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Friday, November 16, 2012

Dealing with SAD

I write this post in the hope that it will help others with SAD (seasonal affective disorder). 

HappyLight 2500 Energy Lamp Twin Pack - Light Fixtures (Google Affiliate Ad)Though I have never been officially diagnosed with this condition, I think I have actually suffered from it for many years. I always dread the fall, even though I know it brings needed rest (from gardening and other outside activities) and a good change of pace. But even knowing that the holidays (which I love) are fast approaching doesn't necessarily help my spirits. I always feel that the impending winter--which I dread, because to me it means severe cold and bleakness for months on end--brings with it a feeling of hopelessness. Not until recently did I realize that not everyone feels this way and that maybe my symptoms were more than simply a rough transition back into life indoors.

The information I've been reading shows numbers anywhere from 5-25% of the general population experiencing SAD at varying levels of severity (see one article here). Some articles talk about "winter blues" vs. SAD, and while I understand that some people have "winter depression" worse than others, I kind of resent the distinction (just as I dislike the term "baby blues", meaning less bad than "postpartum depression"). Regardless of whether you're going through "the blues" or depression, your sense of well being has been sabotaged and just getting through each day is difficult.

And difficult might be an understatement. This year, SAD muddled my thoughts so much that for many weeks I didn't even recognize how difficult things were for me, or what was going on. I felt like I was wading through mud each day, all day, as I tried to go about my daily activities. I didn't know what was wrong with me! When I finally gained enough clarity of thought to recognize this wasn't normal and started researching online, I came across a list of symptoms that I identified with all too well. (One list, provided by the Mayo Clinic, can be found here.)

If these symptoms are familiar to you, too, what can you do?

While I recognize that some people really do need medication to stabilize their systems and get their lives back again, I also feel that antidepressants are way over-prescribed and that there are many things we can do in this situation to help ourselves regain our mental and emotional health. So here are some things I have found that have helped me, and I hope they will help someone else as well:

  • Prayer- If you have religious convictions (or even want to have them), put your faith into action by imagining yourself happy and functioning well, and praying to God to help you gain those blessings. Other spiritual activities, like attending church services and reading the Scriptures, can also give you peace.
  • Light- While light therapy is an option that helps many people, for some of us, simply leaving more lights on wherever we are--particularly when it's gloomy or dark outside--can make a positive difference. And for days when it's not too cold, actually spending time outside where the sun's rays (and all that vitamin D) can reach you, can also be helpful.
  • Music- Whenever you can, go out of your way to turn on music that lifts your mood and helps you feel happy or peaceful. Music is a very powerful tool. (By the same token, be sure to avoid music that has the opposite effect on you.)
  • Essential oils- If you use essential oils, like I do, make it a point to use mood-elevating oils topically or aromatically as often as you can. Just to name two options: The citrus oils (lemon, orange, etc) are great for lifting one's mood, and lavender helps calm anxiety. It's amazing how much such a small, subtle thing like this can help. 
  • Emotion Code- Something as simple as releasing your trapped emotions can improve the symptoms of SAD. (If you haven't read my post on the Emotion Code, you can find it here.)
  • Exercise- Of course, we all know that exercise releases endorphins, which give us a sense of happiness and well being. But when you're feeling low and unmotivated it can be very difficult to force yourself to exercise. This is when it becomes especially important to find (or maintain) an activity you enjoy so that it becomes something you want to do. And if that still fails to motivate you, see the next bulleted item.
  • A List or Schedule- I'm one of those people who gains a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment by crossing things off a list or setting a schedule for myself that I am able to follow (and thus cross items off). I realize that not everyone operates this way, but for those who do, I found that if, in my more lucid moments, I could sit down and write a list or a desired schedule for the following day or week, it helped immensely. Then, instead of feeding my lack of energy with despondency over not being able to clearly prioritize what I needed to do, I could regain some clarity and sense of direction by checking my list or my schedule and following it. This is helping me wade out of the "mud."
  • Cod Liver Oil- I haven't actually tried this idea yet, but I know it could be very helpful, especially since cod liver oil is chock full of vitamins A and D. Vitamin D is the "sunshine vitamin" we all need and can't make on our own, and vitamin A is needed to assimilate it. So especially for those living in places where the sun rarely makes an appearance during the winter, cod liver oil could be particularly beneficial. By the way, not all CLOs are created equal, so do your research before purchasing. And FYI: you can actually get a flavored variety so it's more palatable. (You can read lots more about cod liver oil at the Weston A. Price Foundation.)
  • Talk- We all have different levels of the need to communicate, but I think everyone can benefit from talking to at least one person about what they are going through. Often, expressing yourself in this way can help you sort out your own thoughts and feelings, not to mention receiving encouragement and empathy from the other person. Just knowing someone cares helps a lot.
If you find any of the above actions helpful in your struggle against SAD, or have found other things that help you, I would love to hear about them.

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