You remember how as kids, we used to snap rubber bands at each other in an epic war? This is a childhood rite of passage to play and discover the various rubber snapping techniques. The obvious skill of which was to be good at snapping your friends or sisters without getting caught by the grown-ups.
Every fall I play this game with the universe. Because I am so tiny in comparison, I really can’t retaliate. So I settle on just guarding myself against the onslaught of reminders that winter is coming.
It’s not so much that I mind the snow or the cold, that’s all fine. Even a little fun when I take the time to build snowmen or snow angels. It’s that my friend the Sun doesn’t hang out as often.
Those of you who are also affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder (even the name spells out SAD) understand what I’m talking about. The winter months are marked by bouts of sadness, exhaustion, moodiness, low energy (if you even have any at all), and general zombie-like feelings. It’s awful. And it’s caused by the sun taking a 6 month siesta every year.
Researchers believe that SAD may be caused by multiple factors. Two of which are the lack of Vitamin D with less sunshine and the disruption to your internal sleep clock as the days get shorter.
Being affected by the change in seasons isn’t uncommon. Some people are just more affected than others. I didn’t have too many problems in high school. But as my adult years added on I noticed more and more symptoms each year, until I experienced pretty severe depression two winters ago.
In desperation, last year I finally warded off the sadness with home remedies and an improved self-care practice. It still hovered nearby, like a vampire waiting for me to forget my daily dosage of garlic. But as long as I purposefully took time everyday to take care of myself, I was able to keep the SAD vampire at bay.
This year, the snap game has just begun with the universe, and I am trying to prepare myself in advance to prevent the Sun-less Sadness from entering my life. Here are some things you can do to boost your protective armor against SAD this winter.
I’m about to contradict myself – as any open-minded person ought to do at least once a day. The sun waking up later and going down earlier hasn’t really affected my sleep or mood yet. What’s affected me more is my own anxiety about the possible impending doom. It’s not even here yet!
It’s crucial to note the importance of not “over-symptomizing” seasonal sadness. Our emotions go up and down naturally throughout life. There are times of happiness, times of fear, times of anger, and times of sadness. Fluctuations are normal, and allowing yourself the space to feel sad – to be understanding of yourself – is very healing.
I equate the experience to that of encountering a dragon. The person who sees a dragon and immediately lashes out at it with a sword is likely to be burned by the giant lizard’s fire-breathing wrath. However, the person who sees the dragon and cautiously accepts its presence, without trying to fight the beast, can live peacefully in the dragon’s presence. The dragon is still there and you’re still scared, but at least you’re not burned.
Likewise, accept that winter sadness is present without trying to force it off desperately. Sometimes by fighting the depression, we give it too much attention in our lives and make it worse than it was before. So start out by telling yourself it’s OK to feel sad at times, that sadness isn’t permanent and it doesn’t mean there’s anything “wrong” with you.
Taking care of yourself year-round will help defend against those times that are more hard. What is self care though? It’s whatever you need it to be. It can be jamming out to Adele while painting your toes sparkly turquoise, taking your beloved dog on a walk somewhere new, going on a camping trip, taking a bubble bath, journaling or creating art. Whatever gives you a rest and makes your soul feel whole again.
Self care also means taking care of the mechanics of your amazing body. Exercise, healthy eating, drinking enough water, getting good sleep, spending time with friends and family. You know, all the tough-to-do things we talked about in the last blog Motivation. In winter and other hard times, we often stop doing these things – even though hard times are the most important times to do them! So practice your self-care with a little more caution this fall.
Go outside. Take a walk during your lunch break. Step outside briefly during those 15 minute breaks. Even on cold and cloudy days, being outside can help boost your mood.
Make your home and workplace sunnier and brighter. Keep those blinds open, sit near windows, trim the tree branches. Even the smallest increased exposure to the sun will help.
Meditation. Get your Om on! Tons of research shows that meditation, by linking the mind and body through the creation of new neural pathways, is extremely beneficial for relieving many psychological and physical conditions.
My husband and I LOVE using the HeadSpace app. Andy Puddicombe (SUPER weird last name. Though I guess I’m not one to talk.) has a sweet British accent and the guided meditations are only 10-ish minutes. It’s a good place to learn the basics of the art, and is still relevant for meditation gurus.
Supplements or Medicine
Talk to your doctor to see if you would be appropriate for either of these two supplements that are frequently used to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder:
- Vitamin D. I take extra Vitamin D supplement every morning. This makes up for the lack of natural Vitamin D since the sun is farther south.
- Melatonin can help regulate your sleep cycle. Since researchers believe that Seasonal Affective Disorder may be related to disrupted sleep cycles, this could help get your body back in sync and feeling better. Also, melatonin is a natural hormone that your body already creates to induce sleepiness and is non-habit forming. So it’s a win-win!
Anti-depressants. While I am leery of medications (due to potential negative side effects and our American tendency to jump to medicine before altering lifestyles), I also recognize that medicine can play an important and critical role in many people’s recovery. Talk to your doctor if you think an anti-depressant may be what you need to fight seasonal depression.
Through counseling, you can learn healthy ways to cope with SAD and other stuff going on in life. Stresses at work and home, grief, low self-esteem, past traumas. Counseling can help you identify, challenge, and alter negative thinking patterns into more positive and helpful ones. It can also help you make those changes that you know will help you. Like exercising more and eating healthier.
So for those of you like me that need a little more support than Barney does at coping with SAD, I hope this post was helpful to you. Please share some ways you have found to ward off the winter blues below. And if you’d like more information about how counseling can help this winter, please send me a private message here.