This time of year is full of expectation and busy with things to do. Often when we set ourselves up for the expectations, we get disappointed and that feeling of depression starts to set in, and when the chaos of all the things we need to do settles, we are left with a large hole in our life. Add the cold, dreary, dark weather and the lack of things to do because of getting “snowed in,” and it can be a recipe for seasonal depression.
While Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a very valid type of depression caused by the lack of sunlight and the natural production of Vitamin D, I think that the type of depression I tend to get this time of the year is actually a result of the season itself. We are (and have been since birth) inundated with expectations of what the holidays should represent and how we should feel about them. Commercials, movies, and TV shows all show the slightly dysfunctional family coming together for a happy and satisfying season. The decorations and meals are perfect, even if everything leading up to it was comically imperfect, and everyone is sharing joy and love. There are a ton of activities in the snow, according to what we see, that those who are lucky enough to have a real winter wonderland in their backyard should have nothing to complain about. That white, fluffy, soft snow is always lit up by bright sunshine and the people are always dressed in cute, though impractical, outerwear.
So, what aren’t they showing? They aren’t showing that it is dark between 5pm and 6am, so there is no playing in the snow after work. They aren’t showing the frozen, muddy slush you have to tramp through just to get to your car, meaning you need strong, durable winter boots (not cute Uggs). They aren’t showing the ice, the slippery roads, the deer that are just waiting to be hit with your car, and the trouble you have sometimes making it up the hill you need to take to get to work on time.
They aren’t showing the reality of trying to make time based on every one else’s schedules, especially depending on custody and visitation schedules or obligations the kids have to go see not only their broken family, but their partner’s as well. They don’t show that feeling when your kids were little and you were there whole world and Christmas revolved around them, and then they grow and they “might” be able to make it for dinner this year and maybe we can get together to make cookies or do something festive. They don’t show that even if everyone is able to make it, there is a general joyful chaos reigning for a little while, maybe a few extra weeks if you can stretch it out between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and then there are months following full of silence and loneliness again. That is when it hits me hardest.
Last year I looked into Season Affective Disorder and thought that was the cause of my depression. While that may be partly the case, I do feel that it is more that I have a large swell of serotonin all at once and then it is suddenly all gone. I don’t necessarily feel that there is a cause and I don’t always even realize I am in a depression during this time until I am coming out of it, because I have learned how to mask it from myself and everyone else.
This year, I have gotten into tracking my habits and my moods. I feel that it is my responsibility to decipher my hormonal code and the best way to move forward is to look back. While doing this, I have seen patterns emerge in terms of moodiness and depression. I get general moodiness with my monthly cycle, which is to be expected (but it helps to track it and realize that there is a reason that I get so annoyed!), but I also have bouts of dark days that I can’t explain. So I have taken it upon myself to find ways to help me get through the darkness and take control of my seasonal depression.
WAYS TO COMBAT SEASONAL DEPRESSION
- Talk to your doctor. This is the first step in getting any help, but be aware that some doctors will automatically want you to go on an antidepressant. I was put on an antidepressant to help combat hot flashes in conjunction with my depression last spring, and I didn’t take it. This is because I want to try other methods before becoming dependent on medication for my depression. Some people are only going to be able to be treated with antidepressants. I personally didn’t like the way it made me feel and didn’t feel my depression was severe enough to be on something long term. Might that change? Maybe. I am willing to try it again later if needed, but I currently don’t think it is right for me. I would suggest getting a therapist first.
- Try vitamins and supplements. One of the causes of a lot of our medical and mental health issues is the lack of Vitamin D most of us have. A blood test can tell you if you need more Vitamin D3, which you can buy over the counter. While there are plenty of other mood stabilizing supplements out there, remember that vitamins and supplements are not regulated by the FDA and are not held to any federal standards in regard to their efficacy. Also, some will interact with other medications you are on and may have other side effects, so make sure you research them first.
- Exercise. I know the last thing I want to do when I am feeling down is exercise (I don’t feel worth it and I feel like what is the point), but those are the times when you need it the most. Exercise is proven to help with blood flow and an increase in serotonin. It is also a good release sometimes when you can’t let go of emotions. I have found yoga and meditation to be very therapeutic when I need to let go of emotions, especially when I don’t realize I need to.
- Light therapy. Many people have found using a source of light therapy to help relieve their SAD symptoms. There are light therapy lights available online and through your doctor. Using light therapy for only a short period each day is shown to help your body create more Vitamin D and alleviate symptoms within 2 weeks.
- Give yourself grace. Don’t allow yourself to fall into the trap of the perfect holiday. Be okay with the reality of what your and your family’s situation is and just look for the beauty in that. Maybe you won’t be skiing while looking like a snow bunny all winter, but that doesn’t mean you can’t throw a random hot chocolate and sled party in January. Looking for gratitude in the way things are and not having high expectations about how it should be will help change your perspective and hopefully allow you to give yourself some grace. Does this mean you won’t get seasonal depression? No, you can’t control chemical imbalances, but it may help get over that hump to wellness sooner.
- Acceptance. Sometimes the only way out is through and it is better to just let yourself be depressed. Let yourself have your feelings, lay in bed, heal yourself. I accept that this is part of who I am, and while I don’t want it to encompass who I am, I do allow myself time to just let it be. Not for long, I allow myself a weekend to recalibrate, cry, scream, disengage. Then, I start on the previous steps I mentioned, and take charge.
These are just some examples of how I stave off seasonal depression each year. It isn’t easy. It takes work and sometimes you can feel like you don’t deserve to put in the work. When I feel this way and realize I need to make myself care, I find a way to include someone that I do care about and make it about them. Making a snowman at work with the kids I nanny or having a Christmas dance party with only the tree lights on is a way to make them happy, which in turn makes me see my importance in their lives.
I hope this information helps you have a happier winter season. I am not a doctor, my advice is purely based on my own experiences and is for entertainment purposes only. Please consult your doctor for your depression symptoms.