I want to take some time to talk about the change of season and what we can expect, how to potentially help ourselves, what is it exactly that is going on.
In the more Northernly hemisphere where we live here in Canada, November is a tough month for many of us. The shorter daylight, the colder temperatures, the oncoming holiday season, the long road before Spring that follows… can make it tough for some of us to feel good. In yoga class some years ago, we always talked about November as the time for turning inward, for slowing down. It is of course the time of the great hibernation for some animals. It’s dark. It’s cold. It’s easy to feel lousy.
On the science end of things, its important to note that Seasonal Affective Disorder and Depression, serious mental health issues, are in fact the same thing – it’s just the context of when they happen that’s different. Seasonal Affective Disorder is defined as beginning in late October to November, to coincide with the diminishing light. Interestingly, the lowering of available light, causes the production of Serotonin to slow. This can powerfully affect mood stability. The change in light also messes with our Circadian rhythm thereby affecting our production of Melatonin – thus affecting our sleep cycles. It’s important to note that not everyone does get affected. Depression on the other hand, demonstrates the same symptoms, they just don’t only show up with the change in light and temperature. So the symptoms for both: loss of interest in formally pleasurable activities, persistent sadness, hyper somnolence (over sleeping), changes in appetite (tends to be a craving for more carbs). At its worst, thoughts of suicide can accompany these symptoms. SAD and Depression are not funny, they are not to be taken lightly, they require attention by either a psychologist or doctor or therapist. We need to distinguish between the above mentioned challenges and a regular funk, lousy mood, agitation over the temperature and so on.
Many of us suffer to a less overwhelming degree.
I don’t mind sharing that I too am affected by the change in light. I struggle to not feel overwhelmed with the weight of it. That’s the best way I can describe it. That there is this weight lurking near me, behind me, this heavy blanket that makes me just want to lie down and sleep. It certainly doesn’t feel happy making or cheerful. It feels like a struggle. It feels to me that if I stop moving, I would feel even sadder. I feel too that I have an exaggerated response to things. If my husband upsets me about something – well he really upsets me. If a friend can’t show up for me, I feel abandoned, rather than taking into consideration that friends too have busy lives. Everything is viewed through this “blanket” that is distorting my experience of things.
So what do I do? Well for one, I am so grateful for my work – I am not in my sad bubble when I need to be present for yours. For some reason this works for me. I don’t feel sad at work. I don’t feel distracted, irritated, I don’t feel the blanket at work.
Second, I keep moving. I exercise. For November, that’s been every day. I get outside as much as I can. Opt to walk to work rather than drive if only to take advantage of the light. I try to go to bed at the same time. I try to eat well. But I always exercise.
And you know what, the weight of that blanket can still be there. And so I talk to myself. I tell myself this isn’t going to last forever. This will pass. This state I’m in is temporary. I accept that I have this blanket with me. I don’t fight it. I am working at embracing it – and maybe that means sitting alone with it a bit. Over the course and arc of a lifetime there will be days I don’t feel so good or happy. Just like there will be nights I don’t sleep so well.
And I believe this is the difference between the depression/SAD and a “funk”, period of feeling blue, adjusting to the change in light – however it is you want to qualify it. That in my funk, I CAN see the light at the end of the tunnel, I CAN understand there is an end to this period, that I can feel better in between, that there are moments I am able to rise above it rather than sink further down. I would say that is the defining difference between how I feel and the clinical diagnosis of depression or SAD.
I can tell you that if I felt any worse than I do, I would seek out professional help and see what was available to me. There is a lot of literature on the use of light therapy being helpful, on CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) being useful, seeing a therapist, and sometimes, when necessary, using medication. I have seen all be of great help to individuals.
The most important thing we can do is not to suffer alone. Whether blue about the time of year, or suffering from depression or SAD, reach out. Reach out and connect with someone, bring yourself to the light.