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9 Tips to Counteract Seasonal Depression

07 Oct

Hello, again.

Autumn is upon us, with markedly shorter days and sunlight becoming a whole lot scarcer. We thought it would be a good idea to revisit this piece on seasonal depression.  So here it is, with a few additions, thanks to some smart people adding their ideas.

I remember from my 33 years of clinical practice that it’s right around now that the light starts to change and seasonal depression sets in.  Starting around Halloween, therapists become overbooked, their schedules bursting at the seams with new appointments and people coming back for a “tune-up”, not feeling so hot all of a sudden.

So, this might be a good time to run some tips by you for dealing with depression.  And let me just say at the outset that I really do understand that depression, by definition, drains your energy, motivation and sense of hope and efficacy, so you’re not exactly in the mood to follow helpful tips. I get that. Try to bear with me. If you try some of this and if you keep at it, the gains can accumulate and make a difference over time.  Okay, here goes: 

  1. Seek emotional support from the relationships likely to deliver the goods. That means sharing how you feel with trusted family or friends; making yourself show up for a social activity; emailing somebody; picking up the phone; joining a support group.. you get the picture.  Structured social activity is your friend here.
  1. Get exercise – it’s a natural anti-depressant.  You won’t feel like it if you’re depressed, but go for a walk or get to the gym anyway.  
  1. And while you’re at it, get your daily dose of sunlight, too, assuming you’re not in the Land of the Midnight Sun or, um, Cleveland. (Sorry, Cleveland!  It’s actually exceptionally gorgeous and sunny here lately, with stunning foliage, so that was a cheap shot…. Must be backlogged resentment from too many gray Novembers, I guess.) If there’s little or no sun, there are light therapy lamps that can make a world of difference.  Last year, Derreck Thomasson posted his experience thusly:  “I purchased a light therapy lamp via http://www.sadlightshop.com some time ago and found that it worked quite well for my winter blues. The cool thing about the smaller rechargeable models like the goLITE Blu is that you can take them with you to your office or on a trip to minimize the symptoms of jet lag too..”
  1. Try to normalize your sleep pattern – if you’re depressed, you’re likely to be sleeping too little or too much or both.  Get to bed at a decent hour and don’t sleep in too long.
  1. Eat healthy, mood-boosting foods.  This includes complex carbs, vitamin B, chromium and foods rich in Omega 3 fatty acids (salmon, nuts, flax oil, etc). And, for heavens sake, ditch the refined sugar, people!  You’ll get a quick boost, followed by a plummeting mood, and that’s a promise. Excessive caffeine isn’t such a great idea either.
  1. Ruth S. suggested last year that Omega 3 capsules deserve to be a point on their own.  She wrote, “I am one of those SADD folks and use LOTS of Omega 3; actually all year. I love the omegabrite.com website and their product is the best I have found. It was designed by two Harvard psychiatrists. Sometimes used in conjunction with anti-depressants, it can help minimize the need for increase of the prescription. Besides, omega 3 is good for the mind (I am past 60.), helps to lower cholesterol, etc. So when I take it I get a positive from knowing I AM taking good care of myself in many ways!”
  1. Figure out what works best as uplift tools: listening to guided imagery or your favorite music; getting out in nature; journaling; a taste of dark chocolate; working with your favorite yoga DVD; playing with the dog;  taking a hot, aromatherapy bath; getting a massage; watching a goofy movie… whatever does it for you.
  1. Be intentionally kind to yourself.  Plan with your well-being in mind. Avoid stressful encounters and assignments when possible. Talk nicely and encouragingly to yourself.  Watch for when negative self-talk or impossibly high standards start harassing you from the inside and tell that part of your brain to just knock it off. 
  1. Get professional help if you can’t activate these strategies.  You may need a kick-start from some medication and/or more structured care from a pro. 

And do check out this week’s Hot Research which shows that short term Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can alleviate this condition, even more than light therapy, and that for many, results stick through the following year.

Please feel free to add to the accumulated wisdom if you have some thoughts about what works for this. 

Take care and be well!
Belleruth Naparstek

Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular Health Journeys guided imagery audio series. Her latest book on imagery and posttraumatic stress, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam Dell), won the Spirituality & Health Top 50 Books Award