depression, revisited

25 Sep

Autumn is here (officially, as of Wednesday), and with it, for some of us, its unwelcome pal–seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. For some sufferers, the spring and summer are fine and the fall and winter are plagued by depression; for others, depression is a year-round struggle that intensifies as the days shorten.

As you start thinking about preparing for the holidays and planning your Halloween costume, if you are prone to autumn and winter depression, you might want to think about preparing for that, too. Things you can do right now to improve your mood all year:

* Exercise. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: exercise is the #1 most effective antidepressant I’ve ever heard of or experienced. It works for almost everyone, almost every time. The reason it’s not the first-line treatment is that it’s hard! And when you’re depressed, it’s much harder than usual. I know, firsthand, how hard it is to get into an exercise routine and how easy it is to slip back out of it. So let this serve as your reminder to get out there and take a walk, hit the gym, do some yoga or push-ups or whatever. (I’ll even try to join you–my dissertation has taken over my exercise regime and I am ready to recommit!)

* Get your sunshine and vitamin D. Yes, I said “and”–although I’m no doctor and I’m not going to tell YOU what to do, I am taking vitamin D supplements as well as trying to get out in the sunshine every day even if I only have ten minutes. One bonus for the fair-skinned among us: as winter approaches, it’s harder to get sunburned because the angle of the light changes.

* Be vigilant about tracking your mood. Be prepared for a slide by keeping yourself aware of your own mood. It is distressingly easy not to even realize that depression is affecting you, until it’s really bad. If you keep a journal, jot down how you felt each day; if not, consider doing a daily “check-in” to ask yourself how you’re doing. No one else is going to care about you as much as you do (except maybe your spouse), so you need to keep track of your own mood status.

* Enjoy the things that are great about fall. Even though I find it difficult when the days get shorter and the sunlight gets scarce, there are some definite high points about the autumn. Crisp air, beautiful trees, Honeycrisp apples–appreciate them while they’re here!

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