I live in Michigan. Do you have the pleasure of living in the midwest? ‘Tis the season…. Where every season is an asshole. Meaning, summer is uncomfortably hot and humid, and winter is freezing, windy, and DARK.
Do you slip into an emotional slump during the winter months? Maybe your stress levels increase with the start of the school season (whether attending or sending your little ones off to the care of strangers). This would be an example of a healthy cause for an increase in stress if it doesn’t hinder you from living your life comfortably.
BUT, if you aren’t mindful of your emotional inventory, the lack of sunlight along with limited time enjoyed spent outdoors, your emotional state can become fragile and put you at risk for having a depressive episode. A “winter slump” or a depressive episode can be experienced by those of you that have no history of depression or mental illness whatsoever. Don’t let that statement scare you. We all have emotions and need to be aware of those of which we are experiencing and why we are experiencing them. Emotional health is held as a high priority in my life and hopefully in yours as well.
With that said, I’m going to give you a beginners kit of sorts to prepare yourself for these so-called “winter slumps” or as it is clinically termed, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
This is NOT meant to be a checklist of things of which you must complete all of them to avoid emotional distress. It is an inventory of several tips and techniques that have been proven effective in decreasing the severity of seasonal depression or any depressive episode for that matter.
- Maintain your routine! – Humans are creatures of habit. Even if you aren’t aware of it, you have a semi-structured morning routine and you may need to add more structure to it. This way, you can keep track of when you start to slack on your upkeep of your baseline (normal) activities, and hygiene. If you don’t have a routine, then make one! Make sure that your bed is made before you leave home.
- Wake up early. – This one is not for everybody. I have no science to back the efficacy of this practice. I know from personal experience, that when I worked 2nd shift (3 PM-11 PM), I would stay up late into the morning hours, and sleep late into the afternoon. I switched to a 1st shift job that requires me to be more active as soon as I arrive at 7 AM, and continually throughout the morning hours. I wake up at 6 AM at the latest every morning. As of the past several days, I’ve changed my waking time to 5:45 AM so that I have 10 minutes to do a guided meditation (Download the app “Headspace” and try it out!) before I step out of the bed or check my cellphone. This has helped put me at a mental balance and create a surrounding calmness of sorts before I allow my brain to encounter anxious thoughts or stress over the small things that we experience on a daily basis (ie. “Dammit, where is my wallet?”, or “Shit! I forgot to bring my lunch with me to work.”).
- Exercise for 30-minutes three to four times a week – This does aid in the health of your body, but this is crucial to your emotional health as well! Exercise increases the brain’s production of serotonin (A mood-booster), which is deficient in the brains of those suffering from depression and several other mental illnesses. There is an increase in the production of norepinephrine as well, which causes a more alert, and focused mental state. The reward system of your brain also throws in a little dopamine to top off this cocktail of happiness. As constantly stated by any exercise fanatic or gym teacher that is teaching from the book for the sole brief moment they are forced to do so during a semester, exercise for a period longer than 20 minutes consecutively releases endorphins (AKA “runner’s high”). This chemical release is manifested through the feeling of a second wind during moderate to intense exercise. It also decreases anxiety; which might account for that worn out, yet calm and relaxed feeling you have after exercise even though you just beat your body’s ass (hopefully) (Source).
- Decrease the use of alcohol and other intoxicants – Alcohol is a drug classified as a depressant. Meaning it slows brain activity, pulse, and breathing. It also means it can cause depression if not used responsibly or if it is used as a coping mechanism or a “night cap” if you will. People use several excuses to have a drink. If you have a healthy relationship with alcohol, disregard this step. The way to find out if you have a healthy relationship with alcohol would be to try not to drink for 14-days. Did it bug you? Was it hard? If you have a hard time not drinking for 14 days, you should seek other ways to cope with your emotions and daily stresses. It is not a healthy option for your body, and the stresses and/or problems do not resolve themselves from you becoming intoxicated. Also, it meddles with your brain chemistry enough to keep you from maintaining a stable, healthy emotional baseline (emotional norm). (Source)
- Find a hobby, or return to practicing a passion of yours that can be done indoors (or outside) – My passion for writing has always been manifested in different ways. I’m so fascinated by words and how they can be used to mean different things depending on context, tone of voice, and the mere choice of the words used. So because of that, I’m deeply passionate about Hip-Hop/Rap music and the lyricism, which is a large aspect of the artistry in the genre. If music is on and you are talking to me, chances are I’m listening to the lyrics and ignoring you (my girlfriend hates this). I love how Rap lyrics make the use of literary devices in abundance while simultaneously engineering the use of cadence to continue rhyming, or switch the rhyme scheme. See, I’m so excited, I’m getting off track… Seriously though, find something you love. For me, it is words and writing, so I write blogs, lyrics, poems, puns, jokes, and even raps to satisfy this passion. Short version: Find your passion, and execute the practice of it that can be done inside as often as possible. If it is outside, and you can handle the whether….JK – weather, then more power to ‘ya.
I am not a clinician. These tips and instructions are not meant to cure any mental illness, disorder, or health condition. As someone who suffers from depression, I thought I’d share my preventative measures for a depressive episode that can be applied to everybody’s lives. One thing I will personally use in addition to this list, since I do struggle with chronic depression, is that I am going to see a psychiatrist to have a check-in regarding the efficacy of my medication currently. Also, I will want to discuss what changes may need to be done to prepare for and possibly prevent my tendency to slip into a deep depression in the winter. So, with all of this said, I will practice being healthier this winter, and I hope you do too. For the first winter-cycle of my adult life, I will take all of the preventative measures I possibly can to work in conjunction with my knowledge of my brain chemistry and its deficiencies to reduce my mental suffering and depression.
Please practice being kind to yourself,