... a dreamer, freelance writer, massage therapist, naturopath, mother & drop-out social work student living, working and writing in the Blue Mountains. When not occupied with the real world, she writes fantasy.
Published May 24th 2012
Photo - Sad Woman by Graur Codrin, freedigitalphotos.net
Do you suffer from SAD (seasonal affective disorder) or find yourself more depressed than usual in winter? If so, you would not be a rare fish in the pond of humanity. The shortening daylight hours of winter can have an immense impact on our mood, hormones, biological rhythms, behavior and level of activity. On a deeper level, winter affects our psyche.
According to statistics (Sydney Morning Herald, July 6, 2006), credit card debt, suicide, relationship counseling, child abuse and even the consumption of chocolate and alcohol, all increase during winter.
Symptoms of winter depression include weight gain, fatigue, overeating, sleep problems (both insomnia and hypersomnia which is sleeping too much), mood swings, decreased activity and withdrawal from society. If you are already prone to depression, winter could exacerbate an existing problem.
There is hope my friend, and things you can do to improve your mood through winter.
If you suffer from winter depression, try to overcome the reflex to hide out and burrow down. Being pro-active is always the best solution to any obstacle. To defeat any enemy you need to be prepared for him / her with a strategy and not wait till he or she has you in a headlock. Try this simple regime, designed to attack the causes of winter depression at their roots. I call it a regime, because it will cost you effort. In order for it to be successful, you need to commit on a daily basis to at least some of it. Create a weekly calendar and task plan and stick to it. Think of it as a constant hacking away at a tangle of evil roots that are holding you in a tight grip within a dark forest. Eventually, with persistent effort, you will begin to feel free and see the light.
REGIME TO BEAT WINTER DEPRESSION
1. Exercise. Research into depression has found that exercise is the most effective of all therapies for depression in general. Exercise pumps you full of feel good endorphins, promotes circulation to your brain and is good for balancing hormonal health. It reduces stress, which has been linked to depression through the long-term presence of stress hormone cortisol. It also makes you look good and feel good about yourself. Your exercise program could consist of a walk to work or after work, jogging, swimming, yoga or anything else of your choice. A lot of people complain quite justly, that they don't have time to exercise. Make it a priority. This is your life and happiness is more important than merely surviving. For time poor people, the best solution is to incorporate exercise into other things you have to do. Take the baby for a walk in the pram, walk to the shop or the train station, walk the dog.
2. Hang Out With Friends. Socialise more rather than less. This isn't just about having fun: it's imperative. Research shows that humans are genetically programmed to need the tribe and emotional connection. However, I would qualify this and suggest that quality human interaction and nurturing is more important than quantity. According to Bob Murray and Alicia Fortinberry a social tribe can save us from depression. See the article here.
3. Get in the sun. Research shows that dawn light exposure is the most effective. Of all the therapies studied, light exposure (particularly blue light) is the most successful and specific treatment for SAD. Check out the weekly forecast and program your week to ensure you get maximum sun exposure. Eat breakfast on the verandah or front step or have lunch outside. With limited daylight hours during winter this can be challenging and requires planning.
4. Cultivate a positive attitude and thoughts – Experiment with positive visualization and changing your beliefs, because negative beliefs lead to depression. Being positive also means being positive about yourself, so cultivate a healthy self esteem. There are great things about winter: it is the only time to wear a trench coat, see snow, sit by a log fire, and a great opportunity to bond indoors, start a creative project, cuddle your lover and so on.
5. Eat healthy. Don't succumb to all those stodgy carbs and deprive your body of the vitamins and minerals that can be found in fresh fruits and vegetables. Make sure you get plenty of vitamin B and omega three rich foods, essential to brain health.
6. Gardening. Don't laugh. Gardening has been found to be an effective remedy for depression. It has all the necessary ingredients: dose of sun, exercise, fresh air and affordable. GP's in the UK will prescribe gardening under proposed health reforms. See the article here.
7. Get out and do things. Stay active, but avoid being busy simply to avoid deeper issues. This isn't what's meant here. Give balance to rest and activity, action and reflection.
8. Get connected to your Higher Being. This will have different meanings to different people and could encompass everything from meditation to prayer, walking in nature or zoning out on relaxation music. Once again, what helps here, is the feeling of being connected (to the universe, God), a sense of purpose and faith and hope – the ultimate trio of positive thoughts. Did I mention love?
Supplements that might help:
Vitamin B – assists with energy and brain chemistry. Always take in a B complex form.
Vitamin D – deficiencies related to lower light exposures are common in winter as the body needs sunlight to naturally synthesise vitamin D. Deficiency of vitamin D can cause or contribute to depression, weakened immune system and other problems.
Omega Three Essential Fatty Acids – is essential for brain health, assists hormone balance and much more. Sources of omega three include salmon and tuna, fish capsules, flaxseed oil (which can be purchased from a health food store) and walnuts. Please note, omega three is removed from tinned salmon and tuna – note the 'added omega three' on some cans as proof of this.
Professional Intervention That May Help: Get your thyroid tested. Thyroid problems, particularly under-active thyroid hormone levels, can be related to depression. See a therapist or medical practitioner
If you are suffering from such severe depression that this seems overwhelming, check out this list of tips to survive depression one day at a time - by psychologist Alicia Fortinberry (co-author of the Uplift Program).
Be armed with knowledge and strategies about depression. The internet is a great resource with a plethora of information about depression. I highly recommend Bob Murray and Alicia Fortinberry's Uplift Program. Their website is rich with self-help tips, research and other resources.
Finally, NEVER ever feel bad about feeling depressed. Depression is a common and natural experience for humans. In fact, an article in Scientific American argues that depression might be a natural adaptive mechanism. It involves intense thinking about one's problems called ruminations, which are highly analytical in nature. This problem solving behaviour might ultimately assist one to assess and re-evaluate their life, leading to greater balance and new direction.
Depression is not something to be ashamed of and negative views towards this common misunderstood malady are borne from a lack of understanding about the true causes behind it.
Keep up the fight and may you find light, peace and happiness this winter. Remember, spring is never far away. It is a secret and indestructible place in your heart.