Seasonal Affective Disorder often starts in the fall and typically continues through winter and into early spring. The Mayo Clinic reports there are more than 3 million cases of SAD per year. Symptoms can include, but are not limited to fatigue, depression, hopelessness, social withdrawal/isolation, lack of energy, sleep disturbances, eating disturbances, and irritability.
For those of us in the helping/serving/giving professions the holidays represent a busy time of hectic activity, parties, visits, emotions, family and friends. For many, it is a time of celebration and happiness. For others, it is a time of hurt and alienation from those same people.
Seasonal Affective Disorder can be treated and there are things an individual can do to prevent or manage the effects of SAD. The following are some ideas one can use to make the most of their holiday season and to ward off the sense of isolation and hopelessness that comes along with SAD.
Tip #1: Cultivate and nurture supportive relationships
Getting the support and relational connect you need plays a huge role in lifting the fog of SAD. On your own, it can be difficult to maintain perspective and sustain the effort needed to manage SAD. The very nature of depression makes it difficult to reach out for help. Isolation and loneliness make depression even worse, so remaining engaged in close relationships and social activities are important.
Reaching out to even loved ones and friend can feel overwhelming when in the grips of depression. You may feel ashamed, exhausted, or too embarrassed to talk. Here are some simple ways to remain engaged in supportive relationships:
- Help someone by volunteering
- Have a set coffee date
- Go on a walk with a friend
- Ask a loved one to check in on you regularly
- Talk to a counselor, or clergy member
Tip #2: Take care of yourself
Self-care in so important when trying to prevent or overcome depression. This includes making time for things you enjoy, asking for help, setting limits, adopting healthier eating habits, and scheduling fun into your day.
Develop a wellness toolbox
Create a list of things you can do for a quick moon boost. Include anything that has helped you in the past. The more “tools” for coping with depression, the better. Try to implement a few of these ideas each day, even if you’re already feeling good.
- Spend time in nature/creation
- Read a good book
- Watch a funny movie or tv show
- Listen to music
- Play with a pet
- Write in your journal
Push yourself to do things, even when you do want to. You’d be surprised at how much better you feel once you’re out in the world. Even if your depression doesn’t immediately lift, you will likely feel better than if you stayed in your house alone.
Sleep, sunlight, stress management, time management, and relaxation are also important when combating depression. Don’t neglect these areas. Each of these can be a contributor to a struggle with mood. Being vigilant in these areas will pay off in the fight for freedom from depression.
Tip #3 Get regular exercise
Exercise is the best antidepressant on the market and, it’s free! A 10 minute walk can give you a mood boost for 2 hours. Exercise increases mood-enhancing neurotransmitters in the brain, raises endorphins, reduces stress, and relieves muscle tension – all things that can have a tremendous impact on depression. Here are a few easy ways to get moving:
- Take the stairs rather than the elevator
- Park your car in the farthest parking spot away from the door
- Take your dog for a walk
- Pair up with an exercise partner
- Walk while you talk on the phone
Start slowly and don’t overdo it. More isn’t always better. Too often we get motivated, bite off more than we can chew and then get discouraged and quit. Start with a daily 15 minute walk; no more, no less. Just do that daily for a couple weeks and see how you feel.
Tip #4 Eat a healthy, mood-boosting diet
God gave us everything we need to manage our emotional life. There is a time for professional help but often depression can be addressed by making lifestyle changes; such as what we eat. Aim for a balance of protein, complex carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables.
- Don’t neglect breakfast/don’t skip meals. Starbucks doesn’t count as a meal.
- Minimize sugars and refined carbs like candy bars, french fries, and other “feel good” food. They won’t last and your mood and energy will crash quickly, sending you back for more.
- Focus on complex carbs. Bake potatoes, whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, oatmeal, whole grain breads, and bananas can all boost serotonin levels without a crash. Serotonin is the neurochemical that gives you a sense of wellbeing.
- Boost your B vitamins. Deficiencies in B vitamins can trigger depression. To get more, eat more citrus fruit, leafy greens, beans, chicken, and eggs.
- Practice mindful eating. Slow down and pay attention to the full experience of eating. Allow your stomach time to send the “I’m full” signal to the brain. Enjoy and taste your food.
- Omega-3 fatty acids play an essential role in stabilizing mood. The main sources are vegetable oils and nuts, flax, soybeans, and fatty fish such as salmon, herring, and mackerel.
Tip #5 Challenge negative thinking
Depression puts a negative spin on everything, including the way you see yourself, the situations you encounter, and your expectations for the future. Here are some ways to challenge negative thinking:
- Get perspective from another source. This could be the scriptures or sacred texts, other people (i.e., significant other, spouse, family, mentor, pastor, friend, etc.).
- Think outside yourself. Ask yourself if you’d say what you’re thinking about yourself to someone else. If not, stop being so hard on yourself.
- Keep a “negative thought log” and compare it to scriptures. Review your log when you are in a better place to become familiar with the negative thinking patterns that lead to and fuel depression as well as the cognitive antidotes you’ve discovered in the scriptures.
- Socialize with positive people. Hopeful and positive people tend to not sweat the small stuff. This kind of attitude can rub off on you.
The above is not a magic formula as much as it is a list of attitudes and behaviors that simply increase the likelihood of navigating Seasonal Affective Disorder. It increases the likelihood that you might enjoy this Christmas season more than previous years. It increases your resiliency for managing SAD in the future.
Here’s hoping you will have a Merry Christmas in the most literal sense of the word. May you be renewed with hope, peace, and joy during this otherwise dark time.