Ohhh, where to start. All things mental health-related can be so misunderstood… in every way possible. From a personal standpoint, it can be hard to understand why you may be feeling “off.” From a therapeutic standpoint, it can be incredibly difficult to treat due to the subjective and complicated nature of mental illnesses and mood disorders. From a social standpoint, people around you might not know what’s going on, why you may be acting different, or why you are interacting less with your friends and family. Maybe you’ve talked to them about it, but they still don’t understand, or maybe you haven’t talked about it, because you feel ashamed.
Unfortunately, there is still a stigma associated with things like depression and anxiety, despite there being SO many people who suffer from this in one way or another. The best way I know how to do my small part to help is to share my personal struggle, what I know about mood disorders like Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and the things that have helped me personally manage my anxiety and SAD.
What is SAD?
Generalized anxiety and major depression are a lot more common than Seasonal Affective disorder, and many people who have SAD have some form of either anxiety or depression, but those are a topic for another blog post on another day. This post is specifically about SAD, a.k.a. Seasonal Affective Disorder, considering we’re currently in the season when people are affected by it. SAD is a mood disorder characterized by depression and/or anxiety that is brought about or significantly worsened at the same time every year.
For most people who suffer from SAD, this occurs in the late fall or early winter and/or when we experience Daylight Saving’s Time. The colder weather and much shorter days make us more likely to stay inside, and it all just throws off our internal clock in general. A lot of people get a little bummed out for a couple of days, and then their bodies quickly adjust, and they get used to it. For people who suffer from SAD, they feel more than bummed out, and it typically lasts for the duration of the season.
Symptoms Commonly Experienced by those with SAD
Feeling depressed or down (seemingly for “no reason”)
Loss of interest in activities (things you typically enjoy)
Lack of energy
Changes in sleep (somnolence or insomnia)
Changes in appetite or weight (sometimes this includes weight gain, or more rarely, weight loss)
Having thoughts of death or suicide (*in severe cases. Please consult a doctor if you are having this symptom especially.)
My Personal Experience
Since I have had anxiety most of my life, and, as I said earlier, generalized anxiety is a topic for a blog post another day, I will give you the long story short. I have suffered from anxiety ever since I can remember, and it has gotten worse as I’ve gotten older. Don’t get me wrong, overall, I feel very happy, I have always been able to function at a high level and succeed in work and school, I have many amazing, healthy relationships with my loved ones, and I really feel like I am livin’ my best life, ya know?! Like, sometimes I cry of happiness thinking of all the things I have to be grateful for and how much I love my life (I am a sap on occasion, yes.)
However, we’re human, and more fears, more worry, and more stress come about naturally for us as we grow up and gain more responsibilities (rigorous load in school, balancing work and good grades in high school/college, getting a “good, real job” after college, “adulting” in general).
For people like me with bad anxiety, even a small stressor, change in plans, or unfamiliar environment can trigger a spike in mood symptoms, physiological symptoms, or even panic attacks. I have suffered a handful of panic attacks in my life, brought on by more drastic, traumatic events.
For me, anxiety symptoms include hyperventilating, not being able to get in a full or steady breath, feeling nausea (sometimes to the point of vomiting), weakness/inability to stand or sit up, extreme muscle tenseness, and overall feeling of panic/helplessness. I more regularly suffer the mood and physiological symptoms of anxiety. Although I hate to admit it, I often subdue the mood symptoms (a.k.a compartmentalizing), causing all the physiological symptoms to manifest intensely.
For me (and many others):
Mood symptoms-- worry, irritability, repetitive thoughts, constant sense of urgency/lack of patience
Physiological symptoms-- IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), racing heart, shaky hands, trouble sleeping, jaw clenching (which gives me headaches), and muscle tightness and soreness (specifically the neck and shoulders). When more severe, I experience lack of appetite, stomach aches when I eat, and worsened IBS flairs. The brain and gut are so connected!!
My SAD causes each and every one of these symptoms to spike, when typically I can control them with the many coping mechanisms I have adapted and practiced over the years. And despite practicing these coping methods for many years, it’s a life-long work in progress and continuous conscious effort! If you’re struggling, be patient.
While there are still events and circumstances in my life that cause my anxiety to spike and my SAD to surface in the Winter months, my coping mechanisms minimize my anxiety the great majority of the time (see “Treatments” below). As I eluded to before, I function optimally at work, I’m incredibly social, I love traveling a ton, I have healthy and loving relationships, and I have an overall amazing, happy life.
But sometimes coping is too hard, sometimes it’s exhausting, and sometimes it still gets the best of me. If you suffer from anxiety, depression, SAD, or any other mood disorder, know that it’s OK to feel those feelings sometimes. Even people who don’t suffer from mood disorders are not happy 100 percent of the time. We. Are. Human.
Treatments, Supplements, and Things That Have Helped Me
For some people with SAD, taking a Vitamin D supplement every day can help. We produce less vitamin D with the decrease in daylight and decrease of time spent outside.
We love this one in the form of a spray.
If you're also experiencing low energy, a B12 spray like this one can help, too.
Therapy can be extremely effective. It takes some openness and willingness to put in effort, but it is worth it. Some insurance companies will cover therapy sessions. If yours will not and it is out of budget for you, the next best thing would be to talk with someone you trust, someone you feel will not judge you, and someone who will listen. If all else fails, write it out, a.k.a. JOURNAL! Simply putting your thoughts into words and on paper can help you release some negative energy and let go of thoughts and feelings that are not serving you.
Healthy Diet (with focus on serotonin boosting foods)
This is truly the holistic approach. Eating the right foods will help your energy levels, fuel your brain, improve digestion, and even help boost serotonin (the “happy hormone”). See also adaptogens listed below.
Healthy foods that boost serotonin:
Dark leafy greens
Oh, and remember, the gut and brain are very connected. Take a probiotic like this one every morning to ensure your gut flora is in balance.
Adaptogens are natural compounds that help the body adapt to physical and mental stress by regulating hormones like cortisol. This then normalizes the stress response, increases concentration, and prevents fatigue. Adaptogenic foods also tend to be foods that are very high in nutritional value, packing lots of vitamins and minerals.
Adaptogens to Incorporate :(smoothies, Bulletproof coffee, wherever you can!—our Instagram feed is filled with recipes that include adaptogens.) The first 4 on this list are healing herbs that can be purchased in powdered form here. The others can typically be found in a normal grocery store.
Maca (can buy in powdered form)
Ginseng (can buy in tea form)
Licorice root (can buy in tea form)
Taking time to yourself/time to unwind
Whatever it is that helps you relax, try to make time at the very least once a week to do that.
Ways to unwind:
listen to music
take a bath
diffuse essential oils
go to yoga
go for a run
take your dog for a walk
Diffuse them, apply them topically, perform self-massage with them. I love lavender and frankincense at night. If I do self-massage, I mix either or both with coconut oil and rub my shoulders. In the morning I love to diffuse citrus or dab a drop onto my wrists to wake me up a bit. Lemon and orange are great. All are great to help with anxiety. Read more about how
essential oils can help here.
Taking time in the morning and/or at night to be quiet, sit/lay with your eyes closed, and either focus on thinking of nothing, or focus on thinking of things you are grateful for and your daily intentions. Guided meditation apps like Calm and Headspace are great, especially for beginners.
Read our post about the Mindful Morning Ritual! It has been crucial to managing my symptoms and setting a positive, calm tone for the day.
This partially goes with the next tip, keeping your normal routine. If exercising is not part of your normal routine, you should really give it a try for a plethora of obvious reasons, but ESPECIALLY if you suffer from depression, anxiety, or SAD. Even if all you can do is a 10 minute walk outside. It’s a great release of energy and tension, you get increased endorphines, it’s a great way to quiet your mind, and you’ll experience more energy and a stronger, healthier body overall.
Keeping your normal routine the best you can
Despite it getting so dark so early, try your best to keep your routine. Continue working out, continue going on walks, continue taking your kids/dog to the park-- whatever activities you typically do. It can even help to continue on your typical eating schedule, and it can certainly help to stay close to your same sleep schedule if possible.
Acceptance and acknowledgment
Honor your feelings, positive AND negative. Know that it’s OK to feel “blah” sometimes. Know that what you’re going through is common, and you are certainly not alone. Accept those feelings and allow them when you need to. If you bottle everything up, eventually you will breakdown. It’s good to understand what you are feeling, but to not let it define you. We. Are. Human.