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Navigating Seasonal Mood Changes

Hey guys, guess what! Winter’s coming! Now all jokes aside, winter’s coming. 

We may all enjoy seeing the first snowfall but, what does this truly mean when it comes with all the other environmental changes?

Work may seem like it’s harder to complete. Days may seem shorter. It could be harder to wake up in the morning. And to think about walking the dog in the early a.m. before going to work or school- sounds very very “ruff” (pun intended). 

Sometimes it may feel hard to navigate these particular downfalls of feelings. But when there’s a will, there’s a way- right? That’s what my parents say, at least. The important thing to always remember though, is that you are not experiencing this alone. We might sometimes hide our feelings, but most share the same experiences unless you’re Santa Claus, Hanukkah Harry, or Buddy the elf. 

Now, let's get down to business. How can we navigate seasonal depression?

What is it?

First of all, let's understand this yearly feeling that visits us around the start of the winter season. The full name of this friend of ours is “seasonal affective disorder,” or also known as SAD (sounds like a pun, but this one wasn’t intended). Seasonal depression lasts about five months out of the year during the months where sunlight is reduced throughout the day. We all know it’s upsetting when it starts to get dark out around five in the evening. Our serotonin levels can decrease because of sunlight levels being reduced. Science makes the world go round, but we don’t always have to feel the need to thank it for the changes in sunlight, now do we?

The positive about seasonal affective disorder, is that it’s… wait for it… seasonal. Therefore, when the sun starts staying with us a little longer, the temperature becomes a little warmer, and when we’re finally able to drive with the windows down again, things will start feeling a little bit better day by day. Too bad humans don’t hibernate. I feel like that kind of lifestyle could do wonders. 

Warning Signs and Symptoms

It could be hard to notice any signs or symptoms of seasonal depression when it’s happening in the moment. Unfortunately, it could take some a while to realize the different behaviors you might be exhibiting. 

The typical signs and symptoms are:

  • Often feeling depressed

  • Having low energy for things you normally don’t have this issue for

  • Losing interest in things that you used to enjoy

  • Having difficulty sleeping even when you feel tired

  • Becoming agitated easily

  • Having a hard time concentrating

  • Having negative thoughts you may not typically have

How Can We Help Ourselves Feel better?

Honestly, there are quite a few things we can do to help ourselves during this time. If change truly matters it really depends on the effort brought into it. Having a healthy support system along the way can be encouraging and empowering. Who doesn’t love people cheering for them on the sidelines? 

Now, some of the things on the list to support ourselves may not be the easiest things to make a pattern of. But nobody's perfect and doing them once in a while can provide a slight change as well. In the moment, doing something good for you can feel really great. 

So, what are the things that could help, you ask? Good question- here ya go:

  • Exercise! I know it could be annoying to hear that exercise can be helpful when trying to navigate seasonal depression, but even if the doctor’s say it, then you know it’s true- right? So with that “change” that was mentioned above- a consistent pattern could be great to conquer these feelings. If you exercise once in a month, and think realistically about it, that one change won’t show any difference in an outcome you might wish to have. Parking farther than you normally do in a parking lot can be a start for your journey. 

  • What’s one thing we love so much about spring and summer? Anyone have an idea? The big, yellow star called the sun! An increase in vitamin D has a positive relationship with our mood. We can increase our vitamin D intake by sitting near windows, taking a walk outside (just don’t forget to bundle up), eating foods with vitamin D, taking vitamin D supplements, or Light Therapy. 

  • Eating some good, healthy food. This kind of goes along with what our doctors already tell us too. But it’s true :). Including natural foods to our diets makes our bodies feel better in times when our minds have a harder time with feeling that. 

  • Having hobbies! Finding a hobby you enjoy helps with the positive flow of emotions. You can start small, no one is putting any pressure on you to figure out what you like to do. But, it could even be something small. For instance, taking some time out of your day to read five pages in a book, or watching something you like while you’re on your lunch break. 

Important Things To Remember

I once heard this amazing philosopher say the words of “In order to change what is on the outside, you must first change what is on the inside”. I’m kidding, the quote is from the movie, Inside Out. That’s beside the point though. I agree with this quote. It’s all about the mindset we want to have. In order to be willing to practice any of the ideas mentioned above, there needs to be the desire inside us to begin. 

Connecting to the famous movie, Inside Out, again- feeling sad is ok. All feelings are good experiences. But, it’s important to notice the positives around you as well. A positive could even be the smallest thing, like waking up on time or having a good conversation with someone you crossed paths with that day. 

Seasonal mood changes can be hard to navigate, but you got this :). 

Written by,

Eliana Cohn, LSW



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