8 years ago this 12/26 I lost one of my closest relatives, my aunt Genell, to suicide. It wasn’t the first time she had attempted suicide. She struggled with bipolar and major depressive disorders for as long as I can remember. She was only 13 years older than me and the Godmother of our firstborn son. Even though I watched her struggle with depression and had visited her during her deep depressive states, I was shocked when my mom called me with the news. This time of year, one of my favorite times of year, is now tarnished with the memory of losing her. So discussing depression and ways to decrease your level is extremely important to me not only from a professional standpoint; but from a personal one, as well.
Many individuals experience depression during the winter months. Particularly if you live in northern states where it gets darker earlier in the evenings, the sun rises a bit later in the mornings, and it is cold and dreary, making it difficult to be outside on a regular basis. Fortunately, there are ways to combat depression during the cooler months.
If you’re one who likes to exercise outside, it may be challenging to find time during the winter months. With less sun time during the day, running, biking or other outdoors activities makes working out before or after work difficult. However, there are many benefits of exercise when it comes to depression:
- Releases endorphins (feel-good brain chemicals)
- Endorphins improve our immunity, so we can battle infections and illnesses more effectively. This also helps reduce severity of depression and/or prevent it from worsening.
- Reduces stress. Stress releases Cortisol into our system, which can lead to overeating or craving food that is not healthy (think sweets and salty food).
- Reduces anxiety. Chronic anxiety can lead to depression quickly.
- Improves our sleep, which is essential to help ward off depression.
Vitamin D (for Seasonal Affective Disorder)
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) affects approximately 5% of the population. The further you are from the equator, the more likely you are to experience SAD. SAD is most common in the winter months due to reduced amount of sunlight and decreased Vitamin D consumption from the sun.
- Although there is a decrease in sunlight during the winter months, getting outside and enjoying the sun for just a few minutes helps combat depression. Unfortunately, studies indicate that you need to be in full-on sun. No sunscreen during this short period of time. It also cannot be consumed through a window. You must be outside in the sun.
- Talk to your doctor if you experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This type of depression is different from general or major depressive disorders, as it is seasonal and typically diminishes during the warmer seasons. SAD can occur during other times of the year where there is less sunlight. Some insurance companies will provide a sunlamp for one to use in their home during the winter months, if a doctor deems prescription necessary.
- Have your Vitamin D levels checked and discuss a supplement with your doctor, if necessary. Keep in mind that you must also consume enough Calcium to aid in absorption of Vitamin D. Lorrie McFadden is also a great person to reach out to in this department!
- An increase in Vitamin D does not appear (according to several studies) to help reduce depressive states in those who are experiencing general or major depression. Be sure to let your doctor know if you are experiencing depression beyond those winter months.
Maintain social contact
- Reach for the phone and call a friend. Set up a lunch date or dinner with a family member. By maintaining social relationships, we feel like we are a part of something bigger. This helps combat depression.
- Be sure to do things you enjoy. If you enjoy meeting friends for happy hour, then set up a time to get together. Is the gym your social outlet? Connect with someone who likes the same type of workouts you do and set up a workout calendar together.
For those who suffer from mild, moderate or major depression, this is all going to seem mighty daunting. That is the frustrating thing about depression and it’s vicious cycle. While you know that you need to get out and do all of the above, your depression keeps you from pursuing it, which then cycles back into further/deeper depression. If you suffer from depression and are concerned and feel you may need help, talk to someone. Be sure to talk with your doctor about your options. And if you are on anti-depressants, make sure you are also seeking counseling. The two go hand-in-hand and you have a much greater success rate when using both.
If you are feeling down this season, I want you to pick just one of the above for today. Just one. Follow through and complete it. See how you feel after. If journaling feels to daunting, make a mental note of how you felt after and then attempt to repeat tomorrow or choose a new one from the list. I sincerely want you to have a fabulous season!