Feeling depressed, or down, or sad, or having a case of the blues is a normal part of life that everyone goes through. It could be situational due to death of a loved one or ending a relationship, or it could be emotional due to letting yourself down, others letting you down, or simply entering a negative space. It could also be due to seasonal depression.
It’s that time of year. The sun goes down early and it is dark outside by 4:30pm in many parts of the United States, and it can also get bitter cold. This leaves many individuals isolating more than they usually would, and also less physically active. Diminished light exposure, isolation, and lack of exercise, not to mention the poor food choices many people make during the holiday season that can lead to weight gain, are a perfect storm that lead many to feeling down and depressed. Up to 10% of the United States population is impacted by seasonal depression.
When a person who does not have clinical depression (i.e. a mental health diagnosis of a depressive disorder) feels depressed, they can usually climb out of their negative feelings rather quickly, or within a day or week by taking practical steps such as changing thoughts to more optimistic and positive ones, surrounding themselves with positive people, exercising, journaling, or a number of other common techniques.
For individuals who are diagnosed with a form of depression, even if it is seasonal, “snapping out” of it is not as simple, and in many cases may require therapy or psychotropic medications. The key differentiation between feeling depressed and clinical depression is that depression involves a pervasive feeling of sadness on most days for at least two weeks.
Some symptoms of clinical depression include, but are not limited to, diminished pleasure in activities, weight loss not due to diet, changes in eating habits, changes in sleeping habits, fatigue or low energy, feeling worthless, diminished ability to concentrate, and suicidal ideation.
If you or a loved one experiences feelings of extreme sadness, it is encouraged to seek professional help as soon as possible. Depression is always treatable, and in many cases curable. Psychotherapy accompanied with antidepressants, as well as many holistic approaches have proven to be most effective. Here are a few other strategies and reminders to help you or your loved one cope with seasonal depression:
- Exercise and be active. This will help release natural “feel good” chemicals in your brain.
- Aim for 8 hours of sleep and maintain a steady schedule. Over-sleeping and under-sleeping are part of depression.
- Don’t isolate. Human connection is important.
- Eat a whole foods balanced diet. There are many foods that act as “mood boosters.”
- Practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation or yoga.
- Consider taking a Vitamin D supplement and go for a blood test to see if you are deficient in any other micronutrients. Proper micronutrients are essential to a healthy brain, body, and overall mood.
- Avoid alcohol. Although it is common for individuals to drink more around the holiday season, or to cope with feelings of sadness with alcohol, alcohol is actually a depressant and while it may feel good to drink in the moment, it will ultimately lead you to feeling more depressed.