Seasonal affective disorder getting you down?
We've almost made it to the end of the LONGEST feeling month of the year....well, besides last March when we went into quarantine suddenly and the days dragged on like weeks...JANUARY. Personally, January is NOT my favorite month, for a variety of reasons **though I am grateful for my January born peeps**!!
To begin, January is typically the most wintery of winter months. Short daylight hours combined with generally the coldest temps of the year (yes, even in Fernandina Beach, FL we see winter temps of 30's and 40's frequently with high humidity and dampness and wind making the *feels like* nearly 10 degrees colder) doesn't typically bode well for a person's overall sense of energy and vitality. While the darkest time of the year, winter solstice on December 21, has indeed passed, no longer do we have the excitement, joy of increased togetherness and cheer of the holiday season and it's accompanying beautiful lights, decor and music and energy to lift our spirits. For others, the holidays represent the other side of the coin, bringing up old (or new!) memories of family dysfunction, painful traumas, feelings of loneliness, grief, shame and isolation. This doesn't just go away just because the holiday season has passed....it has only stirred the pot more.
In a "normal" year, we carry into January any of this old *stuff* that the holidays has stirred up in our nervous system and psyche, combined with a whole culturally induced set of expectations for what the new year will bring (new love, reconciled love, new goals, "new year, new me" mindset, the ridiculous weight loss goals, etc. etc.). OOF!!! If that doesn't scream exhausting to me I don't know what does. Not to add we're now in a cold and dark season with no more twinkle lights (I wish people would keep up their outdoor decor until Feb 14ish but that's another post). We've likely overeaten and overindulged in sugar, alcohol, carbs and probably put our normal self-care routines to the back burner so we're not exactly a force to be reckoned with. We may not want to exercise as much, and we may just want to crawl in bed and hibernate with a heated blanket and Netflix. I GET IT!! I feel that way too sometimes! Now ADD to all of this that we're coming out of 2020, an unprecedented year for basically everyone in terms of a worldwide pandemic and ALL that entails (quarantines, isolation, mask mandates, school shut downs, remote learning, no big get togethers with friends and family, no concerts, no festivals), major civil protests and unrest, the most divisive and aggressive political times I've seen in my lifetime, a highly emotional presidential election, We are all out of energy to deal with the stress. Our nervous systems adapted as best they could to the stress for months on end, but coming into January most of us are running on fumes, or broke down on the side of the road desperately in search of a gas station with none to be found in the near future.
The title of this blog is about Seasonal Affective Disorder...which most people attribute to the lack of sunlight in the winter months. Don't get me wrong, I think that's a considerable part of it along with what I mentioned above, but I think there is a lack of a more inclusive narrative around ALL the things that can bring us down in the wintertime. Not to mention a lack of awareness about the 4 seasons of the psyche (winter, spring, summer and fall). So, for my SAD sufferers....here's a list of things that you can consider when navigating this time of year.
I've linked a light therapy lamp from Amazon. There are TONS of options out there and they really are quite affordable. I recommend light therapy first thing upon waking up in the morning and really anytime. Put it about 3-4 feet from your face...no need to stare directly into it!
2. Vitamin D3. This is a crucial vitamin that many people are deficient in, even living in Florida. In order to get the USDA of recommended D3, one would need to be partially unclothed (shorts and a tank or bathing suit) with no sunscreen on, for 20 minutes in full sunlight to get enough. You CAN get D3 in your diet with fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, cod liver oil), egg yolks, mushrooms, and fortified foods, but in the winter time I think it's a no brainer to supplement. Even in the summer if you are indoor-bound all week. D3 is a fairly inexpensive and small supplement to add to your routine and will benefit your mood, your energy levels, your immunity and sleep. I've linked a 5000 iu dosage product. In the winter, I tend to take 5000 daily. In the summer, I might stick to 1000-2000 iu daily. It's pretty unlikely you will overdose on D3.
3. Exercise. UGH. Noone wants to leave their cozy warm house right now to exercise but yet we've got all these evil marketing execs telling us beach season is coming soon, or that THIS is the year you finally lose the extra pounds. It's all shame based and it really does nothing to motivate people long term. When I suggest exercise I really could care less about how you look. For me, exercise is one of the best ways we can manage our mental health, hands down. Regular cardio exercise (sweaty, short of breath, heart rate 70-80% of your max) for at least 20-30 min 3x/week or more is proven to be as effective as an antidepressant medication for the treatment of mild to moderate depresssion. I have no doubt that weight lifting is just as helpful...for the maximum benefits both mind and body, I suggest both cardio and weight/resistance training 3x/week. There are so many options for home workouts now through apps, videos, home gym equipment so you don't have to leave your home. For me personally, I have to go to a gym. My house is too distracting and small to get the kind of workout I want. Also, the suggestion I made was a goal to aspire and reach. START SMALL. Literally something is better than nothing. Stretch for 5 minutes. Or do some pushup and situps for 5 minutes. If you have an injury or a disability, find an exercise that is doable for your body-there is not a one size fits all approach to fitness. Take a walk around the block. ANYTHING to get the blood flowing. You can always build up from there each day or week. There is no need to prove anything by killing yourself on the first workout! You'll be so sore and fatigued you'll be too deterred to do it again. Set yourself up for success. Small bites.
4. Therapy. Ha! You knew this one was coming. If you're reading this and you're already in therapy, bravo! Therapy is a wonderful way to help you connect with yourself, understand yourself and your patterns, heal old wounds and trauma and clear space for the present, and to improve your relationship with everyone in your life. If you are my client, you know I utilize EMDR for a variety of issues; namely, healing old traumas and negative core beliefs.
5. Sleep. Make sure you're getting 7-8 quality hours of sleep each night. Set boundaries with others and yourself to protect this time. Sleep is the foundation for EVERYTHING. Bad night of sleep...your body suffers including your brain, and it will effect just about everything psychologically and physiologically. Put the phone away! Or if you must scroll (hey I'm guilty of this too!) put your phone on night mode where the screen gets redder, or buy yourself a pair of red lensed glasses. You can get cheap orangey red hunting glasses on Amazon. Super fashionable. I don't think the blue light blocking glasses are as effective for nighttime. If you're finding you're sleeping too much as a result of SAD and winter blues, get into the habit of waking up at the same time every day, even if you don't have any commitments in the morning, or until the afternoon. For the vast majority of people, it's a good idea to be awake and functioning by 8am at the latest. Plan a morning routine to look forward to, whether it's sitting in front of your light therapy box while sipping coffee or tea, or getting a little exercise in, or having a nice hot shower. If you need sleep medication to get to sleep and stay asleep, check out the many over the counter options, including CBD oil, or talk to your doctor about a prescription option. It is OK to need help!
6. Speaking of showers....I recommend 30-60 seconds of COLD water at the end of your shower. It's good for stimulating the vagus nerve (relaxation button!) and it increases your immunity.
7. Tune into the natural rhythm of Winter. Challenge and reframe your expectations of how you "should" feel this time of year.
I'm not going to try and pretend I'm an expert in regards to this particular subject so I'm attaching some reading on this.
If we utilize winter as it's intended, it is a time to look within, be more introverted, direct our energies inward to inquire as to what hasn't been working, and conceive of new ideas moving forward that will hatch in spring. In our current modern day society, popular culture is obsessed with always moving,
8. Natural herbs like rhodiola, ashwaghanda, amino acids like 5-HTP, L-Tyrosine and DLPA.
These are some additional supplements that I urge you to research yourself as I cannot give medical advice. All of the above are indicated to help with stress, mood, energy, sleep, etc. They may have interactions with prescriptions you may be on, or other supplements you take.
9. Cozy rituals that celebrate this colder time of year. Hot coffee, hot cocoa, staying in cozy soft warm clothes and watching feel good movies, fires in the fireplace, wrapping yourself up in a big blanket, board games, hot soups and stews. Find ways to make the most of this time of year.
In sum, help support your body through this challenging period of stress we are living through, utilize therapy to help make peace with your past and any limiting beliefs, tune into the natural rhythm of this season of the year knowing that in a month or two, spring is on it's way.