Depending on where you’re located the sun is basically playing peekabo from now until spring. You may have heard of “seasonal affective disorder”, now being referred to as Major Depressive Disorder with a Seasonal Pattern. (Source: NAMI). You may have also heard people casually refer to it as seasonal depression. I’ll refer to it as such in this post. If you’re anything like me, losing sunlight in the winter is a major bummer.
How NAMI describes “seasonal depression” :
“Major Depressive Disorder with a Seasonal Pattern (formerly known as seasonal affective disorder, or SAD) is characterized by recurrent episodes of depression in late fall and winter, alternating with periods of normal mood the rest of the year.
Researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health were the first to suggest this condition was a response to decreased light and experimented with the use of bright light to address the symptoms. Scientists have identified that the neurotransmitter serotonin may not be working optimally in many people who experience this disorder.”
Seasonal depression summed up: Somebody done turned down the lights on my happiness.
So, what can I do about it?
This is something I’m still figuring out myself. If you have any innovative ways you stay cheery during this time of year, feel free to share the cheat codes. This year, we have extra pressure with the pandemic looming and I’ll take all the help I can get. Instead of trying to force myself happy in the face of seasonal depression, I simply cope with it. Accepting the days that feel a little darker, literally and figuratively, is easier than being angry or overwhelmed by them. I’ve learned to somewhat shrug and say “welp, I guess it’s off the grid for me today”. My whole approach started off with three important things that I’ve learned to do to accommodate the harshest moments:
Adjust my schedule
Since I know that I’m most productive according to sunrise/sunset, I don’t pressure myself to get things accomplished outside of that time. Running errands when the sun isn’t out is a hard no. In the past I have increased my grocery deliveries, squeezed in any possible work out time before dark if I am able to spare it. I currently work from home, so my lunch hour is an easy block of time to repurpose. Another change is spending my mornings before work planning what I need to get done for the week.
Give myself grace
To fight seasonal depression, I had to rethink the fight strategy as being on the defensive rather than offensive. Understanding that seasonal depression is hard on my body was important. When I stopped trying to force myself to be productive after the sun went down, I felt less physically tense. Sitting in “I can’t” or “I don’t feel up to” was important for me to reflect on and make adjustments for. It was important that I didn’t think of myself as lazy. I simply wasn’t pushing myself against the natural cycle of life that was winter in the North. It wasn’t silly that I was affected by the lack of sunlight. I needed to be okay with that.
Keep track of my mood
This one I don’t do as often as I need to. With seasonal depression and mental health concerns in general, it’s important to take note of what your triggers may be and how persistent symptoms are. If you want to pay more attention to how your mood changes as they relate to seasonal depression, do yourself a favor and take note of it somewhere other than in your head. Write it down in a journal or track it in an app.
Other suggestions on how to fight seasonal depression
Light Therapy – This is an easy one. The issue is a lack of light, then reclaim your light. Related to this are dawn simulators, they are alarm clocks that wake you up with light rather than the jolt of a loud annoying sound. It’s like the sun is rising in your room!
Stay Active if you can – The more time you can spend NOT hiding from life in your bed, the better. I’ve been guilty of hiding in my bed under the covers while it was still light outside. Simply because I was anticipating the darkness. Check out my post on how I prioritize fitness during quarantine.
Engage psychotherapy – When all else fails, seeking out the help of a trained therapist will be the way to go. If you find yourself in a rut that feels impossible to get out of, a professional will be your best guidance to wellness. For resources on how to find a therapist of color or therapists that have a focus on Queer People of Color, check out the Social Justice & Mental Wellness Resource from this blog.
Bonus – If anxiety is your issue this time of year, try out this weighted blanket from Quility. If you didn’t know, weighted blankets are beneficial for disorders that have an anxiety feature due to calming effect from the pressure.
How do you fight seasonal depression?
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