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Facing Seasonal Depression

I was on another walk today and thinking how beautiful this time of year is. Of course I was thinking this when the leaves were falling in perfect placement while being out in nature and, oh yeah, it was 75 degrees out! I love the month of October to fill my fall-season craving but soon I find myself starting to worry about the shorter hours of light, crazy drops in temperature, and wearing three plus layers of clothing. These thoughts bouncing in my head got me thinking about seasonal depression. I don't typically suffer from this disorder but I do know people who do. Personally, I think we all face some bouts of 'funkiness' throughout the different seasons so we all could benefit from a bit of knowledge on the topic and some helpful suggestions on how to combat some of the effects.

Seasonal depression, or seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is a type of depression that's related to changes in seasons. The condition typically begins in the fall and continues into the winter months. However, some forms can cause depression in the spring or early summer. Here are some facts about SAD:

  • Women are more likely than men to experience SAD.

  • Symptoms can appear at any age, however, SAD most commonly appears between the ages of 20-30.

  • Typically, the farther one is from the equator, the more at risk they are.

  • Symptoms of seasonal depression are consistent with those that occur with other forms of depression. Unique symptoms are associated with carbohydrate cravings, increased appetite, excessive sleepiness, and weight gain.

Now for some common symptoms:

  • Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day

  • Losing interest in activities you would normally enjoy

  • Having low energy

  • Feeling hopeless, worthless, guilty, and irritable

  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much

  • Carbohydrate cravings and weight gain

  • Thoughts of death or suicide

The exact causes of SAD remain unknown; however, several possible causes have surfaced over the years. Some believe that the circadian rhythm, or biological clock, may be disrupted by the decrease in sunlight, which can lead to feelings of depression. The decrease in sunlight can change the levels of serotonin in a person's brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter or chemical messenger in the brain. When we have low levels it will affect our mood which can play a role in SAD. Similarly, low levels of melatonin can play a role in SAD as well. Melatonin is a sleep-related hormone secreted by the brain and plays a role in sleep patterns and mood. If you aren't getting a sufficient amount of sleep that of course will not bode well with your mood and eventually can become depressing.

Now lets get on to some happier news like how to help...

  • Dawn simulator- Also known as wake-up lights. Wake up lights are alarm clocks with a unique twist. Instead of waking you up abruptly with loud buzzing music, they simulate the rising sun by providing light that gradually increases in intensity. Emitted light gets brighter over 30 minutes prior to your wake up time and can be accompanied by gentle nature sounds. These lights can help gradually stop the production of melatonin. Remember, melatonin is a hormone that makes you feel tired. Slowly stopping production before you wake up allows you to feel more refreshed when you get out of bed. There are some great dawn simulators right on Amazon!

  • Natural light- If even the tiniest ray of light is peaking through the clouds, get outside! Getting any amount of sunlight is crucial. Break up your work day with a walk to soak up some natural vitamin D.

  • Vitamin D- Depending on where you live, you are most likely not getting enough vitamin D so PLEASE take a supplement. They really do help.

  • Diet- "Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food." -Hippocrates. SAD sufferers crave more starchy carbs and sweet treats, which leads to making them feel worse. Some foods linked to increased serotonin levels are those containing high levels of tryptophan like turkey, chicken, nuts, bananas, peas, pumpkin, and spinach. But overall, whole fresh foods will never disappoint.

  • Exercise- I totally understand that when you are not feeling your best, the last thing you want to do is a workout. However, study after study shows how workouts lead to a release in serotonin which then helps with mood and so on. The most important key is to find something you actually enjoy. It has taken me a very long time but I enjoy a slower workout like yoga and foam rolling. I still go for long walks to get my heart rate up but I just have such a connection with the other two. It brings me peace and that makes me not dread a workout.

  • Cognitive Behavior Therapy- CBT provides a hands-on, practical approach to problem-solving. The goal is to change negative patterns of thinking or behavior to change the way a person feels. The goal of CBT is to help a person change the way they feel and act by shifting how they perceive a situation.

  • Journaling- Particularly a gratitude journal can be influential for those needed a boost. They can lower stress, help you feel calmer, especially at night, and give you clarity on what you actually want in your life.

  • Aromatherapy- Essential oils have the unique ability to stimulate regions in the brain, including those that influence one's mood and internal clock. They are made up of potent plant compounds that can help with mind, body, and spirit connection. You can use a diffuser or just inhale a few drops on a cotton ball. Mood lifting oils can include: Lavender, Bergamot, Lemongrass, Clary Sage, Chamomile, Peppermint, and Frankincense.

Digging yourself out of depression is NEVER easy. However, there are some tricks we can do to help stave off the severity before anything long lasting takes place. Showing yourself love every day with some of the above suggestions or additional ones can truly start to change those negative beliefs and patterns. They are not always fool proof but change can start to happen one tiny step at a time.

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