A mental health worker says we are entering the time of year when a lot more people start showing signs of depression.
Cheryl Dyck is Mental Health Clinician with the Mental Health and Addictions Program of Southern Health-Sante Sud. She says Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a type of depression that is connected to the changing seasons.
According to Dyck, SAD impacts about 15 per cent of Canadians. Most of those will report only a mild case, but two to three per cent will deal with a serious case of SAD. Dyck notes this is more likely to occur in women than men, and most often it is seen in young adults.
Dyck says there are many reasons why this time of year can trigger feelings of depression. She notes it does not help that days are getting shorter and colder. Further to that, with the anticipation of the Christmas season, Dyck says there is added pressure to everything, and an expectation that you need to be "happier and better and brighter."
Dyck says most people who suffer from SAD, begin noticing the symptoms around this time in fall, lasting until spring or summer. However, she notes, though less common, the opposite can also happen where people start experiencing feelings of depression in spring or early summer and only start to feel better in fall or winter.
Further to that, Dyck explains that shorter days and less daylight can trigger a drop in serotonin, leading to symptoms of depression. Also, she says the change in season can disrupt the balance of the body's level of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.
There are signs you can look for which can help you recognize if you might be battling SAD. Dyck says signs can include a persistent low mood and noticing a loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities. Other signs include feeling irritable and having feelings of despair, guilt or a low self-esteem. Other warning signs could be that you are frequently tearful, you feel stressed or anxious, you have a reduced sex drive and have become less sociable. Dyck says if you are less active than normal, feel lethargic and sleepy during the day and find it difficult to get out of bed in the morning, those too could be signs. Other indicators include having difficulty concentrating and having an increased appetite, especially with cravings for carbohydrates.
Dyck would also like to offer several suggestions for how to keep SAD at bay this fall. She notes standard treatment can include light therapy, speaking with a councillor or taking medications. However, she says there are so many other ways to boost your spirits.
One example she gives is to develop personal resilience. This is a combination of taking care of your emotional wellbeing, including good physical health, good relationships, a social network and even envisioning a future that includes a purpose or intention for what gives your life meaning. Dyck also encourages people to spend time with happy friends.
"It sounds ridiculous, but moods are contagious," she says. "So, surround yourself with positive people and again notice how your mood can correlate to who you are around with."
Dyck also encourages eating healthy and giving your body nutrients that provide healthy energy. She also says it is important to celebrate when things go right. Rather than focusing on what went wrong, she says you should rather pay attention to the things that go well in a day. Dyck says this can be as simple as being happy that you did not have a flat tire on your drive to work. And, she says you should end the day by noting three things that went well, no matter how small they may appear.
Other tips include being physically active, which Dyck says is a huge mood stabilizer and contributes to better health. If regular exercise is not a habit of yours, Dyck says you can start small by going for a brisk walk, just to get some fresh air. Though being outside can make a big difference, Dyck says sunshine alone, even while inside your home, can help.
"Sit in a sunny spot, open the curtains, try to get exposed to natural light as soon as possible in the morning," adds Dyck.
With this being a cloudier time of the year, Dyck encourages you to take advantage of the sunny days when we get them.
Another tip she has is to make a list of things that bring you joy. This list can include very simple ideas such as using your favourite mug, lighting a candle, listening to music, reading or knitting.
If you reach a point where you are feeling especially low and nothing seems to bring happiness, Dyck encourages you to try remembering what used to create joy and then add a little bit of that to your day.
For anyone needing assistance, Dyck says their mental health and addictions line is 1-888-310-4593, while their crisis number is 1-888-617-7715.
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