Surviving Seasonal Depression (SAD)

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battling seasonal depressionYou leave the house in the morning and it’s pitch black. You come home in the early evening and it’s already dark outside. It’s cold. It’s cloudy. It’s windy. It’s snowy. It’s gray. It’s icy. It’s winter.

Some people absolutely love the season of winter. But others (10-20%) may suffer from the winter blues or SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), which is 4 times more common in women. Thankfully there are ways to help lift your mood with many being scientifically proven to help.

What Causes SAD?

The specific cause remains unknown, but there are a few factors that can cause seasonal depression.

-Your biological clock (circadian rhythm): This basically means the lack of sunlight in the winter may disrupt your body’s internal clock which can then lead to feelings of depression.

-Melatonin levels: Melatonin is a hormone that plays a role in your sleep patterns and mood. The change in season can disrupt your body’s balance of this.

-Serotonin levels: Serotonin is a brain chemical that affects your mood. A decrease in serotonin may play a role in the winter blues. Reduced sunlight can cause a decrease in serotonin. Which makes total sense given the many gloomy days that can come with the winter season.

What are some symptoms of SAD?

Symptoms can vary between everyone. For me personally, I suffer from not wanting to go anywhere or do anything. I stay at home, don’t go outside, and don’t socialize which definitely leads to unhappiness. I always feel tired or worn out even though I haven’t really done much. Other symptoms can include:

-Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
-Feeling down
-Having low energy
-Having difficulty concentrating
-Feeling sluggish, agitated, or moody
-Oversleeping
-Appetite changes
-Weight gain (although I always tend to blame this on Christmas cookies and desserts!)

Disclaimer: I am in no way whatsoever a doctor. Symptoms can also be much more concerning than the ones I’ve listed and would require seeing a doctor who specializes in this subject. If you feel that your symptoms are deeper than this such as thoughts of suicide, or not being able to function at all within your day, please seek immediate help. There is absolutely nothing wrong with seeking help, so please don’t feel discouraged or embarrassed!

What can I do to fight seasonal depression?

Try light therapy
Because of the lack of natural light in the winter, light therapy can help many people. There are different types of light therapy that can be used.

*Dawn Simulators: These simulate the sunrise so you wake up to slowly to light! Here is a good choice, as well as this one.

*Light Boxes: These are flat screens that produce fluorescent lighting. You would typically use a light box for 30-60 minutes a day. Many people use these at their desks or simply sit in front of them at home. Here is a good option.

*Natural spectrum light bulbs: Work in an office? Sit at a desk during the day? Some people find that switching out their light bulbs in lamps to full-spectrum (brighter) bulbs helps uplift their moods. Find the bulbs at lighting stores, home improvement stores, and art supply stores. Research suggests these bulbs are at least 10,000 lux.

Exercise
Here is where I struggle. Really struggle. But research shows that even 30 minutes a day of walking can really help with seasonal sadness. And I personally notice a huge difference when I do exercise. It’s hard! But it’s worth it. Some say they even bundle up in the winter and walk outside even if it’s just for a few minutes. Morning exercise can be extremely helpful too to get your body up and moving and ready to tackle the day. If you have any exercise tips, please feel free to share them with me. I could use them all.

Open the blinds
This sounds so simple, but it can really make a huge difference. I tend to become much more sad/sleepy when I’m lying in a dark room with all the blinds closed. It makes a world of a difference to get up for the day, open all the blinds in your house and enjoy that natural light.

Go on vacation
I know this isn’t possible for everyone, but if you have a chance to even take a short weekend trip away somewhere where it’s warmer and sunnier, do it! I know a few people who plan trips for January and February way in advance so when those cold months come, they have a warm trip to look forward to.

Establish a sleep routine
Sleep is still important to fight seasonal depression. We just don’t want to oversleep. Stick to a routine and schedule. (Although, as moms, we know sleep isn’t easy for everyone.) We’re all in different phases of motherhood, so this won’t apply to everyone, but if you can at all stick to somewhat of a routine and get adequate sleep without oversleeping, try it out and see if it helps!

Stay socially active
I tend to hibernate in my house and become less social in the winter. That’s a recipe for disaster. Especially for stay at home mamas. Plan outings with friends and family during the winter months. Even if it’s just to grab a coffee or a quick bite to eat. Set up playdates with other moms. Those days where you really don’t feel like socializing are probably the best days to actually do something.

Laugh out loud 
Experts believe laughter can counteract depressive symptoms. Curl up to a funny movie, pop some popcorn, and enjoy some laughs.

Eat smarter
Here’s where I struggle again. But research shows time and time again that a healthier diet fosters a healthier and happier mood. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still going to enjoy those Christmas cookies, but I also need to consider eating more fruits and vegetables and drinking plenty of water. Also, did you know dark chocolate can help uplift your mood? Give me all the chocolate!

Don’t be afraid to dance
Turn on the music and dance. Dance around the house. Don’t be afraid to be silly. Sing at the top of your lungs and enjoy yourself.

Seasonal depression is a real thing. And it’s tough. But there are ways to help minimize the gloominess that winter can bring. We got this, mamas. We got this.

How do you tackle seasonal depression?

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Jessica is a stay-at-home mama to an energetic and non-stop talking four year old little girl named Ava and the sweetest yet ornery little one year boy named Eli. She runs on espresso shots and cold coffee and feels like she's on a vacation when she gets a solo trip to Target. She's been married to her husband PJ for almost 8 years. They have lived everywhere from Minneapolis to Houston but ultimately ended up in the heart of Des Moines where she is enjoying her busy, chaotic and beautiful life.

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