A few clues that you’re entering into Seasonal Affective Disorder and what you can do about it
It's that time of year again that over 10 million Americans alone experience SADness. That is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) where the lack of sunlight and the presence of gray skies begins to mirror how we feel inside leading us down a dark corridor to depressing thoughts, lethargic bodies, and uncomfortable emotions. Women are 3 times more likely than men to experience SADness during this time and suicide rates begin to spike up. Some people just experience a mild low mood, aka the blues, during this time while others are at risk of falling into a deeper depression.
If you have a propensity to experience SADness during this time, remember, you're not alone and there are skills you can gain to sustain you during this time. First let's take a look at how a person might notice that SADness is setting in and then we'll explore what to do about it. It's important to know that during any adjustment in mood there is an interaction that goes on between our thoughts, emotions, physical sensations, and behavior. For example, when you wake up in the morning and you're tired and it's cold, pulling off the covers and exposing your body to the cold might lead to some physical discomfort. The thought may arise, "oh, what I would give to just stay in bed, this is torture". That may lead to the emotions of frustration and resentment, which makes the body feel agitated and tense. Your partner turns to you and sluggishly says "good morning" in which you reply "whatever". While in the shower all you can think about is how miserable this day is going to be. The cycle continues throughout the day as you try to isolate and avoid people, finding yourself stuck, stewing in negative thoughts, uncomfortable sensations and emotions, and reactive behavior.
So how do we recognize when this is occurring and what can we do to intervene so we don't let our minds get the best of us and spiral down into depression? First look to how you're treating your body in relation to diet and exercise. Yes, we all have heard this before, but we've heard it because it is very true. How we treat our bodies during this time of the year can have a significant effect on our ability to stave off depression. If we exercise a bit during the week and feed ourselves healthy foods, not only does that make us feel better physically, but it sends the message internally that we care about our bodies, which makes us feel better about ourselves mentally and emotionally.
The second thing is to become aware of the cycle that was previously mentioned. Use your body as a physical barometer to notice when you're feeling uncomfortable. When you start to feel depressed or anxious, where do you feel it in your body? Often times what will happen is there will be some physical discomfort that we are unaware of (e.g., tiredness in the body, tension in the shoulders, a pit in the stomach) and we react to it with a negative thought, which ignites an uncomfortable emotion which only reinforces the uncomfortable physical sensation. Notice when this reaction is happen and like shining a flashlight inside a dark cave, see if you can bring your attention to the physical sensation and just be aware of it. For example, in the morning when feeling sleepy and maybe cold, notice how quick you are to jump to a negative thought as a reaction to that discomfort. See if you can just bring awareness to the actual sensations for a few moment just taking stock of them without judging or analyzing them. Approaching the discomfort instead of avoiding or judging it by going up into our heads can break the "stewing" cycle. After becoming present to the sensations, you may want to then ask yourself, what is good or Ok about this moment? What are some things that could go well today?
The last thing I will suggest for SADness is looking into Light Therapy. For many, light is simply essential for their day to day functioning, so purchasing a light therapy device can be helpful.
Do you suffer from SADness or someone you know? What have you found that works or doesn't work? Your input or questions here may help thousands of others along their journey. Feel free to comment or ask a question below.