For some people cold weather means hot chocolate by the fire, comfy sweaters and furry boots! But for others it means long days, darkness too early, depression and even seasonal affective disorder. I wanted to take the time to give you some information on what seasonal affective disorder is and what you can do if you're feeling the symptoms of it. I also want to remind you that it is a normal reaction our body has to changing time, less sunlight and seemingly long days! But also remember you don't just have to suffer through it until Spring comes. There are things you can do!
So what is seasonal affective disorder?
This type of disorder is typically diagnosed when depression is present during the winter months or after daylight savings time. Now, I don't want you to think that just because you're body is reacting to the change of the season you have seasonal affective disorder. For most people, this is simply just not the case. Depression can occur without being diagnosed with a disorder such as seasonal affective disorder. When this disorder is diagnosed, an individual has demonstrated at least 2 episodes of depressive disturbance in the previous 2 years and seasonal episodes substantially outnumber the nonseasonal episodes. If you feel like you meet this criteria, you should consider seeking professional help.
If you are feeling these symptoms, do not ignore them! There are things you can do that can help.
The first most important thing when it comes to seasonal affective disorder or any mental disorder is to have awareness! Don't just ignore feelings or emotions that you don't typically have. We are not just in a bad mood every single day, we are not feeling down for no reason every single day. This is not how we should be going about things. Pay attention to your body, pay attention to your thoughts, pay attention to your feelings, pay attention to the way you treat other people and pay attention to changes. Take notice on what's happening and help yourself before it get's too bad.
Here is a list of symptoms you should be looking for: -oversleeping -appetite changes -weight gain -tiredness and low energy
Having awareness of these things occurring can be the most effective way to prevent them from continuing to occur. Take care of yourself by doing some or all of the following things: -relaxation techniques such as yoga -meditation (you all know I am a huge fan of mediation! I use the 2 apps insight timer and calm. I also use a Catholic Meditation program called Encounter). -guided imagery -listen to music, color or draw -journaling
I don't want to get too psychological here but I want you to be aware of some other things that may feel weird to do. There is something called reducing avoidance behavior. It is completely opposite of what I just told you to do and it is not helpful for everyone. The point of reducing avoidance behavior is to prevent yourself from being alone (all of the activities I just listed above are typically done alone). When reducing avoidance behavior, you are packing your schedule with things to do so that you avoid behaviors that mimic depression such as sleeping a lot, eating a lot or being alone. Schedule dinner with your girlfriends, have date night with your significant other, take your kids out for activities, spend extra time with your family. Trust me these things help! Don't get me wrong, I am a total home body these days and when I get home from work, especially if it's already dark outside, the last thing I want to do is leave again. It's almost like forcing yourself to participate in activities. However, if being around people, in public or having too much stimulation makes you feel worse, refer back to my list above!
The next thing is to change negative thoughts and behaviors that may be making you feel worse. Easier said than done, right? This brings me back to being aware! Be aware of your thoughts and remember this.... our thoughts become our words, our words become our actions. If you're feeling overwhelmed with negative thoughts which are leading to negative behaviors take a step back, take a deep breath and remind yourself that something is off balance. Don't allow yourself to get caught up in these negative thoughts. It sounds silly, but sometimes when I am having "annoying" or negative thoughts, I will say out loud, "Not right now thoughts." Silly right? But it helps, a lot! It allows me to forget about whatever thoughts I was having and get back to the task at hand.
There are some other "simple" things to keep in mind as well. First thing is first, ALCOHOL IS A DEPRESSANT! If you're feeling depressed, stressed, overwhelmed or any kind of seasonal blues, alcohol will not solve these problems. Sure a temporary unbothered drunk feels great, but trust me alcohol exacerbates these symptoms making it hard for you to have that awareness I was just talking about. It clouds our emotions, or judgment and decision making skills are just not there. So an occasional drink is great but don't try to solve your symptoms by masking them with alcohol.
The other simple thing is that you need to remember our bodies have natural responses to changes around us. When I say our bodies, I mean our thoughts and our feelings to certain things. We have to make sure that our thoughts and feelings aren't proceded with our behaviors unless of course they are positive ones. For me, I like helping people. If I begin thinking that the way I am behaving is a direct result of negativity from my thoughts I do the best I can to ignore them. I do this by helping people. For example, I'll pay for someones coffee in the drive thru line at Dunkin, I'll reach out to a friend to make sure they are okay that week, I'll schedule lunch with someone who needs me, etc. Find your niche and just do it if it makes you feel better!
Another thing to try is to write on your mirror something like "I love you," or "You are beautiful." It serves as a little reminder in the morning to start your day and let me tell you it's powerful!
I hope this helps you guys because I know this time of year can be a difficult time for some. The darkness really get's to me so I understand!
Please remember, you're amazing and you're beautiful and you're doing a great job!
Here is my prayer for you:
May today there be peace within.
May you trust your highest power that you are exactly where you are meant to be.
May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.
May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you.
May you be content knowing you are a child of God.
Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance.
It is there for each and every one of you.
-Teresa of Avila
*DISCLAIMER: I am not a Doctor or practicing professional in mental health. I earned my M.A in Forensic Psychology from Argosy University. I am currently a member of the peer support team for first responder's and those who work with first responder's. I enjoy studying mental health and I take trainings to further my education on current mental health issues.