Seasonal Depression: 4 Steps to Less Sadness

The following is an entry from one of my journals, written November 13th, 2016:

“I haven’t showered since Thursday. I haven’t cooked food since Monday— I’ve been microwaving leftovers or buying takeout. I have no interest in doing anything at my office today. I’m not even interested in having an office anymore.
I’m hiding in bed, crying, and wanting strudel, while [my husband] is watching our son downstairs. What are the things I’m supposed to do to combat this again? Exercise? Meditate? Definitely shower. Get fresh air for something…only it’s f***ing 30 degrees outside. Not helping.

I know I have to get up.
My family needs me.
I need me to get up. I don’t want to give in to this.

But I’m sad. And it’s cold. And everything hurts.”

There are many, many more like it- beginning around 2011, scattered here and there from October to March of each year thereafter.
It wasn’t until 2015 that we (me, my hubs, and my therapist) realized I had Seasonal Affective Disorder.

For those 4 years in between, I just assumed I wasn’t trying hard enough to be happy. (‘cause that totally how happiness works, right?) If only I would just meditate more and eat more raw produce and force myself to go on more walks I would be fine. Basically, if I could just stuff down the sadness, force myself to act like everyone else did and pretend like everything was normal, it somehow magically would be.

NOPE.

Seasonal Affective Disorder affects an estimated 10 million Americans every year, and an additional 10-20% of the population experience mild episodes*.
SAD, also known as “The Winter Blues” is 4 times more common in women, and much more common in northern areas.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a subtype of major depression related to the amount of daylight available during season, usually fall and winter. (There is also a much less common form of SAD during the summer months.)

For fall/winter SAD, the shorter daylight hours trigger major depression symptoms like:

  • oversleeping

  • increased crying spells

  • craving carbs and overeating

  • heavy or leaden arms and legs

  • disinterest in activities that used to bring joy

  • pervading sadness/hopelessness

So for me, around this time of year I see people posting about #sweaterweather , going on walks with spiced beverages, and decorating with wholesome rosy-cheeked scarecrows, and by all appearances I join right in! (except for the rosy-cheeked scarecrow bit)
Meanwhile, I am also battening down the hatches to prepare for the flood of depression that will descend any day now.

This is no flaw, judgement, or complaint, it is a necessity of my physiology.

It helps to think of ourselves as plants…

Some plants thrive in cold, dry areas. If you put them in a hot, moist greenhouse, they will rot, wither, and be miserable.
Likewise, warm weather sun-loving plants will shrivel and retreat from the cold and dark.

I am a warm-weather sun-loving plant, and this is not my season of thriving.

My family is not going to relocate to the equator anytime soon, so what is to be done?

As any good gardener knows: the key is planning ahead, manipulating the environment, allowing the plant to do the best it can in the circumstances.

Step One: Know your triggers

This is central to pretty much all good healing and progress in life- an ounce of self awareness is worth 1,000 lbs of cure- and it certainly applies here.
Take note of the things that make you the saddest, then (gently, kindly) examine them.

Some of mine include:
- cold feet
- lack of fresh, ripe fruit
- waking up in the dark
- being late to things because of scraping ice/snow off my windshield
- limited time to play outside

If something on your Sadness List is very broad like “Going to work,” try to get more specific.

Is it the commute? The hours? A certain coworker? A certain task? Eating a cold lunch on your break?
Try to pinpoint a single thing that starts the domino effect of sadness begetting sadness.

Step Two: Plan your remedies

The more specific the thing, the easier it is to avoid.

For example: If you know beforehand that the thing you dread most is running out of coffee and having to go to the grocery store at 7:00am, let me introduce you to my friend Costco— a magical store at which you can literally buy a year’s worth of coffee and stash it in the pantry/basement/closet/wherever and tah-dah!!! You will NEVER have that problem this winter.

Everything on your list can become a plan, most of which can be executed in a few minutes.

I address the things in my list by:

- having 3 pairs of slippers at strategic areas around the house as well as an easily accessible heating pad ready for action at all times
- keeping locally-made fruit preserves handy for baking and stocking up on flash-frozen ripe fruit from earlier in the year for use in cooking
- getting a sunrise alarm clock and a LOT of lamps for my bedroom and living room
- setting reminder alarms to leave for appointments ridiculously early, and by whipping up a batch of this DIY defroster spray every year
- scheduling easy, low-energy things to do out and about (knowing a lot of my energy will be used up getting dressed in layers and making myself leave the house at all) like getting massages, going to story time at the library, signing up for a baking class with a friend, and setting dates with myself at the cat café with a good book

If the issue seems too big to have a straightforward solution, invite another set of eyes to help you break it down into the smaller bits. Friends/partners/parents/therapists/coaches are good ones to get on board.

Step Three: Take action NOW

No really, now.

Not in a month or two when holiday crazy is whirling around everywhere, and the sadness has settled so deeply into your chest and limbs you can barely move.
Not when you’re late for work again, it’s sleeting outside, and you’re replaying the stress of the morning for the trillionth time while you’re supposedly enjoying a coffee break.

Look again at that list and do something today to lay the groundwork for your happier plant environment.

Go to Goodwill and get an extra lamp.

Dig out your winter clothes and put your coziest layers where they’ll be easy to grab first thing in the morning.

Or, if you’re in Dayton, you can enroll in my new package The Hygge Sessions: Massage therapy for Winter Blues and get 6 massages over the course of 12 weeks, along with specially-designed freebie goodies to make your winter that much closer to wonderful.

Whatever your action step looks like today, take it. Seriously. Right now.

It only takes a few seconds to print off that recipe you know you’ll love to have for dinner on a cold dark day.
In two months, you’ll be so glad to have it right there at your fingertips rather than sifting through recipes on your phone at 5:30pm, trying to find it again.

And look at that! A little bit of sadness and stress just disappeared from your timeline, Back the Future style.

Step Four: Know that you are not alone

Let’s holler back to that 10 million Americans affected by the winter blues. 10 MILLION.

We aren’t weird/damaged/defective/weak/lazy or whatever nasty whispers your brain might say you are.

After all, no one is yelling at the deciduous trees to get their springtime flowers back out, complaining they’ve really let themselves go and that they aren’t camera ready.

Respect your own cycle, friend.

You are loved, your sadness is not all of you, and it is 100% okay to dislike fall and winter…no matter how may cheerful pumpkin-spiced holiday instagram posts come across your feed. You are under no obligation to love that which makes you struggle to thrive.

But there are ways to make it through, and you do not have to go it alone.
(Please don’t. I’ve tried. It’s the worst.)

If you don’t have a counselor, psychologist, or the good-listener kind of psychiatrist on your team, rally them up. It’s time. They WANT to help you, it’s literally their job.
If for any reason you feel like yours doesn’t want to help you, pick another. There are thousands of them out there, and you can take your time finding the right fit.

There are also books, support groups (online and in-person), blogs, podcasts, and classes you can explore to find more methods of healing/helping/support. Not sure where to start? Head to ecosia.org and get searching.

I’m here with you too, to help you cultivate your ease and happiness, even when they seem impossibly far away.

I’ve been to the bottom of all those dark cold pits, loves. I know them well. Which is why I know firsthand the truth about depression, be it seasonal or otherwise:

Your sadness is not all of you, and never will be. Joy and good things are always there too. Always.

From the unironic bottom of my heart, Happy Fall, loves.

All the joy and hugs,

Erin

If you are having thoughts of suicide, harming yourself or others, or everything just fucking sucks and you need someone to talk to please call CrisisCare at 937-224-4646 available 24/7 just one little button tap away.

*Sources
https://healthresearchfunding.org/seasonal-affective-disorder-statistics/)
https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder