I've been planning this post in my head for a really long time, since August, basically. It's kind of a scary thing to write about because in the most part, people don't really talk about depression openly. I'm starting to think that isn't because of a fear of seeming weak, but because suffers are worried that by speaking out, they risk looking like they are asking for sympathy or attention.
I should say here that none of these tips are in any way meant to substitute for getting advice from a doctor. There is nothing to be ashamed of in going to your GP- even if it just means getting a diagnosis and then seeing if you can boost your happy hormones yourself - if you can't GO BACK!! There is no need to suffer unnecessarily.
75% of the time, I feel fine. I've always been a huge worrier, but this gets significantly worse in the winter months.
Seasonal Affective Disorder has a hit rate of about 1 in 15 people, depending on what you class as SAD. It's characterized by a variety of symptoms, including anxiety, lack of interest in normal activities, feeling hopeless, changes to sleep patterns and weight gain & craving carbohydrates. The causes aren't completely known, but seem to be a combination of an increase in the production of melatonin and a change in the body's circadian rhythms, both of which affect sleep patterns. There is also significant evidence to suggest that a reduction in the body's production of serotonin has an impact on happiness levels in the winter in SAD sufferers.
There's quite a lot more information on SAD on the NHS website (click here) This post isn't meant to supplement doctor's advice, but I wanted to share a few things that have helped me and might help you or a friend. These things might seem silly and insignificant, but they are proven to boost serotonin and might give that little extra needed to get through the day a bit more easily. Don't scoff until you've tried every single one!
Dark chocolate boosts serotonin production - this is a fact. Dark chocolate contains serotonin and L-tryptophan, as well as carbohydrates from sugar, which can signal the body to produce even more serotonin. Personally, I don't love it, but I try to eat a few squares a day just to give my serotonin receptors a little boost, We tried Montezuma's geranium and orange chocolate last night and it was incredible, but a bit much for my tame little taste buds.Green and Black's 85% Dark is my go-to.
Obviously, just eating chocolate won't help. Eating right and drinking lots of water will make you feel better at any time of the year - I kind of feel that's a given here.If you eat properly, you will feel better than if you don't.
'Bear' with me - I know the majority of people will probably think this is silly, but there is some research to suggest that watching baby animals doing funny or cute things can boost the serotonin production in your body and therefore ease the symptoms of depression and SAD just a little.
Here are some of my favourites:
Anxiety sucks. It can cause a huge range of symptoms both real and imagined. It can convince you that you are going to die or that everyone is against you. The key to fighting rising anxiety levels is to learn about it. First, you need to recognise when you are feeling anxious and when you are actually in danger. When you start to recognise that certain situations are creating anxiety, you can avoid them, or manage them appropriately. Reminding yourself that it's just anxiety, it's just your body and not an external threat of any kind can help to calm you in a situation that could otherwise develop into a panic attack. Even during a panic attack, calmly telling yourself:
"This is a panic attack, I have had them before and it always feels like it's the worst one. This will be over shortly"
can be enough to see it off. Learning about anxiety and ways to fight it can make a significant difference to your quality of life,especially if anxiety is stopping you from doing anything. There are lots of tips and tricks online to fight panic attacks, such as having an elastic band on your wrist, mantras and exercises to help with breathing and blood flow. Do your research and find what works for you.
Here is one of my favorite serotonin-boosting facts. Hugging for 8 seconds gives you a surge of the happiness hormone! I've tried this out many a time, in fact if you are reading this and you know me in real life, chances are you've had a slightly-too-long semi-awkward hug with me at some point. I've learnt it helps to explain what you are doing before you grab someone for an 8 second hug, otherwise they might feel like you are a little crazy and perhaps are not planning to let go. Or maybe that you doing that thing where you shake someones hand for way too long just to see how they react. Often, if you tell people that hugging for 8 seconds will give a chemical happiness boost, they are up for it - this is tried and tested to the point where many people in my life now will hug me for 8 seconds anyway when we greet, just so they don't have to listen to my speech about serotonin. Good times!
Hands down, the thing that has made the most different to managing the winter blues for me, as been this little piece of equipment. (Here's a link to Amazon)
It's a Lumie Bodyclock and it's changed my sleeping habits completely. It creates a sunset in your room - I have a completely white bedroom wall so I have it on a pile of books in front of that, the slots in the back create a sun pattern and the light dims slowly, it wakes you up by getting brighter and brighter. An alarm eventually goes off if you leave it longer than 15 mins or so before you get up and press the button. My parents got it for my birthday and I love it. I live in fear of the bulb going and having to order and wait for a replacement (it's just occurred to me that I should order one before it goes - I am getting so much better at adulting). But anyway, if you struggle to get up in the morning this might help. Being jarred awake in the middle of a deep sleep isn't the best way to start your day and a decent night's sleep is essential when you are trying to fight seasonal depression without the use of traditional pharmaceuticals.
I also have a new sleep toy to play with which I will be sharing in the next few weeks!
It's not a cure, but trying to lead a positive life WILL make you feel better. This means smiling at people, trying not to get frustrated in public over people taking too long to use the ATM or standing in front of the good cheese at the supermarket so you have to pretend to be looking at the garlic bread but really, you want the cheese. The rule is, for every negative or mean thing you say, whether out loud or not, you should try and create 5 positive things too. It doesn't always work, but it's a nice ideal to aspire to.
I know people who know me in real life will probably not agree, but I am trying to reduce my complaining. If I hear myself complaining, I try and stop and I wish other people would to. People complaining for hours about something instead of putting that time and energy into finding a solution really bother me and I often can't help but to complain about that! It's a cycle that I want to break - if you cannot be positive, at least be quiet.
These are not steadfast solutions, I know that some people will need extra assistance to fight seasonal depression (and all-year depression, obviously) however I know I would prefer to try every option before going down that route and so far it's done me pretty well. I still dread the nights getting longer every year but if you build yourself a toolbox of ways to deal it can be a lot easier.