Seasonal Depression is Real. How Can You Cope?
The weather and atmosphere can make you sad, especially in the shorter and darker winter months. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is defined as "a condition characterized by recurrent depressive episodes that occur annually" (Rosenthal, Sack, Gillin, Lewy, et. al, 1984). According to research, SAD and season change is associated with episodes of depression, mania, suicide attempts, and suicide. How do you cope with heightened episodes of depression during the winter months, especially when you live in the Northeast where dark winters are a reality? If you already suffer from depression or other mental health issues you might have noticed a trend in how your mood changes after the long summer days. Now I am no doctor and you should always consult your physician and mental health care professional for any diagnosis and medications regarding your health. But for me, someone already diagnosed with depression, once the fall time change occurs I am not only ready to hibernate but I am ready to increase my regular medication for the next four months. Unfortunately, I am not a bear and it is not socially acceptable that I sleep for four months. I realized that I needed some solutions to combat this dreary time of year.
Here are some tips that have helped me and I would like to share them with you.
1. Talk to Your Doctor - if you are battling depression or facing mental health issues it is always a good idea to schedule an appointment with a medical professional. You do not necessarily have to take anti-depressants or mood stabilizers, but it is something to discuss with your doctor.
2. Exercise - my goodness, this is so important! The other day I was in bed at 3pm from being exhausted and it took me 2 hours to coax myself out of bed and go to the gym. I finally dragged myself into the gym and just rode the bike for 30 minutes - quite leisurely from my usual intense workouts, but it helped! Do you remember that scene in the Disney movie, Wall-E where he goes outside and faces the Sun to recharge? Well that was me. The endorphins and serotonin that I got from those 30 minutes of exercise charged me up for the next two days and I felt less sluggish and my brain was functioning better than it had in days. If you can exercise outdoors in the sun, like a walk, do it and thank me later!
3. Light Therapy - two years ago I bought a light for this exact reason and you sit in front of it for 30 minutes in the morning to help battle feelings of fatigue and depression. I use the Verilux Happy Light it is portable and I can bring it with me while I work on my dissertation at my office at school or to the library where natural light is scarce.
4. Stick to a Schedule - this can really help you avoid being out of sorts. I found that sticking to my agenda and writing down things that I need to do keeps me motivated. This includes scheduling my workout sessions. I am using this 2019 - 2020 Garden Party Agenda from Rifle Paper & Co. Scheduling also forces me to be social and get out of the house.
5. Take a Vacation - Escape if you can getaway from winter for a few days and recharge, do it! Go somewhere sunny and warm. Travel + Leisure provide a list of the most affordable Winter travel. This is also a great time to go to the Caribbean and enjoy the beaches. Visit JetBlue Vacations for trip ideas, they make planning easy.
I hope that this list is helpful for you and or someone you love. If you need immediate help, click here to be connected to MentalHealth.Gov for assistance.
Share with me in the comments, what are some things that you do to battle SAD?
Additional Readings on SAD
3 Strategies to Fight Seasonal Affective Disorder
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Seasonal Affective Disorder
Rosenthal, N. E., Sack, D. A., Gillin, J. C., Lewy, A. J., Goodwin, F. K., Davenport, Y., ... & Wehr, T. A. (1984). Seasonal affective disorder: a description of the syndrome and preliminary findings with light therapy. Archives of general psychiatry, 41(1), 72-80.