Tuesday, November 5, 2013
SAD: My Experience With Seasonal Affective Disorder, or the "Winter Blues"
It first hit me about 7 years ago. All of my life, I have lived for and loved the Christmas season. That particular year, I found myself getting angry and resentful at Christmas, of all things. All of the decorating, traditions, and celebrations felt like a burden: one more thing to add to my already impossible to-do list, one more expectation I felt I couldn't handle, etc. However, I knew that if I let it all go, I would be ruining the holidays for my family, and worst of all, I KNEW that my feelings were ridiculous, but there they were nonetheless.
Many days, I felt like crying, but couldn't figure out why. I knew that I was blessed beyond measure, but I felt like something was horribly wrong. Every day felt overwhelming, and some days I simply wanted to hide and just not participate in life (which was never an option, given my line of work.)
About 6 weeks later, I felt better - like my normal self again. I chalked it up to Holiday Stress and moved on. I didn't put the pieces together until it hit me in the face again the following November. Again, 6 weeks of depression, and then it vanished.
It turns out that I was dealing with Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. Most current theories are that neurotransmitter levels in the brain are effected by the decreased amounts of sunlight in the winter, and that it can trigger depression in some, including me.
I started researching what to do about it, and wasn't hitting on much at first. I already ate healthy, had a good support system, etc. I saw that there were some expensive lights I could buy that were supposed to help, but I didn't get around to doing it. Who can afford expensive personal stuff right before Christmas? Since it always went away in late December, it would be out of my mind when it was more budget-feasible.
About 2 weeks ago, I felt that now familiar enemy creeping back into my mind. A quick look at the calendar confirmed that I had hit that time again. However, over the years, I HAVE found some very do-able things that help tremendously, and I can honestly say that I am looking forward to Christmas this year instead of just pretending to for the sake of my children.
Today, I will talk about some of the PHYSICAL things that have helped me, and tomorrow I will write about some of the emotional and life-management helps.
1. Get enough sleep, but not too much. Nothing fans depression quite like being exhausted. Get to bed at a reasonable time, but then GET UP in the morning! Don't hide in bed. Hit the day moving, and then take a nap if you need to later. I have frequently felt my emotional resilience wane in the early afternoon, so this time of year, I try to keep those hours clear in case I need to rest. Figure out your sleep needs, and make them a priority.
2. Physical Activity!!! The earlier in the day, the better. Right now, I am making getting out on a morning run 5-6 days a week a huge priority. I need it. If the weather in your area allows, get outside as often as possible.
3. Light. Natural sunlight is best - get as much as you can. If you wake up when it is light outside and your spouse is ok with it, you can set your alarm a little early and open your blinds to let in some light to start the day. As I said already, GET OUTSIDE, and open your blinds during daylight hours.
4. Shower and get ready for the day. Late-day pajamas and bad breath are a downer. I feel better when I am physically prepared for the day.
5. Get a physical. With my weight loss, I visited a doctor who did comprehensive blood work to check for any medical issues. Only one thing showed up, and apparently it is very common: I was Vitamin D deficient. Vitamin D deficiency can trigger depression, among other things. AND - exposure to sunlight leads to vitamin D production in the body. Seeing the connection? I recently added a quality Vitamin D3 supplement, and it has helped TREMENDOUSLY.
6. I still think this is mildly weird, but it works for me. On bad days, I use DoTerra's Elevation blend Essential Oil. I put some on my feet or in a diffuser (or both). I don't totally get it, but it helps.
7. Know that if you need it, medical help is available. Personally, I have chosen not to go on antidepressants, mainly because my depression is predictable and relatively short-lived each year. However, it can be a lifesaver if managing it yourself is not working, or you are dealing with something more severe. As Jeffrey R. Holland recently said, "If you had appendicitis, God would expect you to seek a priesthood blessing and get the best medical care available. So too with emotional disorders. Our Father in Heaven expects us to use all of the marvelous gifts He has provided in this glorious dispensation."
Tomorrow, I will explore a few other things that bring me joy when I most desperately need it.