Taking Care Of Yourself When You Have Seasonal Affective Disorder•
Posted on September 16 2014
I'm on a plane as I write this. Heading back to reality from a much needed sun drenched reality break in Hawaii. (This is not a typical LBF blog post and it's definitely personal, but I felt it was important to share because mental health is a significant part of our well being. One that we stigmatize and scrutinize in others and don't generally talk about in the beauty world. And truth be told if I want to bring it full circle into the beauty realm of my work, when I am feeling this way I do not feel...beautiful.) Right now I find that I'm suddenly feeling very down and it's not because of work or that I hate my life or I'm going through a divorce or there is anything fundamentally awful happening to me. It's almost silly to admit, but (thank goodness for science to back this up) it's all because summer has faded and autumn has already sprung in Chicago and something happens in my brain that triggers a slow and sweeping bout of the blues. I hate this transition that happens to me every year. It feels as though the entire world is amassed in a cloud of fog and I can't seem to find the light to see what's ahead. I am one of many who suffers from seasonal depression or seasonal affective disorder and it always hits this time of year and kicks my ass in the process. I know I'm not alone. Some of my friends suffer from this, other family members as well and if I remember correctly so did my Grandmother. She was always happier when she was out and about on long summer days.
There are different ways this mood disorder manifests for some people. as well as different seasons. It can include feeling lethargic, sleeping a lot, eating more than usual, difficulty concentrating and for added fun, a decreased sex drive (you got my sarcasm there, right?). For me, I grow impatient, I often feel less energetic, less enthusiastic about things I'm usually excited about and simply put...sad. I get weepy and feel anxious and irritable. I am not fun. At least not as fun as I am during the warmer months. Sometimes on days when the sun is out several days in a row or when I take a weekend escape to California or someplace warm and sunny I feel a boost of increased energy return and that inner happiness (or un-doomness as I like to call it) again. I've wondered over the years if I was a happy person or the doomed type. I've decided to accept that sometimes I'm happy and sometimes I really am not and that it isn't always equal and that it kind of sucks. That's being a bit generic or basic about this condition, but I don't obsess about it or make it the essence of my entire well being. I do my best to deal with it without medication. Some people really do need medication and it helps them and is the responsible thing to do when their doctor tells them they need medication to help them. It didn't work for me. I've tried quite a few tricks to help manage my SAD and sometimes they help more often than other times. I was discussing this issue with a male friend of mine. A professor from Brazil who said it took him almost five years here in Chicago to finally realize this problem for him which was chronic and newfound and that he needed help from a professional. He began light therapy and claims it helps him quite a bit so I think this will be the year I give that a try. I've certainly heard positive things and the science of it makes sense to me. Sadly, it's already gray and chilly here and trust me, I have no business still wearing flip flops and will be putting them away shortly. (You do the silliest things to hold on to summer!) It's crazy how fast summer flew by and how soon fall has swooped in. I already feel that sadness creeping in. Slowly and quietly attempting to invade my joy and steal away the fun Aunt, the helpful sister, the supportive business partner and the active cheerleader of creative things. I do my best to think of the bright side of the colder seasons. Hot chocolate, new chunky scarves, banana bread baking on a cold Sunday afternoon. They make me smile, but don't exactly pump up the dopamine.
Last year I decided that I was going to focus on the things that make me happy year round when autumn arrived. I was going to be more selfish and spend some time on myself. I started making my own fresh juices and nut milks every week because they are tasty and remind me of summer. I purchased beautiful flowers to keep on my nightstand. I practiced music therapy and listened to old songs I hadn't heard in years. I indulged in long baths with a good book and drank the best green tea I could buy. I even watched silly tv shows and got all caught up on Scandal because it was something to look forward to on days when the wind howled and the snow pummeled us into shut-ins. These little things that don't seem like much helped me make it through one of the roughest winters we've had in the Midwest. Some days were worse than others, but still I made it through. I also incorporated quite a few new beauty rituals and they felt good to do. Reminding myself that I needed to take care of myself first otherwise I'm no good to my work, my family or any human being I come in contact with is an important element when going through this seasonal funk. It's also very important to try to eat well and get some exercise in to stay physically healthy when your mental health is draining away. I'm not going to lie, it's not easy to eat well and exercise when all you want to do is bury your head in a pillow and sleep while dreaming of triple chocolate cake. But, you must. You must hear that inner voice that tells you to be good to yourself, to be gentle and kind, be the friend you would be to your friend suffering from this. You must do what you need to do to help yourself. You must push through and you do it because spring will come. It will sprout all over again and the peonies will bloom and the sun will slice into your rooms with its warmth and promise of happy moods and the old you will come back...the "real" you will be reborn all fresh and spanking new.
Here are a few suggestions that may help you get through SAD. If you think you suffer from this same thing, please make sure to seek a medical professional to help you with an appropriate course of action that may help treat your symptons.
1. Get outside as often as you can. Natural sunlight helps stimulate your circadian rhythm and to release melatonin, an important hormone that helps control your sleep and awake cycles.
2. Pet a dog or cat or a baby. Sometimes when I dog sit I feel so much better taking care of my furry friends. Animals provide more health benefits sometimes than supplements can. Babies always make me smile. Holding a baby and a puppy truly makes me feel better.
3. Take a class. Dance, cooking or art classes are a good way to socialize and learn something new that stimulates a different part of your brain and keeps you interactive and motivated Two key words when you suffer from depression. Plus if you're anything like me the commitment alone will at least guarantee you step out of the house even when you don't want to.
4. Cook. Prepare your own meals and make them fresh and full of vegetables. Depression can sometimes cause a person to crave foods that are unhealthy, which can trigger other problems that exacerbate depression. Weight gain does not feel good.
5. Make dates with your partner or your friends. Plan a fun weekend. Game night, movie night or even salsa dancing night are all things to look forward to with people that care about you. Stay active and engaged with loved ones. They want to help you through this.
6. Take time for yourself. Spend a little time on something that makes you smile every day. If that's a long, luxurious bath or an hour where you get to read by yourself in silence. Make sure you fulfill that need for self comforting rituals to wind down and nurture yourself.
7. Unplug. The internet is noisy and deceptive. Those posts from friends that state, "Life Is Good" while they're posing with a margarita in a crowded bar is an emotional distraction. Allow yourself to be okay with the healing process of seasonal affective disorder. You don't need added pressure to make you feel bad by feeling you aren't keeping up with everyone else. it's bullshit that everyone is so damn happy on Twitter. Don't believe the social media hype and log off of Facebook and pay a visit to a friend in the flesh. The dish is much more rewarding in person.
8. Take a trip or plan your vacation during winter months to someplace warm. It's no coincidence that my last five December vacations have been to Argentina (twice), Mexico, Peru and the Caribbean. I look forward to the escape as my relief.
Be well friends.