Dr. La’Tesha Outlines Coping Mechanisms for Seasonal Depression
The leaves have fallen and there is a distinct nip of cold and frost in the air. It’s that time of year again in New Jersey: winter is settling in. For some people, winter means time for great outdoor sports like skiing or snowboarding, hot chocolate at chalets, and ice skating under holiday lights. For others, the outlook is a lot less cheerful.
Seasonal Affective Disorder, fittingly shortened to SAD, is a form of seasonal depression. Often experienced in the fall and winter months, SAD is characterized by persistent feelings of sadness, a sense of hopelessness, and fatigue, much like major depressive disorder. Other symptoms include changes in sleep or diet, irritability, isolation from others, difficulty concentrating and more. As the days become shorter, less exposure to sunlight can cause some individuals to produce less serotonin, the hormone responsible for feelings of happiness and contentment, resulting in this less than desirable disorder. Often, those suffering from SAD will experience relief in the spring as the Earth shifts on its axis and exposes us to longer days.
If you find yourself suffering from SAD, you are not alone. Dr. La’Tesha is a registered clinical social worker and founder and CEO of Great Joy Counselling and Consulting. She and her team meet with thousands of individuals, couples, and families each year. Among them are many who struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder. Luckily there are a number of ways you can combat the symptoms. These are Dr. La’Tesha’s top four strategies for dealing with seasonal depression.
Light therapy is an effective non-medical intervention for many people experiencing symptoms of SAD. According to the Mayo Clinic, light therapy (or phototherapy) is thought to affect chemicals in the brain that are linked to mood and sleep. If you find yourself feeling lethargic and down, Dr. La’Tesha says to consider talking to your doctor or mental health care provider about getting a light therapy box, which are available at many drug stores, big retailers, and even online. It’s easy to set up a light box where you work or at home and enjoy the benefits of added light during the dark days of winter. In some cases, you may find relief in as little as a few days.
Dr. La’Tesha explains that light therapy is unlikely to cure SAD, but it can be an effective add-on therapy.
Endorphins are the brain’s natural pain and stress fighters and generally make us feel good. In fact, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the name endorphin was coined in the 1970s by blending the words endogenous (meaning caused by factors inside an organism or system) and morphine (a narcotic that relieves pain). When we exercise, our brains release endorphins. Endorphins can actually make you feel calmer, less stressed, and overall happier almost immediately after a workout. That’s why Dr. La’Tesha always recommends maintaining a regular workout schedule, even in the summer months. It keeps our bodies healthy and our minds at ease. For those experiencing mild to moderate SAD symptoms, a workout can help them get back to feeling their best.
Sometimes when you’re feeling down, tired, and are lacking motivation, organizing a social event can feel impossible. If you know you suffer from SAD and tend to isolate yourself in the winter, Dr. La’Tesha suggests setting social goals yourself before the weather begins to change. It can be as simple as joining a friend’s book club and making the goal to attend every month whether you read the book or not. Even when you don’t initially feel up to socializing, the interaction can help mitigate your symptoms. Goals can also help keep you motivated and prevent your symptoms from worsening. For Dr. La’Tesha, having a solid social circle you can rely on in times of difficulty, including when you are struggling with SAD, is important for your overall health and wellness.
Talk to Your Doctor or Therapist
If you’ve tried everything you can think of when it comes to combatting symptoms of SAD and are still struggling, don’t be afraid to speak to your doctor or therapist. Depression can affect anyone, says Dr. La’Tesha, and there is no shame in seeking additional help. In some cases, medical intervention may be necessary in addition to the coping strategies mentioned above. If you don’t already have one, your doctor may suggest seeking a therapist who can help implement a regimen of self-care. If you do already have one, ask about more strategies for coping. They can often offer something tailored to your specific situation.
By Jaime Cartwright