Over 10 million Americans suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder each year. The low, blue feelings that typically hit in late fall and last all through winter can be a painful experience for so many people. Unfortunately there’s some common misconceptions floating around in cyber-world out there and it’s important to get a proper understanding of SAD so as to better cope with it or help your loved ones cope with it when it hits. There are several high quality sources for information on the internet about it beyond Wikipedia. I recommend getting a broad overview from The National Institute of Mental Health where you can find information about risk factors and causes of this type of depression. Here we just want to offer some further thoughts on managing SAD if it’s affecting you or someone you love:
-People suffering from clinical depression can’t just “get over it” or “snap out of it” the way non-depressed people sometimes think they can. Some holes are too dark or too deep to pull ourselves out of by ourselves and it can be hurtful to have others get frustrated or annoyed while we’re down there. Compassion and patience are the best things you can offer someone suffering from any type of depression. That said, passivity is not the answer here either. Vitamins should be checked. Full spectrum lighting options looked at, psychotherapy considered and empathy abundant.
-The importance of exercise can not be stated enough when it comes to SAD. Unfortunately, when the weather gets cold, people very often shut down the motivation to go outside and move their bodies. But this time of year, it is more critical than ever to prioritize physical activity. Either bundle up and go for a brisk walk, invest in a gym membership, watch some at-home workout videos or do anything else possible to get your body moving, heart rate up and sweat happening. Committing to daily exercise is the single best thing you can do to combat depression.
-Recently we’ve been seeing a widespread appreciation and globalization of the Nordic “hygge” lifestyle (i.e. hunkering down with cozy blankets, hot beverages and close family/friends), and some people think this is the answer to SAD. After all, depression rates for people in those northern countries are very low. But not everyone has a particularly inviting domestic life. Whether it’s family conflict, disorder or clutter in the home, or simply a lack of time, we can’t always “hygge”-away SAD. What we can do however, is carve out tiny pieces of peace, no matter our circumstances. If your house doesn’t look like a KonMari ad, don’t compound guilt upon your stress. Baby steps. Clear one countertop, spread a tablecloth or bring in some fresh winter branches to liven up the space. Wait until the last child finally pipes down his resistance about going to bed and make a pot of tea, cradle it in your hands and just spend 10 minutes breathing and being in that space. No electronics. No scrolling. Just feel the space around you and savor what sensations you can.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is common and it’s a struggle. But being proactive about managing it, and making sure you identify it as a thing you need to deal with and NOT a summary of who you are can help set you on the right path to having a healthy winter.
To learn more about depression, check out the following:
Written by: Elizabeth Peck, a Clinical Mental Health Counseling Candidate at the University of the Cumberlands and a support assistant to Pax Family Counseling.