The days are getting shorter, that is clear.
The shortest day of the year will be here in less than two months. Darkness comes in the mid-Atlantic states by 6 PM now, and the days are still getting shorter. In early summer, it wasn’t getting dark until almost 9 PM. What a difference.
Seasonal Affective Disorder appears as the days get shorter and can last well into the spring.
Pile onto the darkness the impending holidays and up goes the stress. These holidays can be another struggle for anyone in recovery. Even with the most understanding support system, it is easy to feel tension and anxiety as the holidays approach.
In my group meeting tonight, someone was asking for tips to combat the darkness and the holidays. The topic opened a wave of stories surrounding winter and the holidays but did not shed much light on coping strategies.
Here is a list I put together of things I do or have done to combat the ‘Winter Blues.”
- Light Therapy
Staying active in the winter has been a big help in keeping seasonal depression at bay. My goal is always 5 sessions per week of 30 minutes or longer. Most weeks, I get in 3 or 4 workouts. Each one starts the same. Generally, I am slow and plodding as I get on the treadmill or rower or elliptical. But after 4 or 5 minutes, I start to loosen up and I begin to get my heart rate elevated.
Once I get my 30 to 55 minutes (yes, sometimes I’m watching the golf channel or an NCIS rerun and I lose track of time.) of aerobic exercise, then I am all about strength training. I concentrate on my core and anything that will help my overall sense of balance.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is what I work on with my therapist. Talk therapy is a chance for me to work on my unhelpful thinking styles and to have some one to help me ask the hard questions. This will be my first winter doing therapy, but I picture it being helpful. In fact, I will make it a point to ask about SAD at my next session.
I used one of these light boxes some years ago. It really seemed to help. I set it up in my office at home and put it on a shelf nearly at eye level. I was not sitting in front of it like a sunlamp, but rather having it shine on my face from an angle while I was working.
While I cannot say how much these three steps help get me through the winter blues, I do know they helped. In years where I am more focused on these three activities, my symptoms of depression are less. Of course, this is with the perspective of time.
Having concealed, hidden my depression, even from myself, using some of these tools was just a way to get through the winter. I hadn’t made the connection to associate it with my depression. That or I just wasn’t ready to face my depression. That is more likely that case.
This past winter I was spiraling towards the abyss.
While I was going to the gym during the fall, it wasn’t until January that I hired a trainer and got on the 4 to 5 day a week wagon. Taking this action helped me with the feelings of anxiety I was experiencing during most of December. I can remember laying in bed in the middle of the night, just trying to breath.
It was like there wasn’t enough air in the air.
This year, now that day-light savings time is ending, I will be aware of my mood, my feelings, my emotions. Having a WRAP plan is a comfort. READ: I have a WRAP plan Being able to compare myself to my list of;
1. how do I look when I am well? 2. how do I look when I am starting to slip?, and 3. how do I look when I am close to crashing? This gives me tools to use to avert a crisis.
I can keep my recovery on track by having a wellness recovery action plan.
This is a huge comfort as I live with depression. Having tools I can trust, a support group I can trust, and my own experiences I can look at make me more confident than ever that I am heading towards better balance in my life.
Using these tools, I will be alert this winter to signals I may be S.A.D.
Don’t forget to set you clocks back one hour before you go to bed Saturday night.