Halloween is upon us next week and with that comes the full force of winter. Technically it's still autumn (something that I will fight with my entire being that people don't forget), but once everyone wakes up from their candy-induced hangover, there seems to be one universal thought: Christmas. Businesses and Christmas fanatics come to gather to thrust us all into the next holiday and effectively bring about winter for everyone.
I'm only partially upset about it. Maybe a lot.
Putting my personal plight aside, early November ushers the end of daylight savings time; effectively placing everyone in the wintery mindset. While winter is a lovely season, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or seasonal depression shows itself once again.
What is SAD?
Seasonal Depression might be more common than you think, affecting about 4 to 6 percent of Americans. This depressive episode is commonly triggered by changes in daylight weather during winter. There are some cases of people developing SAD during the spring, but winter seems to be the most common. The theories that discuss the onslaught of the disorder revolve around two ideas: 1. that seasonal changes disrupt the body's natural circadian rhythm, which in turn makes us more tired, and 2. the changing seasons disrupt the hormones responsible for sleep regulation, mood and well being: serotonin and melatonin. Whatever the reason may be, SAD is a difficult and overwhelming disorder to deal with.
Common signs include:
tiredness or low energy
appetite changes and weight gain/loss
loss of interest in normal activities that you enjoy
a pattern of feeling depressed during seasonal changes
If you've noticed yourself exhibit any of these behaviors, or even other out-of-the-normal behaviors, you should talk to your doctor or mental health professional. There are several anti-depressants, tips, and medicines that they can give to you. That being said, for the sake of this blog, I'll focus on natural remedies that will help ease the symptoms and keep you in a positive mindset.
Remedies and Tips:
One of the most important remedies I'd recommend is making sure you get plenty of vitamin D during this time. While the most obvious route to this would be to either take supplements or spend time outside, I recognize that the days are shorter during the winter and people might not be able to be outside for more than five minutes a day. If you're stuck in a stuffy office building, try and find some time to relax next to an open window during a break (yell at your boss if they aren't giving you a break). If windows still aren't accessible to you during optimal sun-filled hours, you can always invest in bright light therapy. Bright light therapy will expose you to artificial light, but it keeps your circadian rhythm on track. Being able to sit in front of a light box for at least 20 minutes a day should boost your mood. The general consensus seems to be to use the box when you first wake up in the morning rather than at the end of the day. That being said, any light time - artificial or natural - is recommended. Find something that works for your schedule and soak up that vitamin D.
Some other picks- me ups I recommended include getting up and getting physical (if you're anything like me then you definitely just cringed at the thought of that). But seriously, getting your body up and moving, no matter how small is a game changer in both physical and mental health. You don't have to do anything excessive, but I find that yoga or basic stretches are a good start. I personally like to start with my favorite pose and then go from there, but the order is entirely up to you. Some good poses to start with are Balasana and Ustrasana - Child's pose and Camel pose. A nice guide to different poses that help with both anxiety and depression can be found here.
Remember that if you're up for a more vigorous workout, I hear running does wonders for the mind, body, and spirit. If running is hard for you, like it is for me, sometimes I pop on a dramatic playlist and pretend I'm running away from a terrifying threat. It's weird but it gets my blood pumping and my legs moving.
If exercises like running are not viable options for you, please keep in mind that their are other exercises you can do. I recommend asking your doctor for a beneficial plan or even talking to a personal trainer; that way you can get a routine that is customized to you.
Some other options available to those struggling with seasonal depression include more holistic approaches such as journaling or even doing something that you find mentally/physically relaxing. That could be any type of art or music therapy as well as using essential oils in the bath or shower. I know journaling can often be seen as a juvenile task, but putting your thoughts in a place where no one can judge you and you can just vent, is incredibly helpful. Being able to articulate what exactly is bothering you or waves of feelings that have no trigger, is something that makes you both emotionally intelligent and strong. Having the ability to sit with yourself and regulate your own emotions - especially during a depressive episode - is something that is both admirable and valuable.
Seasonal depression can often feel overwhelming, but it is manageable. Millions of people wake up during the winter and just feel off - so remember that you aren't alone. People - doctors, friends, and strangers alike - are more than willing to get you the right resources to help you through this episode. If it ever feels like everything is too much, don't be afraid to reach out and talk to someone that can understand and help. Your mental health is extremely important. If you need a resource, check out the hotline below.
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