my anxiety, as well as tips to reduce stress. I've written about how staying creative helps me be a better mom. I've talked on Instagram about how I struggle with boredom (I get bored very easily, but with a toddler to manage, it's hard to actually dedicate myself to projects), as well as perfectionism and imposter syndrome. I feel like I always need to be busy in order to feel productive--and when I'm not productive, I turn to destructive behaviors, like stress eating and napping throughout the day, which only compounds my feelings of boredom and disappointment in myself. 

Millennial Culture

At the center of A Book That Takes Its Time is the idea that it is ok to slow down; it is ok to not be working every waking hour, even though it has been drilled into us (especially us millennials) that being productive matters more than anything else. That being busy is a competition and if you admit to not being busy, you have somehow failed. 

Each chapter walks you through a specific part of learning to be more mindful about the world around you. About letting yourself just sit in silence for a little while, instead of scrolling through your phone while watching TV. About learning to name the plants and animals you see outside your home, so you can more fully connect to the natural world. About learning hobbies, like lettering and collaging, that give you time to disconnect from the digital world and unwind. 


Learning mindfulness, especially for someone like me who finds themselves thinking of 100 things every second of the day, can be a real challenge. But also at the heart of A Book That Takes Its Time is the idea that once you allow yourself to really relax and be mindful, you actually get more done in the time that you're working. That thought is somewhat revolutionary to me: I tend to think of work as a glass to fill up, that can never overflow. But if you're constantly overflowing, you never really fill the glass. 

I really enjoyed working on all the chapters and activities in this book. It has helped me to relax and really unwind in the evening (instead of lying in the bathtub pretending to relax, but really listening to a marketing podcast and answering emails at the same time). There are some activities I have skipped--like lettering, which is very labor intensive and sparks some feelings of perfectionism for me--but I've otherwise enjoyed just about everything, from learning the names of plants and animals to working on a 30-day writing journal. It has helped me to get back into bullet journaling and feeling passionate about art journaling in the evening. And as a bonus, I have gotten more done since then. 

I don't want to make a grand statement like, this book totally helped my anxiety! That's just not true. I'm still anxious most days. I still struggle with boredom during the day with Forrest and I've yet to find a good solution for that. However, I found reading this book very relaxing and gave me some methods to deal with my feelings of guilt surrounding being busy and working, as well as dealing with my anxiety.

If you're interested, this is a great book for those wanting to learn about being mindful, especially if you're a bit high strung (like me). You can find it on Amazon here

10 Habits I've Started to Reduce Anxiety

10 Habits I've Started to Reduce Anxiety | Writing Between Pauses

I've struggled with anxiety since I was quite young. 

When I was 2, I was well known for twirling my hair. This habit didn't go away when my pediatrician said it would; in fact, it got worse. If you know me today, you know that I still twirled my hair near constantly. Not as obviously as I did when I was 2, but still noticeably. I like braiding my hair or rubbing it between my fingers, or twisting it around my finger over and over again. 

I never associated my hair twirling with anxiety, but I've learned, as I've gotten older, that I use it as a way to comfort myself when I feel anxious. 

The last few years of my life have been defined by anxiety--to the point where my anxiety started to have effects on my health. 

Lots of people have lots of different ways of dealing with their anxiety--and what works for some people definitely doesn't work for other people. For me, my anxiety often calms down when I'm able to spend a whole day cleaning my house and getting bits of my life in order (something I've been desperately wanting to do for ages now). For others, they feel better when they get a chance to relax or treat themselves in a way they normally do. It just depends!

When I sat down to write this post, I thought of every different way I could indicate that these are just the things that work for me and I'm sharing them only in the hope that perhaps they can help you deal with your anxiety. I'm not a doctor and I'm not being prescriptive with this list. If you're really struggling with your anxiety, the best place to turn is a doctor--not the internet, unfortunately. (It's also important to remember that acts of self-care aren't just bubblebaths and eating your favorite foods, but also include self forgiveness, acts of self-kindness, and much more--and ultimately, self-care can't replace other forms of treatment for anxiety and depression! Get the help you need!) 

So, if you want to learn a few ways I've been helping my anxiety lately, keep reading!

1. Bullet Journaling

I've written about bullet journaling before and I know that for those with anxiety, bullet journals (especially as they appear on the internet) can feel really demanding and, honestly, a little anxiety-inducing. But once I gave bujo a chance (and let myself do it my way, instead of feeling like I had to have The Perfect Journal) it was really fun! I spend every evening working on my bullet journal, writing about my day, and filling out any pages that need filled. 

2. Exercising

I know this feels a little bit lame, but it's been a year since I started working out again and honestly, it's one of the best choices I ever made. For me, exercise walks a fine line between "reduces anxiety" and "causes anxiety". I have to be really mindful of how exercise is making me feel and if it starts to feel bad, I take a break. But overwhelmingly, getting myself in a routine feels really good; I love having my exercise time three days a week where I get out of the house. 

3. Creating a cleaning routine

The way my surroundings look is really important for me. I have to be in a clean, organized house. This has been a sore spot for me for a while because my husband is the exact opposite. I genuinely think he could live inside an active, operating barn and be totally fine, probably not notice a thing wrong. I've started doing what I call my "5 tasks" in the evening before bed and it makes a huge difference: emptying the dish strainer, loading the dishwasher, wiping the counters, cleaning the coffee pot, and sweeping the kitchen floor have made a huge difference in my anxiety level each morning. 

4. Reading

I've always been a reader and I read quite a lot, but for the past probably 6 months, I just haven't made time for it. But taking 10-20 minutes every day to read, instead of look at a screen, has really helped me not get my usual afternoon tension headaches. 

5. Washing my face

As much as I love skincare, sometimes I'm the worst at washing my face. But I have found that washing my face and doing the skincare routine that I really, really love helps relax me in the evenings and lets me unwind much easier. Who knew!? 

6. Listening to podcasts in the bathtub

I love podcasts (I've written at least three blog posts about it!) and I love taking baths. I used to primarily read in the bathtub, but I found that actually didn't help me relax as much as I wanted it to. I've started turning on my podcasts as I soak though and it's exactly what I need: something to occupy my brain, but not too much. 

7. Going to bed early

I have this weird thing about "using the time I have before bed", whatever that means. After Forrest goes to sleep, I feel like I have to accomplish everything: clean the house, food prep, whatever. So I usually don't get into bed until 10pm, then I'm up at 5--and frankly, that's just not enough sleep sometimes! And some nights, I just don't feel like tackling my rapidly expanding to do list and... you know what? Sometimes I don't have to. The email can wait until the morning. The blog post can get written some other time. Crawling into bed at 7pm simply because I feel like it is the best treat I can give myself. 

8. Eating breakfast

I've always really struggled with breakfast, as I'm usually not hungry right when I wake up and then I don't have time once I leave for work. But skipping breakfast also gives me a lot of anxiety: I worry about getting hungry later in the day, not having anything to eat, having to find something and spend money... you know, anxiety thoughts. I've been packing simple breakfasts for myself lately--cheese and crackers, yogurt and granola, smoothies, that kind of thing--and it's made a huge difference in allowing me to focus on my work and not feel anxious about getting hungry. 

9. Reducing how much coffee I drink

I love coffee. When Forrest was a newborn, I drank probably 3-4 cups a day, which is substantial for me, someone who never liked coffee before. I've gotten it down to less than 3 in recent months, but even that is quite a lot. Especially since I have pre-existing anxiety issues! I've started limiting myself to one cup in the morning and one cup in the afternoon. Hopefully soon I can cut out that afternoon cup! 

10. Quitting if I need to

I pride myself on not being a quitter. I try not to give up on tasks I set for myself, especially if they impact other people. But lately I've realized that sometimes my insistence on "finishing things" ends up biting me in the butt, for two reasons: firstly, I tend to not do that great of a job if I end up forcing it; and secondly, it just gives me horrible anxiety. Allowing myself to quit something, or at least set it aside for a few weeks and return to it when I feel motivated and able to complete it, has been really freeing. 

Getting Back on Track

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In my newsletter a few weeks ago, I wrote about how I'd been having really bad anxiety lately caused by a mix of macro and micro issues. For me, macro issues are global: things are happening every single day that just feel, well, bad, and it can be very scary. Micro issues are personal, individual, smaller issues that give me anxiety. The macro puts me in an anxious mood; the micro issues push me over the edge. So that when I freak out about a bunch of bugs in my living room that I need to vacuum up despite being terrified of bugs, I'm actually freaking out about the threat of nuclear war. 

For that reason, my blog, my Instagram, and my newsletter have been kind of all over the place. I tell myself that, for the sake of my mental health, I need to take a break. So I do. Then I feel bad about not blogging, about not writing my newsletter on Friday evening so it can send on Saturday, about not scheduling a blog post all week despite having a very clear editorial calendar set up. 

Then I get more anxious about it. And thus, the cycle continues. 

I've been thinking about this a lot lately. I love blogging; I love that it gives me something to do that isn't horribly high-pressured outside of my day job. I can experiment with methods here that I can use in my day job. I like having a sense of purpose in everything I do and blogging gives me something to do in my downtime. But I know I can take it a little too seriously. Almost too seriously. 

I get very overwhelmed very easily, despite the fact that I seem to always be looking for something new to take on! I've let myself get too overwhelmed because I try to stay up to date on everything: politics, blogging, what's happening in content marketing. It does not help that I often spend evenings working for my day job, doing tasks for social media and more in the time between when my son goes to bed and I do. 

So what's a girl to do? 

As I've written before, I know I need to work on forgiving myself. I know I live a relatively easy life and, for that reason, I often feel like I can never slack off because I need to earn what I have. As well, I know I need to be easier on myself when it comes to finishing things; it doesn't have to be perfect and my version of success doesn't have to be others versions of success. I don't want to be a blogging phenom; it's hard when the measure of success in the blogging community is a certain level. But realistically, I don't want hundreds of thousands of people reading my blog or emailing me! 

A few months ago, I was doing a great job reducing my anxiety through working out, giving myself real time where I didn't do anything, and saying "no" to new tasks. I know I need to take that on again, so this is a way to hold myself accountable. If you're struggling right now too, I hope you join me.