Tag Archives: Depression

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

4 Tips to Help You Transition Home This Summer

By: Abigail Yeomans LPC

You may remember how you felt when you left or school in the Fall. There may have been a bit of uncertainty, excitement and anxiety and that makes total sense! Transitioning to college is a big adjustment and one that is only fully realized when you find yourself putting all your belongings into a tiny dorm room with a complete stranger!

After some time, maybe that uncertainty started to dwindle, and the development of a life independent from parents began to settle in. Fast forward nine months and you are headed back home, to all that was so familiar. It may bring up some of the same feelings you had when you left last Fall, but this transition can be even harder. There is a delicate balance between demonstrating respect at home and maintaining freedom, the freedom of identifying as an adult. Therefore, I have come up with a few helpful tips to help out during this time of transition.

1. Communication

A key component of that balancing act is respectful and consistent communication. Communication is essential. The “rule makers” of the house need to communicate with you and vice-versa. Even though at first it may feel frustrating to have to talk more often and check in, but putting the time in sooner rather than later will help you and the entire family adjust more quickly to each other’s expectations for the summer.  In conclusion, it can be difficult for others to know how we feel unless we remain open and honest. So it is an excellent opportunity to assert your needs and wants as you move toward more independence.

2. Routine

It is natural to feel uncertain about how to spend the extra time you have over the summer. Some students describe feelings of anxiety and say things like “I should be doing more” while others describe emotions related to boredom and depression. One way to counteract the worry and rumination associated with anxiety and depression during times of transition is to establish a routine. Routine development and maintenance may help you gain a sense of control and is something that has been proven to assist individuals diagnosed with depression in their recovery. Therefore, why not give it a shot? I would recommend Google Calendar or getting a new planner that you update weekly.

3. Self-Care

Developing a routine is part of taking care of yourself, but self-care is defined a littler more broadly. According to Psychology Today, “Self-care means choosing behaviors that balance the effects of emotional and physical stressors: exercising, eating healthy foods, getting enough sleep, practicing yoga or meditation or relaxation techniques, abstaining from substance abuse, pursuing creative outlets, engaging in psychotherapy.”

One way to start practicing self-care right now is to ask yourself how well you have been keeping up with hygiene and keeping your space clean and organized. If you want to be doing laundry once a week and notice it is evening out to doing laundry more like every two to three weeks, I have a suggestion for you. Reward yourself for completing your goal of doing laundry every week. Rewards can be anything that motivates you, and they don’t have to cost any money.

4. Balanced social life

You and your old friends are now back in the same place! There is nothing better than being reunited with people you care about, and it is equally as exciting to hear from new friends made at school this past year! However, some people report feeling overwhelmed with social responsibilities and anxiety about whether they are doing enough to maintain new and old connections. Balancing time is critical so that the transition home doesn’t quickly feel like a typhoon of social responsibility. Find some time for yourself and time for your family throughout the week for consistency and let your friends know the days and times that work best for you to prevent potential distress.

If you or someone you know starts to feel like the level of pain and emotion experienced during this transition is too much to handle alone, please reach out for support. As I noted in the communication section of this article, time put in now can reduce the long-term impact of mental health concerns you are noticing and that are disruptive to your daily functioning. There is no shame in getting some additional help, and it is never too late or too early to put yourself first!

Depression and a Treatment That Works

By: Abigail Yeomans, LPC

Individuals struggling with depression commonly report an overwhelming sense of impairment when it comes to motivation and engaging in activities that once provided a sense of pleasure or joy. If you have ever thought to yourself, “I know what would help me feel better, but I just don’t feel like doing it” you are not alone. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, it is estimated that 16 million adults in the United States have had one or more major depressive episodes in the last year (http://www.nami.org/). This statistic includes individuals from various demographic backgrounds. In other words, depression is not exclusive.

The symptoms to look out for are: consistent fatigue, a significant increase or decrease in appetite, psychomotor agitation, depressed mood, feelings of hopelessness and emptiness, interrupted sleep, difficulty concentrating or indecisiveness, feeling extreme worthlessness or guilt, loss of interest or pleasure in most activities and thoughts of death or hurting yourself. If the answer was “yes” to five or more of the listed symptoms, and if you have been experiencing those symptoms for at least two weeks, seeking help from a professional counselor is the next step (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).

Ok. So, what could help me feel better? Believe it or not, depressive episodes and chronic depression are treatable, and there is substantial empirical evidence to support how we treat it at Chicago Counseling Center (Jacobson, N. S., Martell, C. R., & Dimidjian, S., 2001).

Using Behavior Activation (BA), we focus on the various events in an individual’s life and how he or she responds to those events. BA is based on the idea that life has provided little rewards too many stressors or problems. Understandably, this can lead to feelings of hopelessness and sadness which can then disrupt basic routines and result in doing less and less of what was once enjoyable and valuable such as spending time with friends and family, going to work or school, and health and wellness related activities.

What treatment looks like with BA:

  1. Discuss what areas of your life are most disrupted by your depression
  2. Collaboratively work to increase awareness of avoidance patterns and unhelpful behaviors that fuel feelings of sadness and hopelessness
  3. Assist in identifying values and creating short and long term treatment goals based on those values
  4. Help clients take small and manageable steps toward increasing involvement in once enjoyable activities and developing a sustainable routine using:
    • Activity monitoring logs
    • Behavior Activation hierarchy
    • Active coping and avoidance tracking
  5. Work together to address barriers that arise outside of sessions and continuously come back to active coping and resisting avoidance 

While it may feel hopeless and extremely difficult to do almost anything right now, coming back to what you value most in life can make all the difference. While implementing BA, it has been demonstrated time and time again that motivation grows when we come back to what is most valuable to us. Eventually isolating and avoiding becomes less comfortable than engaging in what was once difficult before coming to treatment.

 

References

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC.

NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness. (n.d.). Retrieved June 17, 2016, from http://www.nami.org/

Jacobson, N. S., Martell, C. R., & Dimidjian, S. (2001). Behavioral activation treatment for depression: Returning to contextual roots. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 8(3), 255-270.