Every winter, that one hour in daylight savings time would become that one hour that would be the demise of my existence.
For years, I struggled like clockwork on that missing hour with a change in my anatomy. As the weather went from cold to colder, and a lack of sun had me feeling the dip in serotonin—a brain chemical neurotransmitter—I would start to feel a mood shift in my body.
Instantaneously, I would feel an automatic disruption in my body’s internal clock, and I would have these bizarre sleep-wake cycles. My circadian rhythm was not in sync with the new time.
There was less enjoyment in my life, my work performance struggled, and my relationships would suffer, as I would find myself in a self-induced isolation.
I was isolated.
I spent most of my adulthood in Philadelphia, dreading wintertime, because I felt that my brain and my body had partnered together against my own happiness.
I had a reoccurring case of winter blues, or, a more proper label, of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, Seasonal Affective Disorder is not considered a separate disorder from depression. It is a type of depression displaying a recurring seasonal pattern.
To be diagnosed with SAD, people must meet the full criteria for major depression coinciding with specific seasons (appearing in the winter or summer months) for at least two years. Seasonal depressions must be much more frequent than any non-seasonal depressions.
Symptoms of Major Depression of the winter pattern of SAD include:
>> Having low energy
>> Weight gain
>> Craving carbohydrates
>> Social withdrawal (feel like “hibernating”)
The good news about Seasonal Affective Disorder is that there are a number of evidence-based treatments that can be quite effective in alleviating your symptoms.
Some of the effective treatments that have worked for me:
I enjoy outside time, especially walking. From April to November, I walk with an organization called Girltrek, which is the biggest National Black Women’s Health Movement in the country. Taking a walk outside, whether or not the sun is out during these darker days, is beneficial to the body, as exposing yourself to natural light will help boost the production of serotonin and your overall mood.
2. Light therapy
Last winter, I was having a difficult time getting out of bed when it was dark out. A friend suggested that I buy a light lamp, to give me a natural sunrise in the morning, and it greatly improved my mood. Light therapy reproduces natural light with light boxes, which use white fluorescent bulbs to mimic sunlight. Light therapy can be particularly helpful in regulating melatonin release, which increases when the sun goes down.
This entire year, I have gradually increased my exercise routines. I take Zumba, Spin, Step Aerobics, and Strength-Based Training classes several times a week. Research consistently shows a strong exercise-mental health connection, to help reduce depressive symptoms. Exercise is often referred to as nature’s antidepressant and can increase serotonin and endorphins, which both affect mood. Moderate exercise of at least 30 minutes most days of the week may provide the biggest mood boost.
I use certain essential oils such as lavender, rose, and peppermint oils to influence certain areas of my brain that are responsible for controlling moods and the body’s internal clock.
Psychotherapy is clinically proven to be extremely beneficial for all types of depression. People need people, and talk therapy is one of the best ways to overcome depression.
As I continue to struggle to find my happy place during the wintertime, I also understand that it’s normal to have some days when you feel down. I just make sure to take steps to keep my mood and motivation steady throughout the year.