** Disclaimer: Though some of these suggestions are backed by research, I offer this post more as an informal glimpse into techniques I have seen work in therapy. Feel free to do more research on these topics should you wish to learn more about their benefits. Also, we are not endorsed by any of the companies or products in this article. They are listed purely for your ease of access.**
It's that time of year again in the Southeastern United States... when rain and cold become the norm. Unfortunately this means that many of us start feeling sluggish, unmotivated, irritable, and depressed. Que Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). No doubt many of you have heard of SAD and if you haven’t, read more about it here: SAD. We may also see an increase in the symptom severity associated with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). Click HERE to learn more about MDD. Along with these two very real and rather debilitating disorders, I have also noticed a more mild form of depression reveal itself in those who don’t necessarily meet the full criteria for SAD or MDD. Click HERE to learn more about general symptoms of depression. In fact, as a result of weather changes, you may be experiencing symptoms of depression for the first time in your life. I say these things so that if you feel affected by the season/weather right now - you know you’re not alone. Fortunately, there is hope. There are a few things that you or a loved one can do to contend with the intense symptoms of SAD and MDD, or the low hum of weather related depression. There is no ONE cure for depression, but the implementation of a few small steps may make a noticable difference. Many of the suggestions below can also be adjusted for families, as I know how difficult these steps may be to incorporate while you also hold the responsibilities of little ones.
Tip: These are not in order of importance so make sure to read all!
Show Me the Light!
Light Therapy or Phototherapy is no stranger to those living in the darker confines of the Northern Hemisphere, but I have noticed that less people are familiar with this type of therapy in the Southeastern United States. Light Therapy involves exposing yourself to a special type of light for a brief period at planned intervals during the day. These lights are available on amazon ranging in price and size, and I have found that Amazon runs sales this time of year on these types of lights. You can plan on spending between $30 to $70 on these, but their effects and the simplicity of the intervention are well worth it. They also have portable options for your convenience.
Check them out here: Amazon Therapy Lights
Music, Shows, and Movies
Never underestimate the power music holds on your mood. Many clients have success by putting tother a playlist of their favorite songs, particularly those they find uplifting. These are played on commutes or possibly in the evening routines. It seems that music which is particularly “beautiful” or “fun” has an impact, though I know that beauty in music is rather subjective. Along side of this - try and catch a local symphony performance. Many of these works were written by those who struggled/struggle with mood issues, and one can find comfort in relatable melodies. The same principle applies to movies in the genres of comedies and/or redemptive plotlines. This allows you to get out of the house, experience something different, and be around other people - again, without strong verbal or social commitments.
In the past few years Yoga and Meditation have been on the rise in the SouthEast as acceptable forms of managing anxiety and depression. There are several studios in the SouthEast of Tennessee that offer very affordable Yoga/Meditation sessions and you may be able to find a studio near you that offers affordable Yoga. As an added bonus, you will get to be in a social setting without expectations of verbal interaction. Great news, if you don’t have access to a studio for proximity or financial reasons - Amazon Video, Netfilx, Hulu, Youtube, or Roku offer a ton of different instructionals. With these you can practice from the comfort of your home. Also, check with your local gym to see if a membership includes access to yoga and meditation classes.
Check out these Yoga and Meditation Apps:
Check out these local Yoga studios:
Cleveland TN: Studio 22
Chattanooga TN: Peace. Strength. Yoga.
Art and Creativity
More creative and artistic people may find that engaging their creative side can positively change their moods. Though it may be the last thing you feel like doing - clearing the calendar for even a moment of creative engagement may be useful. Expression of depression is a difficult thing to do - but I have seen in practice that expressing your frustrations through art and creativity can provide some incredible insights into other factors which may be dragging you down. I myself am one of these creatives and acting on an art medium provides much needed inspiration, relaxation, and a “mind” break. So use whatever may inspire you and produce a painting, poem, drawing, or wood/metal creation of some sort. You can also use organization as a way of creating (which will be convenient).
Let’s Get Spiritual
Depression often drives us to a place of “questioning” with regards to grounding principles of faith or spirituality. Some advice - stick with it and try not to second guess your beliefs while you are in the depressed state. Feel free to evaluate those beliefs when you feel the depressive fog has lifted, but being depressed and evaluating spiritual beliefs typically proves to be a bad mix. In the support group world it has long been known that staying plugged in with a “higher power” can give a greater sense of hope and allow us to focus on things that we can control… rather than grounding ourselves out in utter worry about things we can not control. The community found in a local church, small group, meditation group, or religious club may be exactly what you need to keep the hope going. Spiritual intervention is poignant as one of the most debilitating symptoms of depression is “hopelessness.”
Sleep and the Calendar
Two things which get massively thrown off by depression: sleep schedule and your personal calendar. You may find yourself wanting to sleep at all the wrong times of the day, then unable to fall asleep when you actually need to. There are no easy remedies for these inconsistencies but there are several sleep hygiene techniques you can use to assist in maintaining a sleep schedule. Take a look at this link by the National Sleep Institute: Sleep Hygiene. Sleep hygiene is a little known term which describes ways you can care for your sleep cycle. Buying a watch that monitors your wake sleep cycles would also be very helpful in trying to stay on track. The AppleWatch or the Garmin Vivoactive 3 are great devices for sleep tracking and physical activity.
There is also your life calendar... You may be the type of person who naturally lends themself towards maximizing the time in your day - or you may allow yourself freedom in scheduling by being more flexible with your responsibilities. At any rate, life does need to get done. When depressed, a common tendency is to abandon normal scheduling routines due to not doing them “correctly.” I encourage my clients with - “screw that inner critic voice, let’s tone down the schedule.” Don’t be scared to curb your expectations of self while you are feeling low. If you don’t, you will likely completely abandon expectations all together for fear of failing them. Permit yourself to do less and maximize the productivity in activities you have energy for - your confidence will thank you.
I Like to Move It
This is honestly one of the tougher things to do when you are feeling the weight of depression - however it seems to be effective if we can muster ourselves to get up and get moving. Think of it this way… one push up is better than no pushups. Two pushups, heck yeah. Three pushups, I got this. The approach of “whatever I can do is enough” can be very motivational - give it a try. Get your body moving and let the good chemicals swirl around in your bloodstream. Don’t formulate elaborate gym plans, rather start with small steps at home or with a friend who does light work outs. 20-30 minutes of weight training, body movement, a walk down the street, or yoga can make a big difference. TIP: don’t choose exercise methods you hate (ie running), instead choose exercises that you may be more motivated to perform.
Volunteer to Pet a Pet!
This one could really alter your state immediately. About 5 years ago I discovered that you can volunteer at an animal shelter as a helper or “petter.” Petters have two jobs: play with and pet the animals! Most shelters have a designated room where you can come in and give these lonely animals the attention they need. Being around these little creatures may lift your spirits while also getting you out of the house. As with most forms of volunteering, it is good to provide some hope to those around you - even if they are a little furry!
Kick the Booze!
There may seem like nothing better than a glass of wine or a whiskey drink to alleviate the blues before bedtime. Unfortunately… this remedy seems to backfire for most of my clients. A semi-known fact: alcohol is actually a depressant. That’s right… a DEPRESSANT. The thing that seems to be so effective in numbing the frustrations of the world is actually a depressant. This one is rather simple: if you are depressed, stay away from depressants. You WILL thank yourself in the long run. You want chemical soldiers fighting for you, not against you. If you have a long term habit with alcohol - please consult a physician before attempting to cease your consumption.
Here is a helpful little article on the matter: Drinking and Depression
Map it Out and Set a Goal
Mapping out depressive cycles is one of the more interesting interventions I encourage people to undertake. If you know what time of year is going to be a nightmare for you, set a goal (or a couple) that will help keep your head above water. Training for a 5K, half marathon, or full marathon are goals I have seen become popular recently. This keeps you moving and gives you something to fix your eyes on. I have seen people set reading goals (or Audible goals), travel goals, and relationship goals that keep them motivated throughout this time of year. Mapping out your most difficult times of the year is difficult because it involves acceptance that there is a problem. It also requires looking back over previous years for added insight. However… accepting that there’s a problem is the first step to doing something about it.
About 3 years ago I was introduced to the world of podcasts. One of our counselors, Andrew Cudd, opened me up to the free world of information that only requires pressing play. There are an infinite number of options… everything from self-help to comedy, mystery to narratives, and even poetry. You can obtain knowledge, humor, company, and many more experiences in the comfort and ease of your commute to and from work. There are a myriad of wonderful children's podcasts as well - which may make dropping the kids off in the rain a little less depressing for all parties. Simply open or download a podcast app on your phone and search what you may be in the mood for. I still can’t believe this type of entertainment is available at no cost. I would also recommend our podcast Traverse Counseling Services, which is just getting off the ground. Please be on the lookout for new episodes!
For Iphone: Podcast App
For Android: Podcast App
Break out the Journal
Journaling seems to be one of the most helpful tasks in dealing with depression. It is simple, cheap, and involves introspective thinking - while also allowing you to be an objective evaluator of your thoughts. I encourage people to try “free association” journaling, particularly if you are not accustomed to journaling at all. This simply means - get comfortable and start writing down the first thing that comes to your mind. You can continue to expound on your thoughts and the writing will flow freely from there. I also like the “dear diary” approach: get comfortable and write about the difficulties of your life as if you are talking to a good friend or family member. You can also write to God or whatever your “higher power” may be. Also consider the “life inventory,” which is a little more intense. This involves going over various instances in your life that may still be weighing on you in a stressful way. This last one is very helpful for material in counseling sessions. In any case, try some writing!
I personally like this one a lot. If you know you struggle at this time of year, plan a trip or vacation right in the middle of the season. If the weather is getting you down, then get the heck out of town! If you are concerned about cost, I would encourage you to consider staying with family or friends. This doesn’t have to be anything extravagant and it may be the perfect opportunity to go visit Great Aunt Tammy at her retirement community in Florida :) The freedom and excitement of breaking away to somewhere warm (or just sunny) may be exactly what you need to pull you out of the pit.
Get Out of Your Shell
I know… the blanket, warm dog, comfy couch, and Netflix are calling your name. Though you may be sucked in by the temporary relief this scene provides...I encourage you to resist it. Make a goal to get out with friends at least one time a week. Social interaction is a good thing when your depressed. “I won’t be 100% social butterfly” = one of the main reasons most people dealing with depression choose to stay in. Depression is noticeable… and when you are depressed, you don’t want people to notice. Think of it this way … being 50% socially present with a friend is better than letting depression run your decision making. Also, don’t be scared to let your friends know that you are feeling down. Most people can relate to depression and you may find an unexpected encouraging word.
Vitamins are commonly overlooked as a means for assisting with physical or mental health concerns. There are various studies that show the effectiveness of using vitamins to positively impact overall health (including mental health). Check in with your doctor or local health food store to talk about some vitamin options that maybe good for you. Stores like WholeFoods or EarthFare have associates that are very knowledgeable in these subjects. Give it a try!
A Stint of Counseling
If you are resistant to going public with your symptoms, counseling is an excellent tool to deal with depression. A counselor provides a safe and welcoming environment for you to process your frustrations and helplessness. Often times, counselors are able to reground you in a larger scope of reality and provide a space to talk about coping skills. It may also be a good time to get “some things of your chest” that have been sitting there for too long. A good counselor will also be a solid starting place in finding out if you need to seek medication service. Our counseling practice is a great pace to get started in the Cleveland TN or Chattanooga TN area: www.traversecounselingservices.com
Museums and Aquariums
These settings can be effective at regulating both depression and anxiety. The world of animals and art can hold a connection which calms and relaxes while also creating excitement and curiosity. I have been to the aquarium many times… after watching the tanks and having lively conversations with my kids - I walk out feeling like I am stepping into a different world. This one could very well prove worth your time, effort, and money.
Try not to Make Major Life Decisions
This is not necessarily something to help you deal with depression, but it may alleviate any sort shame you feel once your depression has lifted. The cloud of depression does not lend itself toward clear thinking, and helplessness/hopelessness are not the best advisors in making big decisions. Try your best to put off these big choices until the depression has lifted. If the decisions are pressing, consider involving a “personal board” of friends, counselors, pastors, or family that can help in the decision making process.
This is Just a Chapter
This is a very effective mantra for depression. There are only a couple forms of depression that are not cyclical or seasonal in nature. In other words, it is common to come out of the pit. Stay strong friends. Stick it out. Life is worth it - and so are you.
Watch Your Food!
I am not a dietician so I tread lightly on this subject. I will say this: diet does matter when you are experiencing depressive symptoms. So often we turn to comfort foods when we feel depressed, but it is these very comfort foods that can drive us further into the ground. Connect with your doctor to see what may be a healthy diet for keeping pep in your step. Dr. Amen’s clinics have very helpful information in regards to these topics: Amen Clinics .
I hope you have found this post helpful! If you have any questions about the article or about our services - shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call at 423.310.8206.