Seasonal Depression – G.T.Health Newsletter 8

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seasonal depression

 

 

“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”

 

– John Steinbeck ❄️

 

 

December 2021, Volume 8

The G.T.Health Letter

~Adding a dose of mental health awareness to our community~ 

seasonal depression
 

What’s Inside: 

  • Mental Health Spotlight – Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
  • Literature Spotlight 
  • Xtra Scoop of the Week – SAD or Winter Blues?
  • Weekly Testimonial – My Collegiate Advice on Seasonal Depression

 

 

 

 

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seasonal depression

Mental Health Spotlight – Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

What is SAD? 

Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a subtype of major depression (and therefore a mood disorder) characterized by similar symptoms, including: a chronic lack of joy and positivity, difficulty concentrating, sluggishness, agitation, weight/appetite fluctuations, insomnia or hypersomnia, loss in interest, low energy, and feelings of hopelessness. As indicated by the name, symptoms flare up in the fall and winter months, making the depressive episodes seasonal in nature. Like with major depression, hormone dysregulation plays a large role in the onset of SAD. Reduced serotonin, which affects mood, is a big risk factor for depression, and SAD can also be brought about by disrupted melatonin levels, as this is the brain chemical that plays a role in regulating sleep patterns. However, the unique thing about SAD is that these hormone imbalances are primarily triggered by the changing season; serotonin loss can be attributed to reduced sunlight in the winter months, and this shift in hours of daylight can also disrupt melatonin levels. Lack of light (and daylight savings in the US) can also affect your circadian rhythm, or the biological clock by which you sleep, digest, etc. Therefore, the reduction of light is at the heart of depressive symptoms in people with SAD, whereas for people with major depression symptoms are attributed to more inherent biological disruptions. To clarify, despite all these distinctive attributes SAD is not its own unique disorder; it is only a certain kind of an existing disorder, so it fits under the umbrella of depression rather than standing next to it. One of the main things that makes SAD distinct is how similar it is to undiagnosable feelings of seasonal depression, which affect many, many people during the winter months. Reduced daylight has a universal effect on humanity, and animals in general; as the nights lengthen, we go into a pseudo-hibernation mode that makes us sluggish and listless. For people with SAD, however, the hormone imbalance is more chronic and stable than for people with subclinical seasonal depression; we feel quite depressed and slow, but we are not dragged under the current of hopelessness by these feelings.

 

How can you help someone with SAD or winter blues?

As with other disorders, being a good listener and accepting your friend’s claims about the true depth and breadth of their depression is essential to helping them feel validated and seen. It helps no one to try and discredit feelings of seasonal depression; unless we live in tropical places right next to the equator where nothing hibernates, we all get the feeling of loss when the days shorten, which means we can all at least somewhat empathize with SAD. Another important thing to remember is that depression is a disorder; it is a biological dysfunction that can render a person incapable of seeing the world and going through life the way other people do. Therefore, it is not really possible for someone with a disorder to “just feel better.” So you can tell them to “smile more” and “worry less” all day; it probably won’t have any effect, other than to frustrate them. We without a disorder will never truly understand what it’s like to live with the disorder, especially because disorder affects everyone differently, but we can do our best to come close by listening, educating ourselves, and refraining from making comments as if the disorder is easy to be rid of. In terms of action items, you can help your friend by distracting and extricating them from the thing causing the most acute stress; taking them out into the sunlight and encouraging personal hygiene (mostly showering) are huge, but even just showing them a funny video or talking with them about silly nonsense might help make symptoms more manageable

 

 

seasonal depression

How do we combat SAD?

This won’t come as a surprise to all you mental health experts, but SAD can be combatted with a mixture (or not a mixture) of therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes. One common form of SAD therapy is phototherapy/light therapy, which involves exposure to artificial light at certain intervals to help balance serotonin levels and your circadian rhythm, as well as helping with sleep patterns and alertness. You can conduct pseudo light therapy on yourself with a UV, LED or any kind of light, by simply turning it on for certain intervals during the daylight hours from fall through winter. The artificial light acts as a replacement sun to help our bodies adjust to the shortening day. If you have sensitive eyes, you might want to wear sunglasses or monitor your exposure to the light, but this is a great strategy to help your reaction to winter. The lifestyle changes previously mentioned include exercise, maximizing time spent outside, and brightening your immediate environment even if going outside isn’t possible. Let fresh air in; open a window and the curtains while you walk on a treadmill or do calming yoga. Take a walk around midday when the sun is at its peak. Sunlight and exercise seem like things that can easily be taken for granted, but their impact in reducing SAD symptoms cannot be understated.
 

Learn more about the difference between SAD and winter blues here!

https://www.bbrfoundation.org/blog/winter-blues-or-seasonal-affective-disorder

https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/light-therapy#method

 

 

 

 

Literature Spotlight 

 

 

 

Seasonal Affective Disorder – Pamela Ahlen

In winter
I sometimes wake feeling like a moan
clouding the ground,
needing a place inside where joy might reside
like entering a huge white space and
finding a thimbleful of red to affect my sanguinity.

Joy is the goal, isn’t it?

“Why do two colors, put one next to the other sing?”–
something even Picasso had no word for,
something that can burn out winter blues,
like seeing the white mantle of morning
in all its tender ferocity,
seeing a redbird in snow.

https://postcardpoemsandprose.wordpress.com/2018/04/18/seasonal-affective-disorder-by-pamela-ahlen/

 

 

Let’s talk about this poem. I think it provides a wonderfully vivid image of what it’s like to be lost in the depths of seasonal depression, utilizing the metaphor of a bird in snow. Seasonal depression, like a moan, clouds the senses and the passage of time, like white snow blanketing the ground and making everything look the same; a bleak stretch of nothingness. I won’t deny that I find snow beautiful, having grown up in the American Northeast, but a blanket is a blanket. Snow is the giver of white blindness, wherein the sun shining off the blanket is so intense that it can damage the eyes; snow hides trees and dried flowers and green grass until there is nothing; a barren tundra of white that does not reflect any inherent positivity back at the viewer.

The poet speaks of finding a drop of red sanguinity in the snow-blanket to uplift her; this has double meaning, since sanguinity is a sense of joy and confidence but also comes from the root word for blood, sanguis, but it also could not be more effective in evoking the pain of looking out of your own nothingness and seeing more nothingness looking right back. A drop of color, literally and metaphorically, can help to jar a person out of their depressed reverie, but in winter those drops don’t come along often. I also love the language of burning out the winter blues, as this plays on the red of the cardinal (bird) as well; a spark in the dark to ignite the life within.

seasonal depression

 

 

seasonal depression
Xtra Scoop of the Week – SAD or Winter Blues? 

The best way to distinguish between a seasonal depressive condition that is versus is not diagnosable as an underlying disorder is to ask yourself this question: does my seasonal depression truly affect my ability to enjoy life? If not, you are probably experiencing the winter blues, or undiagnosable seasonal depression; you are, for example, completely burnt out when it comes to schoolwork, but you are still capable of enjoying time with friends and family and getting some happiness out of your relationships before returning to the dreariness of responsibilities. For me personally, this is the case; seasonal depression does affect many aspects of my life, from school to jobs to my social life, but the people who are closest to me –my closest friends, my significant other, and my close family– are still able to bring me joy.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), on the other hand, is much more insidious; being a subtype of major depression, it can basically be described as depressive episodes that are more regularly affected by the changing seasons. See the difference? Both are brought about by life stressors mixed with a loss of natural light, but seasonal depression/winter blues is more dependent on the life stress; if you are able to escape the struggles winter brings, you will feel better. Seasonal Affective Disorder, on the other hand, remains in spite of decreases in life stress; it is a psychobiological condition with seasonal cycles, not a temporary state of being. 

https://www.bbrfoundation.org/blog/winter-blues-or-seasonal-affective-disorder

 

 

Weekly Testimonial – My Collegiate Advice on Seasonal Depression

 

 

 

Last weekend, G.T.Health held a wonderful year-end event wherein we checked in with each other’s mental health and spoke a bit about seasonal depression (at least the kind not requiring a diagnosis). I have been a victim of seasonal depression every year in college; Cornell University is known for its hard winters, sometimes stretching well into April and immediately giving way to the oppressive heat of summer. I’ve taken to naming the eight, even nine bouts of seasonal change Cornell throws at us: from summer we go to fall (only a few-day affair), then to second summer, maybe a tiny second fall, then first winter, third summer as everything thaws, then second winter as the freezing rain comes, and so on. Every year is a bit different. When I first came to college, I was shocked at how much winter affected me; I grew up on the same latitude, a bit to the east, so I thought I was prepared for the notion of winter. I was not. As the warmth left and the trees died, final exams hit, and stayed; as we were forced to slog back after holiday break and get stressed out by a new semester’s load of classes, ice came; as midterms rolled around, the mud and cold rain.

The setting sun is my mental health’s biggest enemy. As darkness claims us earlier and earlier each night, I feel more and more meaningless, more helpless and heavy. I wish I could say it gets better, but I haven’t found that to be true.

So how can we combat seasonal depression, if every year it is the same? My main advice can be summarized in two words: distract and extricate. This is especially relevant if you are in a work environment (school, a job, 24/7 parenting, etc). First, distract yourself from the task giving you stress, since stress + seasonal depression is not a pleasant combination. Turn off electronics (the blue light gives me headaches!), change tabs, read a non-academic book you’ve been eyeing, bake a recipe. Don’t forget about your task or try to do anything beyond your current capacity; just practice taking breaks from your work whenever you feel the hopelessness creeping. Even more importantly, extricate yourself from the situation giving you stress. During a stressful work time with early sunsets, we often forget to do things like eat regular meals, shower, and go outside. Remove yourself from your desk/work area as often as possible: check the mail, walk to Starbucks, do yoga, go to the gym, and definitely shower. Refresh yourself in any ways you can; wash off the cloak of your depression as often as possible. You’d be surprised what clean skin and chilly sunlight can do for the fog in your brain; even after years of depressive cycles, I still am.

 

 

 

 

That’s all for this week, folks!

Happy Holidays – G.T.Health will return on January 7, 2022! 💓

 

 

seasonal depression
 

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