According to Harvard Medical school in 2008, upwards of half a million U.S. citizens suffer from seasonal affective disorder, or SAD (ironically enough, that's the acronym... *headdesk*). Women are more likely to be depressed during the winter months, and of course, living farther away from the equator increases your risks.
I've personally lived with depression since I was a wee teen in 8th grade, and as a result, I am predisposed to feel the effects of SAD. I've had some really bad winters, and it wasn't because I didn't get a Christmas present I wanted or because I was left kissing a bottle of whiskey at midnight on New Years. But, this year (as I write this I'm thinking of the infamous YouTube video by John Roberts aka voice of Linda from Bob's Burgers) I'm working to overcome SAD and I want to share with you what has and hasn't worked for me.
If you're reading this and have never felt the ill effects of SAD then I am jealous of you! What kind of creature are you? Regardless, I urge you to keep reading on because you might find some insight on how to pull yourself out of a bad mood or string of bad days. Or, you might know someone who suffers from SAD, and this information can help her or him out!
I'm going to cover what the effects of SAD are vs. the "regular" blahs (because we all get moody sometimes, don't deny it), what causes it, and some suggestions to overcome it.
What is SAD?
Okay, so SAD is a serious condition, and it involves some extreme symptoms: sadness, depression, lethargy, feeling unmotivated, oversleeping, not sleeping at all, irritability, isolating oneself, and being overly self-critical. SAD is not feeling sad for a day or two, being enraged because someone cut you off in traffic (I'm from NY so our subconscious tells us to flip the bird at anyone who gets in our way while driving - here's a Louie CK clip on the matter (warning! vulgar language ahead)), or any other negative feelings that are fleeting. It typically begins in the later fall months and can last up until spring. For more on this topic, please visit this article.
What causes SAD?
For some it is genetic, for others it is caused by how close you are to the equator, and for others it is both. In some cases, the cause is truly unknown, frustrating, I know. Yet, getting adequate time under the sun is essential for regulating our circadian rhythm, which has a big impact on our hormonal balance and serotonin and melatonin production. More information on why serotonin is so important to maintaining our happiness and both mental and physical health can be found here.
How can we beat it?
Throughout the years, a lot of awesome suggestions have been offered up to keep a smile on your face while there's snow on the ground. Let's dive right in...
Find a way to expose yourself to sunlight or artificial light.
Even though winter months aren't prime-time for getting your tan on, there are still opportunities to catch some rays, weather permitting of course. Try to go for a walk with a friend, pet (I'm all for walking cats!), or by yourself with some favorite tunes. The more time you spend outside, the better you will feel, unless if you live in Normal, Illinois and every time you walk outside your nose hairs stick together and you cry involuntarily because of the wind... Anyway, I digress.
If you have the funds, look into buying a sun lamp. I've used one before and honestly didn't get much out of it, but there are a lot of underlying issues and reasons for my depression, so it might work for you! It's good for those days where it's just impossible to go outside.
Try a vitamin D supplement.
Many people who suffer from depression in any form, aside from SAD, can benefit from taking vitamin D3. We typically get vitamin D from the sun, so naturally, during the winter months that source is depleted. Of course, it is important to work with a qualified physician before starting any new medications/supplements, so get tested for your vitamin D levels before adding this supplement into your routine.
Incorporate omega-3 enhancing fish or omega-3 supplements into your routine.
Omega-3 helps regulate some of our brain's finest chemicals: dopamine and serotonin. Both of these chemicals are directly connected to our mental well-being and happiness levels. Make sure that your omega-3 supplement is pure and doesn't contain artificial ingredients.
Getting up and moving is so important for your health whether you suffer from SAD or not. I suggest starting slow if you're low on energy. Taking a walk, going to a yoga class, dancing around in your room to a favorite song, or doing squats, lunges, and push-ups in your house all count as exercise. It doesn't have to be an insurmountable task or something as treacherous as running on the treadmill for an hour each day (if you're all about that I commend you. My legs were not made for long-distance, rather, I showcase my Mario-esque strides in short sprints).
Be social :-)
I am the queen of isolating myself when I'm in a depressive state. I lay on the floor with a blanket on top of me and listen to the most emo songs in the entire world and just feel bad about nothing and everything at the same time. One thing that always works for me is hanging out with friends or distracting myself with a social event. As hard as it is to break free from a negative thought loop where you think everyone hates you and you hate everyone else, taking the initiative to hang out with others can make you feel better :-)
As cheesy as the saying you are what you eat sounds, there's definitely stock in it. Coming from someone who used to eat ice cream sundaes with huge cookies on top and then shovel down half a bag of Doritos, I understand how difficult it can be to break the addiction from unhealthy food. Gluten, cheese, desserts, pizza, fast food, etc. can take over your brain and make you crave food even when you aren't hungry. Unhealthy food can cause inflammation in your body, weight gain, brain fog, anxiety, mood swings, etc. Healthy food can do so much for your mental and physical well-being, and it can be tasty too!
I'll be posting yummy healthy recipes in the upcoming weeks, so keep an eye out for those ;)
Distract yourself with something challenging.
For me, my depression gets kicked to the curb when I do something new. Whether it's learning a new song on the ukulele, trying out a new recipe, reading a scholarly article, or even starting a new blog, my brain is content when it's occupied. When I find myself doing mindless things such as binge watching Netflix, laying on the floor listening to music, or scrolling through social media, the depression lingers. That's not to say that the aforementioned hobbies are bad, they just don't help me on my journey to happiness when I'm feeling like a real Charlie Brown.
Treat yourself with kindness.
Make sure to find a place for yourself in your own heart. The harder we are on ourselves during this time of sadness, the longer it can take to heal and start feeling better. It's so easy to ruminate on how disappointed we are in ourselves for not being "normal" or for not being able to bounce back as quickly as others. It takes a lot of strength and courage to fight back against that voice inside your head and kick it to the curb. This is where patience comes in handy :-)
Disclaimer: this is not an exhaustive list!
For instance, seeking out therapy is also a great way to manage depression.
I'd love to hear from you, the reader, about what works for you when you're down in the dumps. Please leave a comment, and let's create some dialogue about this issue! I find that it is really empowering to talk about health-related matters and create a plan to overcome the negative ailments in our lives.
Hopefully this post has provided you with some insight and comfort in knowing that you are not alone in your fight against the blues. I'm always here to listen and talk if need be :-)
Until next time!
Carr, K. (2014, November 6). 9 Ways to Treat Seasonal Affective Disorder (or Winter Blues). Retrieved January 21, 2015, from http://kriscarr.com/blog-video/seasonal-affective-disorder-treatment/
Hendriksen, E. (2014, March 1). How to Beat Winter Blues and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Retrieved January 21, 2015, from http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/health-fitness/mental-health/how-to-beat-winter-blues-and-seasonal-affective-disorder-sad
SeasonalAffective Disorder. (2000, March 1). Retrieved January 21, 2015, from http://www.aafp.org/afp/2000/0301/p1531.html
Vogt, R. (2015, January 18). Health Officials Offer Advice on Seasonal Affective Disorder. Retrieved January 21, 2015, from http://buffalo.twcnews.com/content/news/801244/health-officials-offer-advice-on-seasonal-affective-disorder/
Weil, A. (2015, January 1). Health Centers. Retrieved January 21, 2015, from http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/ART03384/Seasonal-Affective-Disorder-SAD.html
Disclaimer: Chronic Illness Chronicles does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Information found on this blog is compiled from research or personal accounts. Please consult a physician or healthcare professional before making any changes to your current healthcare regiment.