As the days get shorter and darkness comes earlier, are you experiencing a plunge in state of mind and body? Do the overcast winter skies seem to bring a depressed mood with them? It could be seasonal depression!
If you experience an onset of depressive symptoms in the winter that seem to vanish with the green sprouts of spring you may be experiencing what has been referred to as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
In this article, Tish tells you what to look for to find out if you’re suffering from the winter blues, and then gives 5 great tips to tell you how to combat them as you wait for longer, sunnier days to reemerge.
In This Article
And what to do:
About the Author
Tish Hedger MA, PLPC is a professional counselor specializing in marriage counseling, sex therapy, anxiety, and depression treatment. You can schedule an appointment with Tish for online counseling or in-person at our Kansas City, Missouri counseling center.
Do you have SAD?
Depression with a seasonal pattern is an unpleasant experience. You can determine that it is present when there have been two depressive episodes in the last two years during winter time that disappear with warmer weather.
Or perhaps you suffer from persistent depression throughout the year and you experience worsened symptoms in the winter. For instance, you may exhibit some but not all of these symptoms:
- feelings of sadness or depressed mood
- marked loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
- change in appetite; usually eating more, craving carbohydrates
- change in sleep; usually sleeping too much
- loss of energy or increased fatigue despite increased sleep hours
- increase in restless activity (e.g., hand-wringing or pacing) or slowed movements and speech
- feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- trouble concentrating or making decisions
- thoughts of death or suicide or attempts at suicide
It has been well-researched and confirmed that medication with therapy has the best treatment results. Additionally, each of them individually shows reduction in symptoms as well.
Depression can seem overwhelming. However, if you or someone you love experiences depression, there is hope!
Here are 5 tips that you can start today. These can be helpful in alleviating depressive symptoms on their own or alongside therapy and/or medication.
5 Tips for Combating Seasonal Depression:
1. Social connection
Research has found staggering truths about the benefits of social connection. One study shows that social connection is a greater determinant of health than obesity, smoking and high blood pressure. Social connection has been shown to increase chances of longevity up to 50%. Studies show that individuals with strong social connection have higher levels of self esteem and empathy. People who have strong social connection are more trusting and cooperative. As a result, others respond to them with greater trust and cooperation.
Created for Connection
We were created for connection. In Genesis we see that we have been created in the image of God. God is Triune, one God in three persons. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit dwell in perfect relationship and we were created in the image of that perfect relationship. God at His core is relational and has wired us mentally, emotionally, and spiritually for connection.
Tips for Connecting:
- Today send a fun or funny text to a friend. Or just say hi and that you are thinking of them. Cultivate your sense of inner connection. You don’t have to be an extrovert, have a thousand social media followers, or have tons of extra time to make new friends. Your internal sense of connection is something that you can build from within.
- Do something to serve others – giving kindness is shown to build this internal sense of connection.
- Text or call a friend who you know is having a hard time.
- Do your spouse’s laundry.
- Keep a list and pray for the needs of your friends and family.
- Volunteer at a local non-profit or at your church.
- Take a meal to a friend who just had a baby.
- Ask for help. Quiet that inner voice that tells you, “You shouldn’t need help. Weak people need help. You should be able to handle your own problems.” This is not true. God created us with finite resources (we are not self-sufficient), and He created us to need relationships.
- See APPENDIX ONE for a graph illustrating the benefits of social connection.
2. Practice Mindfulness
Simply put, mindfulness is having intentional attention to the present. Mindfulness is observing and noticing our thoughts and feelings without judgment. It helps our focus rest on the present instead of ruminating on the past or worrying about the unknown or future. The reduction of this harmful ruminating is key in combating depression and the common chatter of depression (i.e. “I am not good enough,” “I’m such an idiot,” and, “I can’t go on”). To learn mindfulness, I recommend downloading a mindfulness app. My favorites are Head Space, Calm and Stop, and Breathe and Think.
Tips for Mindfulness:
- Today start with 1 minute of deep breathing (many smart watches have a one minute deep breathing feature.)
- Start with a 1 minute to 3 minute mindfulness session on one of the apps. (Head Space and Stop Breathe and Think are good ones to begin with for this.)
- Practice mindfulness with your kids. All three of the apps listed above have kid versions or features for you to include your child. It will be great for them too!
3. Physical Activity/Exercise
There are has been much documented research in the last twenty years about the effectiveness of exercise in alleviating depressive symptoms. For example, exercise increases blood flow to the brain. Additionally, it releases endorphins which acts as a natural anti-depressant. Physical activity likewise releases serotonin. Serotonin is a primary neurotransmitter that is lowered while experiencing depression.
Exercise also metabolizes stress hormones (for instance cortisol and adrenaline) out of your bloodstream. These chemicals are known to exacerbate depression. Finally, one landmark study in 1999 by James A. Blumenthal, Ph.D. and his colleagues showed that exercising for 30 minutes three times a week was as helpful as a prescribed dosage of 30 mg of Zoloft!
Tips for Getting in more Physical Activity:
- Today schedule a time to go the gym. Keep it simple. At the beginning, make it your goal just to get to the gym and do 5 minutes of any activity.
- Think: Physical activity three times a week, for 30 or 40 minutes.
- Choose an activity you enjoy (walking with a friend, swimming, yoga, stationary bike while reading).
- Expect to not want to. You are seldom going to feel like it, therefore schedule it like an appointment and tell yourself you will feel good afterward. Because you will.
- Timing matters. Pick a convenient time and don’t exercise on a full stomach or before bed (which can cause you to feel energized before bed instead of sleepy).
- Take a minute afterward to appreciate how you feel and to praise yourself: “I’m a person that accomplishes tasks.” “I am a person that follows through with personal commitments.” “I kept my promise to myself.” “I’m so thankful I spent that time exercising today.”
4. Utilize the Power of Gratitude
More and more research is emerging on the power of gratitude for mental health. Gratitude has been shown to have a strong and consistent correlation with greater happiness. Practicing gratitude promotes positive emotion and can increase the enjoyment a person receives from a positive aspect or experience in life.
Gratitude can help build our sense of inner connection by increasing our internal bond towards our loved ones. Gratitude is universally accessible and something you can begin right now.
Tips for Practicing Gratitude:
- Today count your blessings. Tell yourself or a loved one about three of the blessings you are aware today in your life.
- Keep a gratitude journal. At the end of the day write down things you are thankful for. (It is helpful to pick an amount that you will shoot for, 3 or 5 items.)
- Write a thank you note to someone expressing your appreciation.
- Create a gratitude list in a note on your phone or in your planner.
- Be consistent – do one gratitude activity 3 to 5 times a week.
- Go around the dinner table and have everyone share one thing they are thankful for from the day.
- Pray expressing your thankfulness to God.
5. Get a Physical Exam
Rule out any physically-based issues that could be exacerbating symptoms of depression. Have your doctor check your iron, vitamin D and B levels. Additionally, make sure your thyroid is working properly. Finally, ask for blood work and a full physical.
Tips for Your Exam:
- Today call and make an appointment.
- Ask your doctor if there are any supplements that might enhance your health.
- If you are on medication, ask the doctor about side effects and if you are on the correct dosages.
- Tell your doctor you think you are experiencing symptoms of depression.
- Talk to your doctor about any ways you can improve your health.
In conclusion, see taking care of yourself as a priority.
If we want a dependable car to drive, the car will, of course, need maintenance and fuel. We likewise were created with the need for restoration and refueling.
Depression is certainly very expensive on our personal mental, emotional, and physical resources. Depression by nature creates a real deficit in personal resources. So extend understanding and compassion to yourself accordingly, and do something to invest in replenishing your mental, emotional, and physical storehouse today.
If you feel the depression is severe or if you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, consult a doctor immediately or seek help at the closest emergency room. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 800-273-TALK (8255).
- Is Exercise a Viable Treatment for Depression?,14-21. (2012).
- Social Relationships and Health,241(4865), 540-545. (1998).Social relationships and health
- Social Isolation in America: Changes in Core Discussion Networks over Two Decades. (2006).Wong, J., & Brown, J. (2017, June 6).
- How Gratitude changes you and your brian. Retrieved from https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_gratitude_changes_you_and_your_brain
- In Praise of Gratitude. (2011, November). Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/in-praise-of-gratitude
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