Coping with Seasonal Depression: The Winter Guide You Need
Daylight Savings Time has recently occurred and the nights are getting longer and the days are shorter. During the months of December, January, and February, the Earth’s axis is tilted away from the sun, causing the sun’s rays to be more spread out than we see in other seasons. This creates what we know as winter. This year’s Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, will occur on December 21, 2021. The time change can not only affect our sleep, but, with shorter days, our mental health can also see a change during this time of the year. You don’t necessarily love her, but she makes an appearance every year: your seasonal depression.
Winter Blues or Seasonal Depression?
While the frosty season is setting in, your body's natural circadian rhythm can begin to be thrown off. A circadian rhythm is the natural sleep-wake cycle that your body runs on in 24 hour increments. Hormones, possible medication usage, and your environment are all things that can affect your circadian rhythm. The sun setting early, or lack thereof, then alters your mood, hunger, and sleep schedule subsequently affecting your mental health. The change in moods and emotions causes many to automatically assume they are being exposed to seasonal depression. But what you may not know is that there is a difference between seasonal depression and the Winter Blues.
Seasonal depression, also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, is much more severe than the Winter Blues. Over 3 million Americans are struggling with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of depression characterized by its recurrent seasonal pattern, per the National Institute of Mental Health. SAD can occur for about 4-5 months due to the lack of sunlight resulting in less serotonin in the brain. Some symptoms of SAD can include, but are not limited to:
- Greater appetite
- Increase in self-isolation
- Thoughts of suicide
- Low energy
- Feeling worthless, hopeless, or guilty
On the other hand, the Winter Blues are much more common and not necessarily considered a disorder. Winter Blues are a mood change that occurs during the colder, darker seasons. These mood changes can not only come from your environment, but also stress from the holidays or work. The Winter Blues can be more prevalent in the northern states and currently affects 10-20 percent of Americans, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Here’s some symptoms that may let you know you’re currently experiencing the Winter Blues:
- Lack of motivation
Healthy Ways to Cope
When sunlight is not as available to us, mood boosting can be vital for the sake of your mental health. As you may know, our all-powerful sun is essential to releasing serotonin to our body. Serotonin, also known as the “happy chemical”, regulates your mood, prevents depression, and enables happiness. When our bodies are lacking the happy chemical, we can be more susceptible to mood shifts, depression, and anxiety. But don’t fret, sis! We’re here to provide you with some of the best ways to maintain your mental health when the winter sneaks up on you.
Supplements and Herbs: Peace and love to all of our holistic besties! Many of us may live by the saying “Mother Earth has given us all that we need”. Our beautiful Earth has provided us with an abundance of herbs and natural supplements that can assist in improving depressive symptoms. See below some of our favorites that can soothe anxiety and overall well-being.
- Ashwagandha- Native to Asia and Africa, this herb holds properties that have been proven to decrease stress, fatigue, and pain while increasing heart health.
- Vitamin D- Vitamin D deficiency can be most common during our colder months as we receive the majority of it from the sun. Taking Vitamin D supplements can assist in the regulation of your mood while also enhancing your immune system.
- Saffron- A powerful spice, saffron is high in antioxidants that have the ability to release dopamine in the brain. It has also been linked to other benefits such as an improved mood, increase in libido, and soothing menstrual cramps.
- Chamomile- A daisy-like flower, chamomile is a widely known herb that is used within many cultures. Chamomile is great for calming anxiety due to an apigenin antioxidant that can be found in its extract.
Setting a Schedule: Giving yourself a set routine is an underrated way to manage your daily schedule and reduce stressors. Many people find it to be convenient to regulate sleep schedules when the sun is setting early, as well as a form of being intentional throughout the week.
Valuing Time with Family and Friends: When dealing with SAD or the Winter Blues, social activity can be a way to alleviate your mood. Visionary author bell hooks said it best: “Rarely, if ever, are any of us healed in isolation. Healing is an act of communion.” Even if you may not feel like being social, spending time with loved ones is the perfect way to reground yourself and uplift you. You also never know how family and friends may be willing to help you during your time of need!
We’re Embracing Therapy
Now that you’ve read up on healthy mechanisms to manage Seasonal Affective Disorder and the Winter Blues, it’s time to shed light on what many individuals often avoid: therapy. The beauty of modern society is our new intentions to now normalize therapy. We’re here to debunk the stigmas that still surround mental health and what therapy can provide. Although it is beginning to become accepted in some capacity, the negative stereotypes of people who choose therapy still exist in some communities, especially in Black and Brown homes. In all actuality, therapy can be a beautiful thing where everyone can benefit.
Conducting your own research can be one of the most helpful ways for you to better understand what all therapy can entail. Finding the right therapist that suits your needs can be tricky, but using reliable databases and focusing on choosing someone who aligns with your values can ease this process. Sometimes we need assistance in maintaining our mental health, and that is okay!
The winter may bring joy to some, but for others it can be another challenge for their mental state. This can be one of the most important times of the year to stay consistent with your self-care regimens, besties. Protect your skin, beauty, and mind by doing what makes you feel good this holiday szn. It’s the time to give, so why not give to yourself?