Every January it hits…the decorations come down, the white lights disappear, and my home feels empty and drab without the pops of green and red color that adorned it during the past month and a half. Although holiday time can be stressful, it also keeps my mind from focusing on the dreariness of winters in the Pacific Northwest as I wake up and return home to dark skies and freezing temperatures. I’ve done this all my life, so you would think that I would be getting better at adapting to winters. I have attempted to store up all the positive energy and flow I enjoy during the sunnier months into my soul but come February I find that the reserves are completely exhausted, and I am vulnerable to the same seasonal depression that many others describe when they come into my office. Although I can’t say that I have come to a place of acceptance regarding the struggles associated with this time of year, I have learned that with a little effort life can feel much more hopeful. If you are experiencing seasonal or on-going depression symptoms here five tips that can be helpful:
1. Get moving: Research has shown that physical exercise is a kind of natural anti-depressant as the body releases “feel good” chemicals when we exercise. The Catch-22 of depression is that feeling better requires action, and taking action when you’re depressed is difficult. However, while you may not have much energy, you probably have enough to take a short walk around the block (coat, hat and mittens of course) or pick up the phone to call a loved one, and that can be a great start to boosting your mood and improving your outlook.
2. Get sleep: Depression often involves sleep problems. The body repairs and prepares for the challenges of the coming day during sleep, so getting 8 to 9 hours each night is critical in order to function well. Whether you’re sleeping too little or too much, your mood will suffer. A therapist can work with you to identify what might be contributing to sleep problems and creating a plan to address those issues. Some people benefit from the use of medication short-term to assist the body in resetting a consistent sleep cycle. Adopting healthy sleep habits can dramatically improve the way you feel.
3. Get self-compassion: Beating yourself up for experiencing depression will only serve to make you feel even worse. It’s not your fault that you are suffering from depression. Mental illness is not a choice. No one would choose to isolate themselves from people they care about, to feel hopeless and numb, and to struggle with getting out of bed or leaving the house. It’s so important to be kind to yourself and to recognize that you are not alone in struggling with depression. Think about some self-care activities that you can do for yourself and work to speak to yourself compassionately, as you would a good friend who was suffering.
4. Get connected: We are wired for social connection. When experiencing depression symptoms, it is easy to begin withdrawing and isolating from others as it can take what feels like a Herculean effort to be with people and engage in conversation. The problem is that this creates a downward spiral toward feelings of loneliness and hopelessness. It also keeps us away from family and friends; the very people who want to help the most. Your depression may cause you to not “feel like” socializing or going outside. However, it’s important to take these actions to boost your mood-even if you don’t “feel like it” initially.
5. Get help: Seeking help is a sign of true strength, not weakness. If you are struggling with depression whether seasonal or on-going, you don’t have to suffer alone, and you can feel better! Sometimes we become so entrenched in ways of thinking and old patterns of behavior that depression becomes a way of life. Getting insight from an outside perspective can often bring insight regarding those things that keep us stuck in depression. Working with a professional counselor and/or other wellness professionals, you can develop action steps toward health and healing.
Sonia Combs, Licensed Mental Health Counselor.