5 Practices That Have Helped Me Get Through Seasonal Depression
After being diagnosed with major depressive disorder with a seasonal pattern, my therapist suggested scheduling an appointment with a psychiatrist to explore the possibility of going on medication. I reflected on the struggles of everyone I knew personally who had taken medication for depression and decided to try every possible treatment before embarking on the long and sometimes very difficult journey that is finding the correct antidepressant.
For the first time in over a decade I was able to find relief in my depression that was actually sustainable and had the least amount of side effects. In fact it worked so well, that it was considered a successful depression treatment by my psychiatrist, who recommended I didn’t start taking medication just yet.
Because my depression happens in a seasonal pattern, I have very severe and sometimes debilitating depression symptoms for about six months at a time, mostly during the winter months. One of the major symptoms is the lack of ability to focus, which led me to come up with a simple way to remember my daily treatment: looking at one hand and counting on my fingers the five things I have to do each day.
1. Light therapy.
Scientists believe that bright light triggers the production of serotonin in the brain thus helping in the treatment of depression. A “sun lamp” or “light box” is a lamp that mimics sunlight and is used specifically for such treatment. The day I started using my light box as directed, I started seeing significant results. For the first time in many years I did not feel the need to lie down or sleep in the middle of the day, during depression months. I couldn’t believe what a big difference that made. Light therapy is not for everybody as it may cause euphoria and worsen conditions such as insomnia. So if you think you may benefit from light therapy, talk to your doctor before starting.
2. Vitamin D.
Something that can also contribute to depression is vitamin D deficiency. Since we get vitamin D from exposure to the sun, a lot of people in the Northern Hemisphere have vitamin D deficiency. During the winter months, I was directed by my doctor to double my daily vitamin D dosage.
It is a known fact that physical exercise produces endorphins which trigger positive feelings in the body. During non-depressive months, I tend to be very active and work out on a daily basis, but on those days when it’s hard to get out of bed for even the simplest tasks, maintaining a workout routine can feel impossible. My therapist recommended I try working out at least four to five times a week even when depression hits hard. So I had to find a form of exercise that I enjoyed and that didn’t feel like a chore. I’ve always enjoyed doing yoga and in the last year I’ve taken up aerial yoga, which is practiced with the assistance of a swing. It’s fairly challenging which makes it that much more fun! On days when my depression is particularly difficult I try to do even just a short session of traditional yoga which helps me stay focused and even break a sweat, so it counts as a good form of exercise. I recommend that you find an exercise that you enjoy, so it feels less like a chore. You don’t have to go to the gym every day if you don’t like it. Any form of exercise like dancing, swimming or walking can make a difference. Always consult your doctor to make sure you are healthy enough to exercise.
I researched the benefits of mindfulness and meditation for a long time, and to be honest I never thought I’d be able to learn to meditate because it always sounded like something that was so complicated and required so much focus. Turns out meditation is a lot more simple than many of us think. It can be as simple as stopping for a few short minutes and just focusing on your breathing in order to help clear your mind. I started by downloading a free guided meditation app. There’s many to choose from and I recommend that you start with that if you’ve never meditated. Just comfortably sitting in silence and focusing on your breath for five minutes each day can help you relax and deal with what ever problems come your way a lot more easily.
5. Gratitude practice.
This sounds cheesy, but it can really change your life. It’s so easy to forget there are a lot of good things in our lives, especially while going through depression. A depressed mind highlights all that isn’t going well, and it can make you believe there’s nothing to be grateful for. That’s a lie. Focusing on even the simplest things that are good in life can help you change your whole perspective. No mater how bad my depression gets, I try to take just a few minutes every day to remind myself that I have a lot of good things around me.
For example, my health, the fact that I have clean water to drink, I have a roof over my head, I have loving friends and family members, etc. I started my daily gratitude practice by writing down one thing for which I was grateful. The next day, I wrote down two things, and so forth. You can do that for however long you want, and then start over.
Now I have a gratitude journal and each day I write one or two pages of what I’m grateful for that day. I recommend that everyone develops a gratitude routine. If you’re going through a particularly hard time with depression or another mental illness, it’s perfectly OK to write down things like, “I’m grateful I was able to get out of bed today,” or, “I’m grateful I have a home to live in.” It’s important to remind yourself that even though you may not feel great right now, there are still a lot of good things in your life. And if depression tells you otherwise, don’t believe its lies.
These five habits helped me get through really rough times this past year, and I realized they help me live a happier life even when I’m not depressed. I encourage you to find whatever will help you live a better life, whatever that means to you.
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Thinkstock photo via Marjan_Apostolovic