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Even now, when I am entirely aware of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), how the short days and extremely long nights can manipulate my mental health, it’s still not an easy time.
Every year when the days grow shorter, so do my nerves – I become agitated in situations that I usually would just let go, I lose my energy, I begin to numb my emotions, my enthusiasm seeks hibernation, the weight piles on, my inner voice becomes more critical than ever, and I retreat as much as I can from social gatherings. For as long as I can remember this has been my reality, and it wasn’t until I heard of S.A.D. that I started to realize that – I’m not crazy – I’m not a bad person – I am not a failure. I have to work harder some parts of the year and be much more in tune as well as forgiving with myself because there’s something more going on.
Remember, it’s normal for everyone to go through the winter’s months being a little more “blah” than usual, this is known as the winter blues and shouldn’t be confused with SAD or Seasonal Depression even if it is not a pleasant feeling. When you feel sad because you miss the warmth of the sun on your skin and the fun that comes along with it, it’s hard. There’s also that small bit of anger you have towards yourself for skipping out on the chores you need to do, see friends you haven’t seen in weeks, finish projects you promised yourself you would, and whatever else falls waist-side. This type of winter blues behavior is normal actually so we should take a breath and remind ourselves that we’re doing okay. But of course, we should do our best to maintain healthy habits throughout the year because when we feel our best, we do our best.
Give yourself the love and acceptance you deserve then take a step towards your goals; do this every single hour if you must. Keep moving forward and know that this too shall pass.
There are some though, and it’s important to remember, who can’t seem to get out of this torturous cycle, year after year, for months on end that you have to accept that there’s something bigger going on.
At some point, it’s like a switch goes off and suddenly we’re in a prison sentence. Waves of sadness and odd mourning for something unknown begins to wash over my entirety. I would be in the bathroom getting ready and then suddenly I would start crying. Once I would gather myself, I would look in the mirror and think…
“No, this can’t be happening, I’m okay. It was just a fluke; you’re fine. You’ve been so happy, why is this happening, there’s no way you’re going to lose yourself again.”
Then slowly, while I was in denial, I lost. The guilt and the constant sadness had won. I lost all motivation. Anxiety had become the driving force behind everything I had done or refused to do. It’s hard to admit it, but I would make myself a drink at 10 o’clock in the morning to help numb the pain and function and feel like my usual playful self. I felt like I was failing. I was failing my family; I was failing my daughter, I was failing myself. I honestly spent day after day for months without end, hiding away in my bathroom curled up on the shower floor crying and quietly scolding myself for failing yet again.
“How could I let this happen again?!”
Research presented at the Society for Neuroscience meeting this November may have found an answer as to why. Scientists have recently discovered that there are light-sensing cells within our retina that communicate with the parts of our brain that determines whether we are happy or sad! When these photoreceptors begin to experience a time where sunlight comes less and less, they let our brain know, and this directly affects our mood making us more susceptible to biological disorders like Seasonal Depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder. Now that we can have a better understanding and better explain why this awful emotional downfall occurs during the winter months we can better prepare ourselves and hopefully find ways of preventing it altogether.
Symptoms of depression that include having:
Losing interests in the things you once found enjoyable.
Change in appetite.
Feeling agitation and sluggishness.
Having suicidal thoughts or thinking of death.
Have problems sleeping.
Symptoms tied explicitly to winter SAD is excessive tiredness, even after you’ve had a full night sleep as well as being able to fall asleep while performing essential tasks that usually have your full attention. You’ll find yourself overeating or have an intense craving for carbohydrates and experience weight gain. You see yourself going into what I’ve always referred to as “hibernation,” where you isolate yourself and withdrawal from loved ones.
If you want to learn more about SAD, seasonal affective disorder, as well as the symptoms of summertime SAD click here.
If you’re not experiencing depression but are finding yourself feeling blueish now and again because winters can be harsh, it’s still a good idea to take heed of the tips I’m about to discuss. No, winter blues is not severe as SAD, but it’s still going to leave room for sadness and self-neglect which isn’t how we feel our best and be the best mother that we can be. Our top priority should always be to be the happiest and healthiest that we can be so that we can be the best version of ourselves. Our children, friends, and family want us to be our happiest and best selves, and we need to want that for ourselves too. So here are ways to be proactive to maintain a healthy state-of-mind throughout the year, especially winter!
HOW I REMAIN PROACTIVE ABOUT MY MENTAL HEALTH
SUNLIGHT! Yes, get outside when the sun is shining. Especially now that we know our photoreceptors need to see plenty of it and let our brain know to remain happy.
If it’s a little cold, bundle up and spend even just 10 minutes out in the fresh air letting the sun’s rays touch your face because it will make a difference. If you live far north like myself, the sunlight isn’t always available, and that causes issues. Thankfully, there are fantastic products known as ‘happy lamps,’ that provide a treatment called phototherapy using artificial light sessions and are proven to stimulate hormones and help us feel happier overall.
Check out this ‘happy lamp’ at Amazon.com.
PHYSICAL ACTIVITY! Remain active throughout the winter. It doesn’t have to be outdoor activities like snowboarding and ice-skating, even though those are great. You can meet up with friends every other week to go bowling or a rock-climbing gym. Don’t make any more excuses about memberships costing too much money or that you won’t use it. If you suffer from SAD or hate those winter blues; it’s a life-changing/must-have investment! Get yourself a gym membership, buy a punch card for your local lap pool, sign up for an activity hosted by your local sport’s center. YOU NEED TO! Do it. Plus, that natural winter weight gain is typical, so take the initiative and be more proactive so you can feel better about yourself. You’re beautiful regardless, but I get it.
SELF-CARE! Every. Single. Day. Taking care of yourself is an everyday routine that never goes away. Even if you don’t shower or are on the run, use that dry shampoo and wash your face. Buy yourself a few new houseplants or a fresh bouquet every other week or month. It will make you feel so great and liven up your home, do what you love that creates that pleasant ambiance. Make yourself feel good. Download a meditation app onto your phone, so when the end of the day arrives, you can apply a face mask and take 15-20 minutes to yourself. Get your mind right! You don’t have a choice. You have to be more proactive than the rest.
Here, try Calm one of my favorite mediation apps!
FIND PROFESSIONAL HELP. No, I am not saying run off and become medicated. I’m also NOT telling you not to go and ask for medication either. It’s your decision what you do when it comes to your health. I’m just letting you know that when you’re hurt or sick, you go to the doctor, and mental health is just as important as your heart or bones. Find a therapist that you can talk to and lend you comfort. Let your doctor know if you need to see a psychiatrist. A professional can help you be more proactive based on your own needs. Every single person is different and what helps one may not help another. I have been able to maintain my mental health without medication, but you need to look out for yourself first because you’re the top priority.
ROUTINE! When you wake up in the morning, you need to hit the ground running. Wake up and put your feet on the floor, even if you have to sit there for a moment. Push yourself! You don’t have the choice. Plant your feet on the ground, smile, and get moving. I love having my Google Home device that my mother-in-law gave me for Christmas. I can call out “Hey Google, turn on Pandora.” The music changes my mindset and helps me be more motivated to start my morning routine that includes washing my face, brushing my teeth, showering or dousing my hair with dry-shampoo, then getting dressed for the day. I make sure to open the blinds, drink a tall glass of cold water before I have my coffee, then have a healthy breakfast. Sometimes I even have to force myself to eat a morning meal, but I make sure I do it because I KNOW IT’S HOW I BEAT THE WINTER BLUES AND MY SEASONAL AFFECTIVE DISORDER. I had spent so many years feeling sorry for myself and trying to pretend like this wasn’t my life, but now I know that this is just who I am and I don’t have the choice. Routines are how I survive.
FORGIVENESS. Just writing that made me start to cry. I can’t tell you how long I hated myself for this. I’m not complaining because I feel sorry for myself or because I wish I could be someone else. I’m crying because I was so mean. I was mean about letting myself go and gaining weight and canceling all of those plans. I missed out on so many things because I was in denial and wanted to be someone else instead of just loving myself enough to care about the person I am. You have to forgive yourself for all of the negative thoughts you had and all of the actions you took when you were not yourself. You have to forgive and love yourself without end. Love yourself more than you could ever hate the things that happen to your mind and vow that you will do everything in your power to work. It’s going to be a lot of work, but you’re worth it. You can move forward when you’re proactive about doing so. When next fall rolls around, and you start to feel the onsets of your depression, whatever you do, DO NOT BE MEAN TO YOURSELF. Just give yourself a pep talk, tell those closest to you that you need the extra help, and put it into self-care overdrive.
EAT HEALTHY AND TAKE SUPPLEMENTS. It’s so important to maintain a healthy diet and get all the necessary vitamins and minerals it requires to keep your healthy body and mind. Buying a multi-vitamin and ensuring that you get enough vitamin D is essential. I love to drink herbal teas or make dandelion root capsules that I can take throughout the winter. It’s my fun hobby and proactive way to ensure that I am continuously detoxing my body and providing all that it needs to stay on top of my mental health issues. Fill your refrigerator with dark leafy greens and other healthy produce. Make sure you always have oranges or grapefruits on your kitchen counter. I like to peel citrus fruit and then huff their rinds. It seems a little crazy, but those essential oils are perfect for boosting your energy levels and making you happy. You can also purchase lemon essential oil supplement to add to your morning water.
REMAIN ACTIVE IN YOUR COMMUNITY. The one main thing that was detrimental to my mental health during winter seasons was my desire to hide away. The isolation was awful, and it enabled me to harm myself mentally and physically. Remaining an active member of your community will help you stay the course and maintain a positive mindset. Go for a walk once a week and pick up trash along the walkways. Begin to gather used winter coats that your friends and family are willing to donate and deliver them to a homeless shelter. Ask your local animal shelter or food bank if they’re in need of volunteers. These selfless acts will help your mood and help give you a sense of purpose. Whether you choose to volunteer or remain active with your friends and family, find ways to get out of the house and be around people.
If SAD is something that has remained your winter guest year after year, know that you are not alone. If I can move past my painful past dealing with this disorder, I know you can too. Now I get to deal with the annoyance of winter blues just like most people do, but I can’t complain considering where I’ve been in my past. These proactive tips have wholly changed my life. It’s all about taking control of your actions, facing reality, loving yourself with no end, and taking it one day at a time.
The chances are if you’ve had your own experience with SAD, you have your very own painful cycle that starts to set off alarms in your head. You shouldn’t wait for those symptoms to begin to show before you take action; start now and continue throughout the year. Whatever you do, don’t slack off come fall and get complacent or worse, be in denial, because that’s when we need to take more action than ever.
Now’s the time to forgive yourself, love yourself a lot harder, and open your heart up to the sunlight that will be coming back to our lives starting tomorrow.
Happy Winter Solstice,