Mental Health

The Elephant in the Room: Seasonal Depression

      Many people struggle with Seasonal Depression, also (appropriately) referred to as SAD: Seasonal Affective Disorder. Some people only suffer from depression seasonally, while other people (like myself) live with depression all year round, but feel that their depression worsens as the seasons change. SAD is said to be more likely to affect women, though it can affect anyone, even people who have never struggled with depression before. So, let’s talk about it, shall we?

WHAT IS “SAD?”

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of Depression that emerges when the seasons change. It’s also referred to as Seasonal Depression. Some people simply refer to it as the “winter blues”, while I typically refer to it as “Fuck my life, this shit again?” 

HOW DOES SAD AFFECT PEOPLE? 

While depression feels differentfor everyone, the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder will typically occur during late Fall or early Winter. Some signs or symptoms of Seasonal Depression include: Feeling depressed (duh), decreased energy, trouble sleeping, feelings of hopelessness, loss of interest in activities that you once enjoyed, and changes in appetite. For a more comprehensive list and description, visit https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20364651.

WAYS YOU CAN MAKE THE SEASONAL CHANGE A LITTLE EASIER ON YOUR MENTAL HEALTH:

EXERCISE

Yes, I know you’re tired of hearing this. It’s one of the first things that a doctor will recommend when you’re experiencing depression, and while I used to roll my eyes at this many years ago when I was first diagnosed, I’m here to tell you that they’re right. Yes, I know, endorphins, yadda, yadda, you’ve already heard this. BUT, I’m telling you, exercise has been instrumental in keeping my mental health in check. It’s not even about losingweight or getting your dream body, it’s about moving your body and being active in order to feel well mentally. And you will feel better, at very least somewhat better, if you’re active. Even 30 minutes of exercise a few times a week is enough to feel a benefit over time, and you can do something as simple as Yoga or Pilates at home, using videos from YouTube.

If you’re someone that is used to running or doing your cardio outdoors, I strongly encourage you to find a way to continue your cardio routine in the winter. If that means signing up at a gym for those winter months, or attending a group class in place of your outdoor routine, really make an effort to do that. Before I got a treadmill (last year), I did all of my cardio outdoors. When winter hit and it was too cold and snowy to train outdoors, I stopped doing cardio completely. Mentally, I felt the negative effects of not being able to run. So, if you can find a way to stick closely to your regular routine, you’ll likely find this beneficial to your mental health during those seasonal months. 

EAT WELL

Okay now you’re probably rolling your eyes again. “First she wants me to exercise while depressed, now I gotta eat healthy too? Steph’s the worst.” I get it. Trust me. When it’s cold outside and dark (thanks Daylight Saving Time), I find myself wanting to lay on the couch and eat nothing but Oreos and Kraft Dinner. Just because I’ve lost weight, doesn’t mean that I don’t still battle emotional eating. I battle it quite often, especially during the winter months. But, what I can confirm, and what you can likely confirm too, is that when youeat like shit, youfeel like shit. Simple as that. The worse that I eat, the worse that I feel physically, and even more so mentally. So, it’s important that we do things that make us feel better, and not worse, because depression already makes us feel pretty awful, right? Try to eat well, eat nutrient dense foods, havetreats and junk food (in moderation), and remember: THE BETTER YOU EAT, THE BETTER YOU FEEL.

SPEAK TO A PROFESSIONAL 

Always know that you can reach out to a doctor at any point. Mental health concerns are NO less valid than physical concerns. So, if you have concerns, if your depression worsens, or if you simply want to know what your options are in terms of managing your depression during the winter – reach out to a professional. My family doctor is well aware of my mental health issues, she oversees my medication, and I know that if things ever become too much to handle, I can book an appointment and speak to her about my treatment options. Even if you don’t end up reaching out to your doctor this winter, it’s nice to know that: 1) You can if you ever want or need to. 2) They are aware of your mental health status. So, if you feel like you’re suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder, it never hurts to speak to your doctor, and make them aware. That way, if things worsen, when you go in to see them at another time, they will already be aware of your mental health struggles and concerns. 

If you feel too embarrassed (though you really shouldn’t) to go to a clinic by yourself – bring a friend or family member along. When I first started talking to doctors about my depression, I was too ashamed/scared/nervous to go by myself, so I dragged my mom with me to my appointments. She didn’t mind one bit, and having her there with me made me feel less alone, and a lotmore at ease. Thanks Mom, I love you. Sometimes there is safety in numbers, so if you want to bring someone along, do it! If I could go with you, I would willingly do it. No shame, my friends. No shame. 

SUPPLEMENT WITH VITAMIN D

ALWAYS speak to a doctor BEFORE supplementing. While not everyone needs to supplement with Vitamin D, so as I said, speak to your doctor first, Vitamin D is often a supplement that people take in the winter, and even all year round. A Vitamin D deficiency can lead to an increased risk for Seasonal Depression, and can certainly cause chronic depressionto worsen. So, it never hurts to speak to your doctor about potentially supplementing with Vitamin D. I personally take it daily, all year round, and though it’s NOT a magical cure, I do believe it has played a part in keeping my depression at a much more even keel. 

INVEST IN A SEASONAL DEPRESSION LAMP 

Seasonal lamps, referred to as SAD lamps (this acronym is so aggressive but accurate) are said to replicate some of the effects of natural sunlight, which we lack in the winter time. They are said to help with mood, sleep, energy, and feelings of mental and emotional wellness. I can say that I have personally used one, but I wasn’t diligent in using it often, so it’s something I will revisit this year. What I can tell you is that they’re bright as hell, most of them come with a timer (depending on the lamp, you only need to sit in front of it for 15-20 minutes unless otherwise specified), and they are great to use while reading or working on your computer. You can prop it up on your desk, and simply sit in front of it while you work. 

If this is something that interests you, simply research “Seasonal Affective Disorder lamps” and you can find more information about how and why light therapy is effective in treating Seasonal Depression. You can also find reviews and price points for different brands. 

LIMIT ALCOHOL INTAKE 

Listen, I get it. Winter is a great time to curl up on the couch and drink a glass, or entire bottle of red wine. I love wine all year round, but red wine in the winter is bomb. However, alcohol is a depressant. I’m not just saying that, it is legitimately classified as a depressant. While it may feel in the moment as though alcohol is actually making us feel better (when you’re drunk, dancing on someone’s coffee table, it’s easy to feel great), that feeling doesn’t last. And once the alcohol runs it’s course and the physical hangover sets in, so too will what I refer to as the “Depression Hangover.” Alcohol intensifies depression, and anxiety, and actually affects our brains for far longer than it affects our bodies. I know that when I drink, I typically feel “off” for 3 to 7 days afterwards. I feel far more depressed than I did before I drank, and the depressive hangover far outlasts my physical hangover. I think any of us living with depression know that we should typically limit or avoid alcohol, but I’m here to remind you that we really, really should. Especially during the times when our depression is at it’s worst (whether that be due to our current circumstances or due to seasonal changes.)

It’s currently snowing while I write this, and with Daylight Saving Time in effect, I know that my depression is likely to rear it’s head during the seasonal change. But, I’ll get through it. And you will, too. Don’t panic my friends. Don’t fret. Breathe in, breathe out. And if you find yourself wanting to chug a gallon of red wine, I’m here to tell you that Costco sells a 40 pack of assorted Hot Chocolate – I’m talking Rolo and Turtles flavour – and you should probably invest in that because I said so. They’re also only 100 calories each. Just saying. Sending love your way, this season and always. 

-SK 

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