Alright Modern Women. I have a confession to make. I’ve been depressed. Some days it’s all I can do, not to act like this little girl:
This hits me every February, like clockwork – welcome seasonal depression, otherwise known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), if you want to be fancy. Yes, this is a real mood disorder that affects over 10 million Americans, and is four times more common in women than in men. Go figure.
I’m not getting enough exercise, eating a lot of comfort food, working way too much – and generally not taking good care of myself. One of the worst ways the Winter Blues hits me, as a natural extrovert, is isolation, or “avoidance of social situations.” I just want to stay home and wallow in my pity party, and I can come up with plenty of justifications to do just that. I know this doesn’t help, but only now, since the sun has come back out this week, am I starting to look at where I’ve been.
I know I’m not the only one. I have lots of friends that suffer, and I do mean suffer, with this too. I know that I probably won’t see much of them until spring and that’s okay. We still keep in touch, and check in with each other occasionally, knowing that it won’t be long before the sun comes back again. We don’t take it personally. If you’re one of the millions affected by this, you know what I mean.
While SAD isn’t much different than your garden variety depression, it is thought to be related to the amount of melatonin in the body, a hormone that regulates sleep. As the winter days get shorter, we go into hibernation mode, and just want to hide out in our caves. There is a theory, that people sensitive to SAD may produce less Vitamin D, which is believed to produce serotonin, a major neurotransmitter involved in mood.
Since I’m not planning to move somewhere sunnier anytime soon, I’ve got to own this and take some steps to cope with it. Wallowing in depression really doesn’t help, in fact it makes things worse. Feeling hopeless makes us feel powerless. You already know how I feel about that! Pity Parties are okay for a little while, but the longer I’m stuck there, the harder it is to get out. So, I’m purposely working on actions to help myself through the season. I hope you don’t need to know this information, but if you do, I hope it helps.
Here are some things I’m working on to help me feel better:
One of the first things I have to do when I’m depressed, is admit it to myself. I don’t want to look at it, just like a dog that won’t look at you when they’ve done something bad. I’ve learned that the sooner I can acknowledge my emotions, the better I feel. One of the biggest things I’ve learned in the past year, are that emotions aren’t “good” or “bad.” They’re just emotions, that need to be examined, rather than ignored. They won’t consistently ease up until we do.
Cleaning House It’s amazing how much better I feel after I’ve cleaned house. It doesn’t have to be the entire house. Just the room I’m wallowing in helps. It seems more like self-care to me than a chore. Sometimes the mindless, mundane tasks just feels good and works off some nervous energy.
Reaching Out I don’t have to actually “go” anywhere to be less isolated. Calling a friend on the phone, or even exchanging text messages, is a way to have some human connection. I’m lucky to have friends that will let me vent when I need it and don’t expect me to be “positive” all the time. Of course, I reciprocate when they need it too.
Making a Play Date
Intentionally make an appointment with a friend to get out of the house and do something fun. It can be as low key as meeting at the dog park, or Wichita Art Museum for the new Monet to Matisse exhibit. It seems that food or drinks is the go-to for get togethers, but I need something a little more active right now.
The endorphins from exercise really do help lighten moods. When it’s really cold, I have a hard time getting motivated to go to the gym, especially since water exercise is my jam. One of my favorite ways to get moving in the winter is to play Dance Party! I put on my favorite, uplifting music, and dance like no one’s watching - except the poodle.
Going to a Movie
Movies are low key and I can go by myself, if I don’t feel like coordinating with a friend. It gets me out of the house, and I can escape for a couple of hours into another world. I intentionally seek out happy or exciting movies, not tear jerkers!
Getting Extra Pet Lovies Jack Poodle may have seasonal depression too, or maybe he’s just sensitive to how I’m feeling or he’s feeling cooped up too. He’s been extra clingy lately. I’m making sure to give him some devoted cuddle time, several times a day. It makes us both feel better.
One of the things I’m working on this year, is to learn to ask for and accept help. I’m involved in lots of things, maybe too many things, and by not knowing how to ask for help, it becomes super overwhelming. I think this contributes to being depressed. Keeping all the plates spinning, all the time, isn’t humanly possible, even though I expect that of myself. In the throes of depression, sometimes it seems like giving up, and letting all the plates crash to the ground, would be a relief. But, that’s not really an option. Figuring out where I need help, and how to get it, takes energy, time and insight. So, I’ve decided to call a meeting of my closest advisors, my Worthy Women Club, to get help, figuring out how to get the help I need.
Not Being Afraid to Talk About It
In talking to my friends this week, I find that I’m not the only one feeling like this. A bunch of us been having our own private Pity Party. Maybe we should get together for a big, pajama, dance party blow out. By talking about it together, we realize we’re not the only one and it helps a little. (Read Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson for more on this.) My friends don’t expect me to be my usual perky self all the time, and are understanding when I’m down. Also, depression is a liar. Sometimes it’s hard to tell what’s real and what isn’t. Talking to someone about it will give clarity and hope. I know my lifelines have been my safety net this week. A good therapist is a wonderful thing too, and I'm lucky to have an incredible one.
Taking Advantage of Sunny Days
When it is a sunny day, like today, get out in it! Absorbing the Vitamin D from the sun helps, even if it’s still chilly outside. As soon as I finish this post, the poodle and I are headed outside. We both need it!
What do you do to get your through the winter blues?