Is it difficult to get out of bed in the morning and go to work? Perhaps you can’t pinpoint why you feel the way you do, but something just does not feel right. You are not yourself and can’t understand why your mood has recently drastically changed. Dark winter months can cause a common disorder called Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), otherwise known as seasonal depression that occurs at the same time every year.
SAD is a type of depression that occurs in those between the ages of 20 and 40 with the main sufferers being women in their twenties and thirties. Symptoms start in the fall and may continue through the winter months which can make it difficult for you to do your job.
You might think that there is nothing you can do about your symptoms, but there is. The FABULOUS Principle suggests 8 self-care strategies to cope with SAD:
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SAD sign 1: If you have difficulty concentrating, processing information, and completing tasks, this may be a sign that you are experiencing Seasonal affective disorder. The best way to combat these symptoms is to rethink the way you think about the dark days of winter. With a flexible mindset you will be able to solve the problems you are facing. Let’s look at the first self-care strategy of the FABULOUS Principle: Flexibility
Your mind is flexible. Keep your thinking patterns in check. A subtle clue to look for is an inability to think clearly and complete daily tasks. When you think about this time of year be alert to your own critical inner voice. Challenge any irrational thoughts with reality. Brainstorm positive behaviors and think about bundling up and taking a walk in the winter sunlight, which one study found was just as effective as two and a half hours under bright artificial light.
Also consider the way you use self-talk and the manner in which you utilize your body language, says The Master Negotiator and Body Language Expert Greg Williams, author of Negotiate: Afraid, ‘Know’ More: How To Negotiate Your Way To Success.The way you project yourself through your body language plays a big part in the way your subconscious mind responds to the way you feel (e.g. walk with sloop shoulders, head low, you feel down, which is what your body language is conveying). In order to feel uplifted, use your body to convey such sentiments (i.e. happy, invigorating, etc.).
Using data collected as part of the 2011 Generations of Talent Study on Flexible Thinking, the researchers reported that flexible thinkers find it easy to reorder their priorities when the need arises. Focus on flexible thinking and flexible practices. Start with a to-do list to help you think about what you need to accomplish this fall and winter as well as a journal to shed light on your feelings when your thoughts get in the way of accomplishing your tasks.
Recognize that there is less daylight during the fall and winter and the neurochemicals in your brain know it. These neurochemicals are involved in the regulation of your mood and functioning. Melatonin is a hormone in your brain that is produced during the hours of darkness. Too much of this hormone causes depressive symptoms.
SAD sign 2: One of the most common symptoms of SAD is unexplained depressed mood and hopelessness, something we struggle with from time to time. However, if it lingers, it could be something more serious. Metaphorically, to adapt is to find your feet. Before you place them on the floor in the morning, modify and adjust your morning routine. This brings us to the second FABULOUS self-care strategy, Adapting
If you have unexplained depressed mood and feelings of hopelessness, speak with a mental health professional to rule out clinical depression. An emotional clue of suicide is a sense of hopelessness. If you are thinking of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Help is available 24/7 for anyone in a suicidal crisis.
Familiarize yourself with ways to keep a check on your mental health and winter blues that may occur as the seasons change and the amount of available natural daylight diminishes. Although more research is needed, a study in the American Journal of Psychiatry focused on the efficacy of light therapy and found that certain types of light therapy are effective in the treatment of Seasonal affective disorder and other forms of depression.
Also worth consideration is a sunrise/sunset simulator such as a Dawn simulator or a Sleep and Wake System. A dim light goes on in the morning while fast asleep and slowly gets brighter. The clock is like the sunrise that helps align your circadian rhythms like the natural rhythm of the sunrise and sunset. It can also be programmed with a relaxing soundscape (lapping waves, babbling brook, and rainfall).
To help beat the winter blues and the effects of seasonal change, the Rise and Shine® process can be reversed at night. The bedroom is filled with bright light and over a small period (perhaps 15 minutes) of time it slowly gets dimmer, which tricks the circadian rhythm. The National Institutes of Health notes that circadian rhythms are physical, mental and behavioral changes that follow a roughly 24-hour cycle, responding primarily to light and darkness in your environment.
Researcher, Isaac Edery, suggested in a review of the American Physiological Society that SAD may be like jet-lag, a disturbance of the circadian rhythm caused by the seasonal shifting of the length of the day. Basically, your body expects to go to sleep when it is dark and wake up when it is light. Light products can possibly help that happen in a consistent pattern.
Norman E. Rosenthal, M.D., author of Winter Blues: Everything you need to know to beat seasonal affective disorder notes, “Thousands of people across the country are sitting in front of light boxes, specially made fixtures that emit far more light that is ordinarily available to treat their symptoms of SAD or its milder variant, the winter blues.”
The Seasonal Affective Disorder Association notes that Light therapy exposure for up to four hours per day (average 1-2 hours) to very bright light, at least ten times the intensity of ordinary domestic lighting, has been shown to be effective in up to 85 percent of diagnosed cases. Visit sunbox for more information on light boxes. For a list of studies related to the science of light, winter blues, and the effects of seasonal change, and product information visit verilux.
SAD sign 3: Something to look out for and one of the most common signs of SAD ischanges in sleeping due to a loss of energy, sluggishness, and extreme tiredness. This can become a major problem for working parents who have to juggle many responsibilities. The solution to the problem is to focus on setting limits for you, especially limits on the types of food you eat. Let’s look at the third self-care strategy of the FABULOUS principle is Boundaries
If you are having difficulty waking up in the morning and oversleeping, think about what you ate the night before. Those with SAD often overeat, crave carbs, and gain weight which causes excess exhaustion. Put limits on fattening and unhealthy foods. Dr. Norman E. Rosenthal recommends including protein bars or protein based shakes in to your diet and limiting carbs. Don’t eat late at night and restrict your time in the darkness. Pull the drapes back and take a break outside during the early afternoon.
The Mayo Clinic staff recommends that sufferers exercise regularly as a physical exercise helps relieve stress and anxiety, both of which can increase seasonal affective disorder symptoms. Simply stated, consider all that you can do to deal with your symptoms by creating boundaries in your life that maintain your wellbeing.
SAD sign 4: We are constantly dealing with stressful circumstances. However, the winter doldrums makes it harder to deal with and process stress in a healthy and effective way. Stress is the tension you feel in your body when responding to a stressor, which in this case is the season. Some people get physically sick when stressed out. The best way to cope with stress due to the effects of seasonal change is Understanding
Fifty years ago Hans Selye, a pioneer in stress-related disorders and medicine, coined the phrase, “stress.” His ideas actually forged an entirely new medical field-research on the effects of biological stress. Selye recognized that the stress response might be provoked by emotional, physical, distressing and positive events. Selye defined stress as the nonspecific biological response or reaction of the body to an environmental demand.
Stress is the tension you experience due to the effects of the season that throws your body out of balance. Stress is so powerful that it can actually shrink the brain, which inevitably deteriorates your health. Bodies need to heal themselves, and stress can stop that from happening. Actually, the stress response is more damaging to your body than stress itself.
The Seasonal Affective Disorder Association notes that most sufferers show signs of a weakened immune system during the winter, and are more vulnerable to infections and other illnesses.This can be quite stressful. Therefore, restrict your time around people who are sick. Understand that you will need to identify treatment options for things that help you to cope with stress. Learn how psychotherapy, biofeedback, and acupuncture can help.
Get a feel for what works for you and speak to your doctor about possible medications you can take. Thomas Jefferson said, “To penetrate and dissipate these clouds of darkness, the general mind must be strengthened by education,” which makes understanding a powerful self-care strategy.
SAD sign 5: A sign you might be experiencing SAD is a recent lost interest in activities you normally enjoy. Otherwise known as anhedonia, there is no pleasure in hobbies, interests, or sex during the fall and winter season. The most important thing to do is try to keep your sense of humor, which brings us to the 5th FABULOUS self-care strategy, Laughter
Extreme unhappiness is physiologically overwhelming. If you are experiencing SAD, you may have a decreased sex drive nor find your usual fun pastimes enjoyable. Openly communicate with your partner that your lack of interest in sex isn’t about not wanting a relationship. Communicate with your friends and family that you are finding it difficult to enjoy your usual interests.
Although the winter doldrums can bring you down, you can always find something to laugh about. Try to find something that makes you laugh, as laughter can bring about feelings of happiness. Being that our bodies change when we laugh, work at maintaining your smile. You started laughing when you were four months old. Don’t give it up now. Try to find something humorous that tickles your funny bone. There is a therapeutic value of laughter.
A review of the literature found that there is sufficient evidence to suggest that laughter has some positive, measurable effects on certain aspects of health.Being that laughter increases your immunity, appreciate joyful moments.
Comedian Red Skelton said, “Have a little laugh and look around you for happiness instead of sadness. Laughter has always brought me out of unhappy situations. Even in your darkest moment, you usually can find something to laugh about if you try hard enough.” When you are feeling really down, reflect on moments in your life that brought you joy. For me, it is when my triplets were young and the sounds of three little boys laughing in unison.
SAD sign 6: One of the effects of seasonal change is experiencing pessimism. The problem with pessimism is that it makes you cynical, gloomy and an all-round negative person. The goal is to remain optimistic while struggling with your symptoms. Keep your mental attitude hopeful, which moves our focus to the sixth self-care strategy, Optimism
C.S. Carver and Jennifer Connor-Smith found in their study on personality and coping, that optimism involves expectation of good outcomes, an engaged approach to life and that good outcomes require some effort. Try to remain hopeful and positive as you struggle with negative effects of seasonal change. Optimism brings about confidence. Become confident in your own ability to learn as much as you can about SAD.
Stephen Lurie, M.D., Ph.D., an assistant professor of Family Medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center reviewed the literature and found that SAD, like major depression, is under-diagnosed in the typical doctor’s office setting. Although there is no medical test for SAD, your physician can rule out other causes. Educate your physician about the possibility that you have SAD and assure yourself that you will come out of the funk. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” Remain hopeful as you figure out ways to light your candle to deal with the darkness the season brings and expect the best possible outcome.
SAD sign 7: One of the most difficult symptoms of SAD is withdrawing from family and friends. Being connected with others is important to your happiness. The problem of withdrawal must be addressed, so let’s look at the seventh self-care strategy, being United
Surround yourself with people who understand that SAD is a real disorder. Talk about SAD with friends, family members, co-workers, and faith community. Being that SAD affects the way you function, let people know that SAD symptoms are short-lived and will pass. Prepare those in your life as they get used to the new “seasonal” you.
When you feel overwhelmed by the winter blues, create an image in your mind of your own personal routing section-those people in your life that truly care about you. Create a strong social network.
In his book, Living a Life That Matters, the author and Rabbi Harold S. Kusher, said, “We matter, not because of our achievements but because we are loved by God and loved by the people around us. That love may not shield us from pain, death, and loss, but it will make them more bearable, and that will be enough.” As love makes all things bearable, we must also recognize the importance of loving ourselves.
SAD sign 8: If you are currently experiencing irritability and anxiety, it may be due to the effects of seasonal change. This can become a huge problem as it can change the meaning of your life and how you see yourself in relation to the world around you. This brings us to the last FABULOUS strategy, Self-compassion
You are not alone as you suffer with your symptoms. Millions of people have to find ways to be kind to themselves or show themselves love as they effectively find ways to cope. The Yale School of Medicine notes that research suggests that SAD may affect as many as 11 million people in the United States. To find ways to extend kindness to yourself as you cope with feelings of irritability and anxiety, begin with being compassionate to yourself.
Focus on your Winter MAP: Meaning, Authenticity, and Perception. Let’s look at what that means.
First, meaning helps you to focus on the significance of the internal struggle you are facing and the meaning you have attached to your winter blues. Symptoms are not easy to deal with.
Then authenticity focuses on remaining true to yourself as you feel like someone else. Don’t be harsh on yourself.
Lastly, perception focuses on what character strengths you are aware of that help you to cope with the winter blues. For instance, three strengths are being practical, wise, and creative. If these are your strengths, you would focus on real-word strategies to cope with SAD. You would be perceptive, astute to your needs, and resourceful. Get inspired as you realize the power you have to cope with this challenging situation.
SAD ain’t SADness
As a bereavement specialist, I have supported those who mourn after sudden traumatic losses. In my book, But I Didn’t Say Goodbye: Helping children and families after a suicide, I ask the same question at the end of each chapter, “What kind of thoughts are going through your mind right now?” As you explore the topic of SAD, take the time to focus on your thoughts as well as your feelings. And remember that feelings of sadness are related to grief where SAD is related to a kind of depression.
SAD is about four times more common in women than men, and the average age of people when they first develop this illness is 23 years of age. According to the American Association of suicidology, annually, there are 3 female suicide attempts for each male attempt and 4,371 people between the ages of 15 and 24 killed themselves; because these stats are so alarming, the problem of SAD must be addressed.
Don’t allow your symptoms to get in the way of your happiness. Remain resilient! In his book, The Resiliency Advantage, the author Al Siebert defines resiliency as the ability to cope with high levels of ongoing disruptive change while sustaining good health and energy when under constant pressure. Resilient people easily bounce back from their setbacks and overcome adversities.
The acronym, FABULOUS, suggests 8 self-care strategies based in resiliency and solutions to overcome the problems of SAD. The key to successfully coping is to understand that you must recognize the problem, learn ways to redesign your day, repair the damage, and restore your strength. Call your EAP and schedule a visit with a counselor to discuss your symptoms of SAD today.