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Episode 19 - Winter Blues/Seasonal Affective Disorder

Have you or someone you know dealt with winter blues/seasonal affective disorder (SAD)? In this episode, you'll learn more about this mental health issue and practical ways to combat it during these cold winter months!


Vitamin D supplement:

National Suicide Prevention Lifelife: 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)

Crisis Textline: text CONNECT to 741741



Hi, everyone, and welcome to Episode 19 of Grace in Progress. My name is Briana Leach. I'm a wife, a mom of three and a licensed counselor, and I'm a big fan of date nights with my husband and freshly baked cookies...and I firmly believe that if you woke up this morning, then you have a purpose. If you're new to this podcast, the goal here is to create a safe space for you to learn more about yourself, ask some introspective questions and hopefully walk away with some tips to apply to your week ahead or to your season of life - all the while giving yourself lots of grace along the way.

For today's episode, we are going to dive into the topic of "winter blues" or what's technically known as seasonal affective disorder. This is something that, for those of you listening in warmer climates where it doesn't really get cold, (I would say if it doesn't dip below 40 degrees where you're at, you do not qualify - I'm kidding), but if you haven't dealt with this before, that's okay. There's still quite a bit for you to learn by listening to this so that you can empathize with those who have or maybe spot it in someone's life that isn't aware. This was another topic, like last week's episode, that came in through Instagram. So it's something that I think maybe several of us are dealing with on a regular basis.

I know this winter I have very strongly dealt with Seasonal affective disorder. It's acronym is SAD, and that's a good way to sum it up. It's something that the APA, the American Psychological Association, they don't have exact research on what causes it, but they suggest that it's due to reduced exposure to sunlight and that that can trigger chemical imbalances. It is categorized under a type of depression, and it is surprisingly, very common. There are over three million cases in the U.S. per year, and those just the ones that are reported. The Mayo Clinic defines seasonal affective disorder as a type of depression that's related to changes in season. Clearly, that's the name, but it begins and ends at about the same time every year, and a lot of the symptoms start in the fall and in the spring, continuing all throughout the winter. It saps your energy. You may feel depressed most of the day, nearly every day. You've lost interest in activities that you once enjoyed. You may have trouble sleeping, feeling sluggish or agitated on a much deeper level. You might have feelings of hopelessness or maybe thoughts of death or suicide. And in those cases, immediately seeing a counselor or talking to your doctor would be the best and most effective treatment.

For today, I'm gonna talk more about maybe the undiagnosed or self-diagnosed winter blues/seasonal affective disorder. And like I said earlier, I have dealt with this very much this winter. It started back at the time change. And first of all, for those of you who think, "Oh wow, she's counselor and she's dealing with this?" Yes, even mental health professionals deal with mental health issues, just like doctors, nurses, physical health professionals get colds or they break their arms. Behind the professions. We're all human. So back in November, when we rolled our clocks back and the days started getting shorter, I could literally feel it in my chest every evening as the sun went down it. It's hard to describe, and those of you who have experienced it I'd love to hear from you and see if this resonates with you. But I can only equate it back to when I had postpartum depression with my second child and I would anticipate (in a bad way), the sun going down. And this was just a few months ago. We're talking two months ago, in November, I started seeing this and feeling this on a regular basis, so I knew something was off. I knew I needed to make a change. And through my own research and knowledge as a caregiver, I knew I needed to take action before things got worse.

The good news about seasonal affective disorder or winter blues is that typically it's gonna go away once the weather warms up and you're in the sunshine more. So you know it won't be something that's chronic, but when you're in the middle of it, it's really hard to see that far ahead. So for today I want to give you some tips that have worked for me, what I've seen work for clients, and maybe things that you can apply to your life or share with others who are dealing with this, and we can all combat this very common disorder. Even the word disorder - things are out of order. You don't feel like yourself. That's typically one of the very first symptoms that you know. This might be impacting you, impacting your daily life, impacting your mental health. But hope is not lost. We can take action.

Okay, so I have seven tips for dealing with winter blues or seasonal affective disorder. So the 1st one is self-care...I have multiple episodes about self care, one particular two part series of "Re-thinking self-care" if you go back. But this is just listening to yourself and taking care of yourself - mind, body, spirit. So for your mind, when you're in this mode of feeling a form of depression, feeling unmotivated, if you can set in your mind small, daily or even hourly goals and accomplish them, then that will give you a little bit of stamina and persistence and momentum to build on. But small, incremental goals, not anything huge. This is not the time to declutter your entire house, especially after the holidays, but small goals that you can reach to be able to build yourself up.

For your body. This would be eating regularly, sleeping enough each night and exercising regularly. And then for your spirit, this would be continuing to read the Bible, pray, have your moments, whether it be at the beginning of the day, middle of the day, or end of the day. Having some sort of routine to keep your spirit fed and trusting that God's gonna carry you through this season. So that's number one - self-care for your mind, body, and spirit. That kind of goes with any situation that you're dealing with and should be practicing on a regular basis, but especially when you're dealing with this disorder.

Number two - vitamin D. I know it goes without saying, because we're losing sunlight in the winter, but any way you can get vitamin D will help! It's going to boost your immune system (which we know is directly related to your mental health), it's going to boost your overall well being. Vitamin D can come through just stepping out on your porch, even if it's freezing cold. Wrapping yourself up, getting your face or some exposed skin in the sun for at least 10 minutes, ideally 20 to 30 minutes, depending on your skin tone. But midday sun is best, and you can't have sunscreen on during this time. I know that sounds like faux pas but freshly washed face or your hands or your neck, something exposed so you can absorb the vitamin D. It won't work if you have sunscreen on, but you need a few minutes outside.

If that's not possible, or if you don't want to do that, take a supplement. I have a supplement that I love. I take every afternoon between about two and three PM so that I know that it's kicked in before sundown. And as silly as that sounds, it has really dramatically helped me this winter. I started about two weeks after I noticed symptoms. It was not soon enough, but once it kicked in, I was so much happier with how I felt, knowing that I could contribute towards my well being. I take a vitamin D supplement and also a B complex, which I love for a variety reasons.

And then, if those first two ways aren't working, getting outside and taking a vitamin D supplement, there are also natural sunlight imitators. They're called sun lamps or happy lamps, that help with repeat exposure in the mornings or evenings, your doctor can recommend a certain amount of time to spend in front of these lamps. They mimic sunlight, and they can really help get that same kind of results that a vitamin D supplement can do.

Okay, Number three - create a morning and a sundown ritual. So morning times could be hard, because if it's still dark when you wake up, no one wants to get out of it. Seasonal affective disorder or not, it's never fun to get out of bed when it's still dark outside. But creating something that you look forward to in the morning - maybe it's a favorite coffee. Maybe it's a certain book or a motto or a scripture that you look at every morning something small. It does not have to be big, because realistically, we're not gonna do the big changes. But it might if it's something small.

So for me, I get up, and I try to at least say the Lord's Prayer before I hear one of my kids voices. Ha! Just to get my mind and heart centered before I step into "mom mode." There's no right or wrong answer for this, just whatever works for you. I know a lot of people like to use music to help lift their spirits, whether it be in the morning or in the evening, and you could make a playlist. It works best if you can find something that fits into your day already, it does not have to be something big. It could be something small. I have a coffee mug collection that I love. So in the mornings it's fun to pick which one I want for that morning.

Then the same is true for a sundown ritual. So for me, I knew that watching that beautiful sunset literally meant I'm going into the evening. They feel like forever. "Oh my goodness, I didn't get everything done that I need to get done today," and I could feel metaphorically, the walls caving in on me. And when I created this sundown ritual of getting a hot cup of tea and reading for 5 to 10 minutes out of a book that I like, or work on a puzzle that we leave out in our living room - just having that brief pause in the transition from day to evening changed my mindset. And I've seen simple routines like this work in my client's lives, so I know it's not just me that benefits from these small changes.

Number four. Talk with your family. This may sound silly, but you would be surprised at how many of my clients just hold in whatever they're dealing with and don't even share it with the people they live under the same roof with. This could be your spouse. This could be your roommates. This could be your family. But talking with the people who are closest to you to just make them aware of this is what I'm struggling with right now. Is there any way we could share the load? Is there any way we could make plans or activities to look forward to? Talking to your family, or your spouse, or your roommates. Those are the people that need to know what you're dealing with. 9 times out of 10 they will actively offer ways that they can help or join you in those routines. Join you in that afternoon evening cup of tea, or help plan something to look forward to each day or each week - it helps to share the load.

Number five - like I said earlier, if you were at the point where you were feeling hopeless or you've had thoughts of death or suicide, please, right away, make an appointment with your doctor or a counselor so that you can talk to someone. That is not a typical reaction to seasonal affective disorder. It is turned into something much more serious, and you need to get help. I have links in the show notes, too, for the suicide prevention hotline and the text line that could help right away if you need either of those resources.

But even if it hasn't gotten to that point, it would benefit you greatly if you're dealing with the winter blues to see a counselor to talk to someone on a more regular, consistent basis more than just listening to this podcast, even though I'm happy to be your podcast counselor! But having someone who can check in on you, monitor your progress, see your growth and be able to help on a here and now basis would be so beneficial.

Number six - be proactive for next winter. It's not a guarantee that this will happen every single year. Honestly, this year kind of took me by surprise because I haven't felt this in several years. I mean, since my son was born and he just turned six. So we've had five winters in between that I didn't feel this way, and it's not always directly weather related because we've actually had a warmer winter than usual. But I will say that when it hits, it hits. So if you could be proactive and say "You know what, it might hit next year it is something that's common and no one's immune. So why not kind of have my ducks in a row for next year?" Planning ahead with maybe some fun activities sprinkled in throughout your winter or a new hobby or something to learn, and you can look forward to having some vitamin D supplements already ready. Be proactive for next winter.

And then finally, number seven - give yourself grace. I cannot emphasize this enough that as you are dealing with something that is a mental health struggle, it's so easy to think, "Oh, well, I mean, I'm above this. I can think my way out of this" or on the other end, feeling complete and utter despair, and I fully empathize with both of those feelings. And as a mental health professional, it's even more ironic because I understand the symptoms. I've had to literally write them out on my phone to kind of de-personalize it and be more objective to realize it's not just in my head. This is physically when I'm feeling, this is emotionally what I'm feeling, and being able to detach for a moment and see it on paper or on the phone, it just makes it that much more real.

And for those of you listening that are dealing with this, just know you are not alone. And there's nothing you've done wrong to cause this. Sometimes our hormones just get out of whack, or the chemicals in our brain are not always at the perfect levels that they need to be. A lot of this has to do with diet, exercise, and the weather. Four times more women than men deal with seasonal affective disorder. So clearly we're more in touch with the Earth. I mean, mother Earth, Mother nature, haha, but just know you are not alone. And if you want any more information about this, please contact me at or on social media it's @brianaleachlpc - I would love to talk with you more about this.

That's all for today. Thank you so much for listening. If you haven't already, I would love for you to please leave a review wherever you listen to podcasts, and make sure to subscribe so you don't miss an episode every Wednesday. And please share with friends, especially if you know someone dealing with winter blues or seasonal affective disorder. Share this episode whether it's publicly or through a private message. But it's nothing to be ashamed of their so many of us dealing with this and by taking care of ourselves being proactive, we can get through this. I am cheering you on. I hope you have a wonderful week.

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