Now that it’s October, it’s officially autumn, my favorite time of year with the cool weather, knit hats, and apple cider. Yet, as I enjoy the changing colors and planning for Halloween costumes, I know that Old Man Winter is creeping along slowly behind it, bringing frost and the dreaded shorter daylight cycle. After living in Southcentral Alaska for 3 years, I am grateful for the light I get in the winter now that I live in Indiana. In Alaska and other places with extreme seasonal light cycles, it is common for people to experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and this is the time of year for it to start rearing its depressive head.
According to the Mayo Clinic’s website, SAD is a type of depression that is linked to seasonal changes, usually beginning in the fall, but there are some cases of spring/summer SAD as well. Symptoms of fall/winter SAD include:
- Low Energy
- Weight Gain
I have been diagnosed with BPD, Bipolar Disorder II, and major depression, so it’s harder for me to identify SAD because my symptoms are encompassed by other illnesses. However, I do notice a major change in my mood when it rains or is cloudy for several consecutive days, so I am certain that it does make a difference at least for me personally.
Conversely, one report, from Community Counseling Services, Inc. indicates that the highest suicide rates are on the West Coast and Rocky Mountain Region, in rural areas. This is counter to the popular belief that suicides mostly occur in areas with fewer sunny days. In fact, CCS reports that the majority of suicides in our country occur in the spring, which I found surprising.
Regardless, feeling SAD can really put a damper on a person’s spirit, especially during the holidays when the pressure starts to mount. The Mayo clinic suggests medication and psychotherapy, but also offers a list of complementary treatments including:
- Phototherapy – Heating lamps, SAD lights, tanning beds
When I lived in Alaska, my best friend used to tan every week as an antidote to SAD. I have never used a tanning bed because I am afraid of skin cancer, but she said it helped her immensely to deal with the lack of sunlight where we lived. Another idea the Mayo Clinic offers is to brighten the inside of your home by opening windows. Perhaps a sunlight over my kitchen sink so I can enjoy some light while doing the dishes?
- Alternative medicines – St. John’s Wort, SAM-e, Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Melatonin
I have taken all of these supplements and they really don’t work for me; but I have a full-blown mental illness, and those products are not designated to treat that, merely to take the edge off, if you will.
- Outdoor Activity and Exercise – Walking the dog, working in the yard
This is my personal favorite because I find it is the most effective in changing my mood from cranky to reasonable. I like to work efficiently, so by changing my mood and getting chores done simultaneously, I feel I have really accomplished an important goal for my day. Even one small achievement can change my entire outlook, which is super helpful and important when I’m feeling depressed. It is important to exercise even if the weather is poor. Even doing housework can help increase mood because it gets the body moving.
Group Therapy – 12 Step Programs, Inpatient Services
I am not a fan of group therapy. It may work for some people and I fully support that, but I am introverted and I have had some bad experiences in group counseling, so I tend to shy away from it. I am glad it is available for the many people who use it as a method of treatment.
Aromatherapy – Essential oil diffusion, bath salts, candles, massage
These treatments are not listed by the Mayo Clinic, but I believe it is noteworthy. Make sure you use a carrier oil to dilute essential oils and that the oil is not just an essence, you want it concentrated. I use Now brand oils, they are relatively inexpensive and pretty good quality. Some of my favorite oil scents for fighting depression include:
lavender and lemon (I use both of those while doing dishes)
orange oil (repels my dog from urinating in certain places)
rosemary and peppermint (provides clarity, improves memory and helps with headaches)
Herbal Teas – Celestial Seasonings, Tazo, and Twinings
Also not listed by the Mayo Clinic, herbal teas are a blessing in disguise. It is an excellent substitute for coffee (and alcohol for those who struggle with addiction, as I have in the past), many teas are naturally decaffeinated, and tea is low in caloric content. My favorites are:
No Caffeine – Celestial Seasonings Tension Tamer, flavored with licorice root, peppermint, ginger, and chamomile
Low Caffeine – Tazo Zen Green Tea, flavored with lemongrass and spearmint
Full Caffeine – Twinings of London Lady Grey, similar to Earl Grey but lighter and flavored with orange peel
There is no known treatment to prevent SAD, but as with any chronic illness, it is important to manage it regularly. Daily routines are helpful, especially when it comes to getting exercise. Here’s to getting through one more winter!