Tag Archives: behavioral activation

Let’s Talk About Seasonal Affective Disorder

 

September 22nd marked the beginning of Fall, although its effects may have been felt prematurely as the days rapidly transitioned into nights. With shorter days, longer nights, and mornings that are accompanied with crisp puffs of air, people are trading in their flip flops for insulated footwear. Some are elated by the changing of leaves and dropping temperatures that follow shortly after. But not everyone shares in this elation. Many others witness the dying leaves, dark days and cold air with a sense of grim distress. 

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), characterized as a depressive disorder with seasonal patterns, is said to affect a good chunk of the population during the fall and winter months. These symptoms delineate more than your typical “winter blues” and warrant attention as we bid adieu to sweet, sweet summertime. It is normal to feel less energy and increased sleepiness during the fall and winter seasons due to changes in light that affect circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythm refers to the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle, hence, when the sun rises your body is roused from slumber and vice versa when the sun sets. Longer stretches of darkness will send signals to your brain and body for sleep, and increased drowsiness is a natural consequence. Overtime, people naturally adjust to these changes and depression does not occur. However, if you or a loved one is exhibiting signs and patterns of the symptoms described below, it may indicate a presentation of SAD and warrants reaching out to a mental health professional

General feelings of sadness are part of the human condition. The difference between these normal emotions and SAD lie in the timing, frequency and severity of symptoms. For most people, SAD symptoms appear around the fall and winter months, but for others, the disorder manifests in the spring and summertime. Symptoms of SAD include;

  • Depression, which occurs at the beginning of a season, that dissipates when the season comes to an end. Year-round feelings of low mood can indicate a more serious concern of chronic depression. 

 

  • Feelings of depression for a 2-year period, manifesting during seasonal shifts more often than not. 

 

  • Feeling depressed, hopeless, loss of interest, difficulty sleeping and concentrating.
    • For seasonal winter depression, things like low energy, over sleeping, weight gain, craving of carbohydrates, and social isolation are often present. 

 

    • For seasonal summer depression lack of sleep, weight loss, agitation, anxiety, and restlessness are key indicators. 

 

Things this year may get a little extra challenging, being that those affected with SAD have a global pandemic slapped on top. The winter months already squash plans of getting outside – so how do we manage feelings which may seem a little heavier this year? 

 

It’s important to note that SAD, just as the name suggests, is seasonal. This means that preventative measures can be put in place to preemptively manage unpleasant feelings and behaviors. Common tactics for SAD includes; 

  • Light therapy: This has been shown to be one of the most widely used treatments for SAD. Prevention includes sitting in front of a light box for 20-60 minutes at the beginning of the fall to help regulate the body’s natural circadian (sleep-wake) cycle.  

 

  • Talk therapy: As with other depressive disorders, speaking with a mental health professional may alleviate feelings of depression and allow for insight into behaviors associated with depression. 

 

  • Medication: SAD is hypothesized to be connected with serotonin, therefore it may be time to speak with a doctor about starting on a medication to regulate the body’s production of serotonin.

 

  • Pleasant activity scheduling: as the name suggests, planning out enjoyable activities each day can have a positive effect on mood and assumes that by doing something, we may feel something. It can be as simple as giving a friend a phone call or watching a favorite movie.

 

There are several tips and tricks to noticing and alleviating SAD not mentioned in this blog post. Experimenting with what works is crucial to knowing how to mitigate feelings of depression. Be curious about the things that help and recognize the warning signs if it’s time to reach out to a mental health professional and schedule an appointment.  Winter may be coming but that doesn’t mean depression has to follow suit. 

 

– Malory Dahl, MA, CSAC

Mental Health Life Hacks (Part 3)

 

If you’ve been following along for the past few weeks, this blog has featured simple ways to get out of a funk and gain a fresh perspective on life. Read on for the third and final segment of this series.  

  • Live in the here and now 

Focusing on transgressions from the past or fears about the future is a surefire way to increase anxiety. The fact the you cannot change the past or predict the future can add to the overwhelming feeling of being powerless and “stuck.” This is why it is helpful to make contact with the present moment—where you are living now. You can practice this mindfulness by simply paying attention to your emotions and the sights, sounds, smells and sensations that are occurring in the current moment. Observe your thoughts; when you notice that they are beginning to turn to the past or present, bring your attention back to what is going on around you. 

  • Drink water 

This mental health hack is simple, but important. It is common to neglect basic self-care when feeling burnt-out, depressed or exhausted. Inadequate water intake can exacerbate these symptoms and cause increased feelings of being unwell. Engaging in tasks to increase mental health can seem daunting, but if nothing else, commit to drinking one glass of cold water to provide your system with an immediate boost. 

  • Get vitamin D 

Similar to food and water, your body needs vitamin D for energy. Increased amount of time indoors and inadequate diet can cause deficiencies in this nutrient. Common symptoms of vitamin D deficiency are headache, fatigue, depression and sore joints and muscles. Add more to your diet by taking supplements; increasing time in the sun and eating foods such as salmon, tuna, mushroom and egg yolks. 

Everybody gets into a funk now and then. It is important not to criticize yourself for feeling down; sometimes it is just your body’s way of signaling that it needs something new. You can always start small by focusing on doing just one thing. Consistency is key—a new behavior will become easier the more often it is practiced. Try building these habits today and experience the significant benefits of these small changes. 

– Carolyn Moriarty, LPC

Mental Health Life Hacks (Part 2)

 

The last blog post introduced simple ways to improve mental well-being when you get stuck in an emotional rut. If you enjoyed those tips, read on for more mental health hacks on how to get “unstuck” and start moving forward again.

  • Determine what needs to change 

When life becomes monotonous, you may get the nagging feeling that something is “missing”. The hard part of course is figuring out what that something is. According to William Glasser’s “Choice Theory”, humans have five basic needs: survival, belonging, competence, freedom and fun. You can read the first tip on the previous blog post to learn more about the importance of “survival” (having what you need to feel physically safe and healthy). The rest of Glasser’s needs essentially state that people are happiest when they feel like they are living up to the optimal version of themselves. This boils down to the extent to which they are able to:  feel competent in their profession, build meaningful connections, have a sense of agency and learn new things that interest them. If you feel like something is “missing”, reflect upon what aspects of your personal development may benefit from additional attention. Start by taking small, achievable steps and build momentum from there. 

  • Make a physical change 

Making a tangible, concrete change can be a quick way to give yourself the feel of a “fresh start”.  Because interior space often reflects emotional state, a good place to start is rearranging the furniture in your bedroom. “Cleansing” your wardrobe and donating clothes that aren’t working for you is another way to boost peace of mind and optimism. If organizing sounds like too much energy, you can focus on self-care changes such as trying out a brand-new haircut, makeup or hairstyle. 

  • Make a connection 

If you are feeling down on yourself, being social probably doesn’t feel like a top priority. While it is important to take some downtime by yourself, be mindful that it is not turning into a pattern of isolation. Being in quarantine may technically mean you are physically isolated, but that is all the more reason to reach out to a friend or loved one through video or phone. Keep the conversation light if you do not have the energy to talk about all your emotions. Sometimes, having a good laugh can give you exactly the boost you need.

Give these “hacks” a try and feel free to leave a comment and share your own go-to coping skills! Stay tuned for more posts on how to be your optimal self. 

– Carolyn Moriarty, LPC