Ah yes, it’s that time of year again. Leaves have fallen to the ground, there is a crisp chill in the air, lovers are cozying up in bed to a soppy rom-com, and seasonal depression is in full swing. ‘Tis the season, as they say.
What is Seasonal Depression?
You may have heard it expressed in many different ways, but the formal diagnosis for someone who suffers from this condition is Seasonal Affective Disorder. People who have this disorder tend to be negatively mentally and emotionally affected by changes in the season or weather. Most commonly, this change happens when the sunny summer months transition to the colder, gloomier months, but there are some cases where this occurs in the opposite way as well.
To most, changing the clocks back an hour and having the sun set at 4pm simply means an extra hour of sleep and remembering to put your headlights on for your commute home. But for those of us who are sensitive to these changes, it can mean the creeping in of overwhelming anxious and depressive thoughts which are usually kept at bay by the sunshine.
What Does it Feel Like?
I realized how much the weather and seasons affected my mood this year when my therapist asked me what made me happy one day. I racked my brain to think of what never fails to bring me pure, unadulterated joy. I listed “genuine connections with people, laughing with friends, good music, oh, and… warm sunny days.” My therapist “mmm”-ed curiously in a way that all therapists seem to know how to do, and I began to reflect on the effect that my last answer had on my day-to-day life.
Following that meeting, I started to notice how my mood would change suddenly when there was a shift in the weather or as the days grew shorter as we approached winter. I live in San Francisco, a city that is infamous for its fog, and on mornings when I look out of my window to see dull, white skies, I immediately feel more dread, anxiety and a lack of energy. Thoughts of paranoia creep in and I convince myself that my roommates hate me, along with all of my friends and coworkers. As the nighttime sets in quicker, it feels like the whole day will be over before it even begins, and I just want to crawl into bed and watch videos to distract myself from the apparent doom and gloom that is outside. I sometimes lack the energy to get up and prepare food for myself, or sometimes even go to the bathroom.
But when I wake up to a beautiful sunny warm day, it truly makes me want to leap out of bed and get started on my next creative project. I am filled with inspiration and energy, and everything I look at seems more beautiful, whether it is the trees swaying on my street or hearing the voices of people outside.
…Until a particularly big cloud of fog passes over and dims my light.
And so the cycle goes on.
How Can It Get Better
Living with seasonal depression can be utterly exhausting. The fluctuations in mood and productivity can make it extremely hard to function or take care of yourself. It can hinder your creativity and ability to be your best self as well as negatively impact your relationships with friends and family. So what can be done to manage these unstable symptoms?
Well, here are some changes and adjustments you can make that can help:
- Invest in a Sun Lamp
After I told my therapist about how strongly the weather influenced my mood and outlook, it kept coming up in our conversations. As the days became shorter, she highly recommended buying a sun lamp. These lamps are designed to mimic the effects of sunlight on your mind and body. By turning it on and spending a few hours under it each day, it’s almost like tricking your brain into thinking you live in a place with eternal summer!
- Take Supplements
When we are out in the sun every day, we tend to receive a healthy dose of Vitamin D. Vitamin D can have a big impact on your mood, energy levels, and motivation. Since our society has evolved to stay mainly indoors during the day, the majority of us are already deficient in this important vitamin. So when the darker, colder months come along, Vitamin D levels can be at an all time low, so it’s important to get your daily dose of Vitamin D in other places. Supplements are available in most pharmacies and are safe to take daily! If you’re even more curious, ask your doctor about getting your vitamin levels checked to see if you could have any more deficiencies that could be causing mood swings or sensitivities!
- Bring the Outside Inside
Part of what is so enjoyable and refreshing about the summer months is the liveliness of nature that comes with them. Healthy, green plants have huge benefits for us both visually and mentally. Bringing in some leafy friends to your home is a wonderful (and not to mention aesthetically pleasing!) way to bring back some of those sweet summer vibes into the cold months.
(Pro tip: I recommend researching which plants thrive during cold months to keep them happy and healthy – while doing the same for yourself!)
- Start a Medication
There may be a stigma around taking medication for mental or emotional issues, but I want to let you know that there is absolutely no shame in wanting or needing some extra help during a difficult period in your life. Medications such as antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications can greatly increase your quality of life during darker times, and it is totally an option to only take them during the months that you know you generally feel worse in. If you’re curious, talk to a therapist or psychiatrist to find out more!
- Fill Your Tub
Lastly, the cheapest and most important thing to do – even if you don’t do any of the above options or even if you do all of them – is to fill up your tub. By this, I don’t mean take a warm bubble bath (but you very well could – it sounds lovely on a cold winter night!). I mean “tub” as your metaphorical Tub of Self-Care. Fill it up with things that bring you a sense of safety, comfort, ease, and energy, so that when the drain is suddenly opened by cold or dark weather, you still have half a tub left to keep you warm. Whether that’s meal prepping during the weekend to make sure you eat dinner on the nights you feel especially low, or asking a friend if they can check in on you a little more frequently during these months, try to do what you can to set yourself up for success. Even the seemingly smallest things, like making sure you drink a glass of water and getting up to pee when you need to pee, are all so important. All of these things add up to fill your tub, and in turn, to fill your life with sunshine even when it seems dark.
Have you suffered from Seasonal Depression? Try listening to our program, “Breaking Through Depression” in the Sanity & Self App! As well, comment below to share your story and any tips you have to get through these (literally!) dark times!