This week we find ourselves completely in the throes of a Texas winter. You likely know it well… 65 degrees with sun, then 30 degrees and cloudy, then up to 45 degrees with sun, then down to 40 with rain and then… we get stuck there … for days. For some of us the Texas-style winter is good humor for conversation, but for others of us, it is a more serious concern.
Depression symptoms that are consistently brought on by changes in weather are a type of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. It most typical occurs in Fall and Winter, but can also occur when the season (aka weather) changes to summer. Researchers believe that in the Fall and Winter, shorter days with less sunlight can cause chemical changes in the brain that bring on depressive symptoms. The mental health community used to think SAD was more common in women, but Dr. Andrew Angelino, Director of Psychiatry at Howard County General Hospital (Johns Hopkins Medicine) more recently noted that it effects men and women equally and the symptoms are a bit different. Men tend to display more irritability and anger, while women may show more fatigue, weight gain and hopelessness.
If you feel like your recurring depressive symptoms are severe it is important to see a healthcare provider as soon as you can. For less severe cases, there are some things you can do to reduce full-on SAD symptoms. Above all, be patient with yourself. It is difficult to just ‘snap out of it’. You may also feel like you have heard some of these things before. Know there is a reason for that…they work. You will need to take some specific actions, perhaps many in the same day but they can move you in the right direction, away from SAD symptoms. First the basics: Get moving and exercise, sleep, stay away from alcohol and other drugs and eat well-balanced meals. Get outside into the sunlight at least 20 minutes in the morning. Plan some go-to activities that you can do whenever you feel the symptoms starting. Develop a hobby, visit a friend, walk your dog, watch an uplifting movie, take a book to a coffee shop, keep a list of one-hour projects you want to complete. Sometimes even a small, short activity that taps into your natural senses can shift your mood for the better. Make a cup of tea, light a scented candle, brush your dog, walk to the mailbox, put on some music. It is worth repeating that if you, or someone you care about, experiences severe depressive symptoms, visit a healthcare professional soon then consider these things that can be done along with other therapies.
Bill Mory is a Texoma-based licensed therapist in private practice. He integrates mindfulness training in working counseling clients and is a strong community-building advocate and a provider of workplace training on a variety of topics. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.