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Longer, colder and more isolating; that’s what winter in Minnesota means to this mama.
The days feel longer (thank goodness we’re past the Winter Solstice though) despite the fact that the actual time we see the sun is shorter. The weather outside, while it can be beautiful, is also frightfully cold and because of that I tend to stay inside. All of these things, plus the fact that my husband is an accountant and we’re entering his busy season, combine to create a great season of depression for me. Usually, I’m oblivious to the whole thing and I don’t even realize that it’s creeping up on me until it’s too late. By that time my mom or sister have figured it out and said something to me and to my hubby, however, you need to keep in mind that if they’re sensing that my depression is kicking in that usually means things at home are teetering on the edge (both my mom and sister live hundreds of miles away from me). This winter is the first time I’m going to be ahead of the game.
How to naturally beat the depressing winter season:
I am not, hear me there, am not a medical professional by any means, therefore, take these suggestions as merely that – suggestions. These are the things that I’ve found to work for me. Maybe they’ll work for you; maybe they won’t. Before starting any of these treatments it is imperative that you speak with a medical professional first (okay not every treatment needs to be consulted on but you get my point).
1. Purchase a SAD light: Studies have found that light affects the party of our brain that controls mood which is why many who live in a northern climate struggle with depression. Less sunlight equals a change to your body’s natural circadian rhythms which can alter your hormones and if you deal with depression it messes with your serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, meaning it passes messages between both sides of the brain. While it cannot be confirmed because researchers do not have the ability to do research on a living human brain, serotonin is thought to be the neurotransmitter responsible for one’s mood. What’s unsure is if a decreased level of serotonin leads to depression or if depression leads to a decreased level of serotonin. What is known is that the two are linked to each other.
Using a phototherapy device (what I’ve been calling a SAD light) helps to regulate your body’s internal clock which is naturally thrown off during the darker winter months; because your internal clock is off, your serotonin levels decrease which, as I explained before, can trigger depression. The light is also thought to increase melatonin which influences your body’s sleep patterns and mood. A word of caution: If you suffer from bipolar disorder, it is imperative that you discuss the use of phototherapy with your doctor first before you begin the treatment; the treatment can cause manic episodes.
The key for using a lightbox is consistency and time. I know from personal experience that if I miss a lightbox session I can be a real bee with an itch. I also know that you really need to heed the instructions and do your sessions early in the morning. Remember that phototherapy is supposed to mimic the sun thus resetting your internal clock. If you start a session too late in the day (ah hem, the afternoon…) you’ll be up until the wee hours of the morning. Yes, I’ve done that more than once. I use the Syrcadian Blue SB-1000 Sad Light Therapy Device (pictured above), as it easily attaches to my laptop. The key is for the light to hit your pupils just the right way, you should not look directly into the light as that could cause damage to your eyes, plus, who wants to stare directly into a light that’s supposed to be akin to the sun? I try to get at least 30 minutes of “light time” in first thing in the morning. If time allows, I’ll do more but I never exceed 90 minutes.
2. Exercise. Yes, as badly as you may not want to hear this working out does wonders for your mood. You can’t deny the fact that your body was made to move; studies show that a sedentary lifestyle can lead to depressed feelings. Try to move your body a minimum of 30 minutes each day, get your heart rate up and let the endorphins fill your brain for a great recharge. I have found that if I’m feeling depressed it’s extremely difficult for me to get moving. I’m just not motivated to do anything. The trick for me? Getting a workout partner. I don’t belong to a gym but my husband and I have done a pretty good job of creating a home gym. All I needed was someone else to depend on me and hold me accountable to really put my home gym to good use. A girlfriend and I workout almost every day of the week early in the morning, before (hopefully) the kids are up. It’s a great start to the day, a good time to chat and I never regret not hitting the snooze button. (Although, to be honest, lately the snooze button’s won that battle…this Christmas break is kicking my booty!) Go mall walking if you live in a cold weather climate whose sidewalks are caked in snow. If you live in the Twin Cities area, particularly if you live close enough, go walk the Mall of America.
3. Vitamin D Supplements. This one’s new to me but a lot of my natural friends swear by it. If you live in the northern states or Canada where there’s less light then you can pretty much bank that you probably aren’t getting enough Vitamin D. Begin with a supplement and then schedule an appointment to have your levels tested or speak with your doctor first. In Psychology Today, Dale Archer, M.D. states,
Recent studies by Springer, and research results reported in the New England Journal of Medicine and by the Vitamin D Council, are indicating a link to depression. Of note: Canadian researchers reviewed 14 studies, consisting of 31,424 participants and found a strong correlation between depression and a lack of Vitamin D. The lower the Vitamin D level, the greater the chance of depression.
There are also many foods that are rich in vitamin D (note that you’ll have to really up your intake of these foods): milk, shiitake mushrooms, eggs, salmon, catfish, herring, oysters, and trout.
4. Get some much needed alone time to care for yourself. When you’re a mom, especially a stay-at-home-mom, every minute of your day is spent caring for others. Think about it: when was the last time you sat down to eat a meal uninterrupted? When was the last time you sat down to read a good book with a cup of tea or coffee? When was the last time you had some adult conversation that didn’t involve watching the kids at the same time? Whatever is it that energizes you, find time to do it for yourself. If you need to be able to hang out with your girlfriends make it a point to do it at least twice a month. If you need to be allowed to have 20 minutes a day to sit on your iPad and play Bubble Witch Saga 2…oh wait, that’s me! Yes, I do it and something about popping those colorful bubbles is relaxing for my mind!
Winter is definitely a trying season, especially now that the holiday hype is said and done. Make a plan if you find yourself struggling with sadness during this time of the year; it doesn’t have to be full blown depression for you to feel crummy. Ask for help when you need it and pay attention to any triggers you may have. My triggers are not being able to spend time seeing friends, a messy and chaotic living space, no time away from the children, and endless hours cooped up inside with only myself and the kids for company. We’re all better mothers when we’re taking care of ourselves; don’t be a martyr to motherhood by neglecting to care for yourself. That doesn’t make you a better mother and it could lead you and your children into a very dark place.