Tips for Feeling S.A.D.

SAD, seasonal affective disorder, depression, fall, autumn, winter, mood

It’s Autumn already!? It feels like this happens every year!

In honor of the Autumnal Equinox (also known as the beginning of Fall), I thought it might be helpful to look at S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder).

According to the CDC, SAD affects around 4%-7% of the population. It usually kicks into high gear around this time of year and has an off and on presence until the Springtime. Seasonal affective disorder gets it’s name from being prominent during a certain season (e.g fall/winter or spring/summer).

While different in many ways from major depression, SAD is nothing to scoff at. It can have devastating effects on a person’s mood, work/school performance, and personal relationships. Just because it is “seasonal” does not mean that it should not be taken seriously.

For clarity, below is an overview of the symptoms of SAD (taken from the Mayo Clinic):
Fall and winter SAD symptoms may include:

  • Irritability
  • Tiredness or low energy
  • Problems getting along with other people
  • Hypersensitivity to rejection
  • Heavy, “leaden” feeling in the arms or legs
  • Oversleeping
  • Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
  • Weight gain

A quick note: Spring and summer SAD does exist and usually begins in mid-spring and lasts through the summer months. Some notable differences in spring/summer SAD include:

  • Trouble sleeping (insomnia)
  • Weight loss
  • Poor appetite

The good news is that there are some very practice ways to push back against SAD and limit how much it affects day to day living.

  • Get as much sunlight as possible – if sunlight is at a premium, keep reading!
  • Get as much fresh air as possible – go for a mid-afternoon walk, it will do wonders for your mood (and productivity)
  • Get the “right” amount of sleep – 7-8 hours is a good eye-ball figure for adults, teens will need a bit more
  • Make use of special lamps for light therapy (phototherapy) when sunshine is scarce
  • Stay connected with your support group (friends and family)
  • Eat well – it’s okay to splurge a little during the holidays, but an increased intake of sugar and carbs will  send your mood and sleep cycle on a roller coaster
  • Get some exercise – similar to taking a walk, but with a focus on getting your blood flowing (an added plus is the natural release of feel good chemicals after a good exercise!)
  • Counseling – a trained therapist can help you find emotional, cognitive, and behavioral coping skills and strategies to minimize the effects of SAD
  • Medications – while not right for everyone, if you have tried some of the other options and you have found no relief, do not hesitate to talked to a trained physician who has experience in treating SAD. There are some medications out there that might be helpful to you.

Here’s hoping for an enjoyable fall and winter season! Thanks for reading and be well!

*Even people who do not “have” SAD can experience the above symptoms. It’s call subsyndromal SAD. Either way, SAD can really throw a kink a person’s life and overall sense of wellbeing and it’s worth taking the steps to address it before it become overwhelming. 

Depression Top Ten

depression, coping skills, top ten

A little sunshine can work wonders!

In the wake of the news of Robin Williams taking his life and the wave of attention that depression and suicide have in turn received (both good and bad), I thought it would be helpful to address depression in a more helpful manner.

We can discuss and debate the cause and nature of depression, but I think what would be more beneficial is for us to stop and really consider how we can help those who are struggling with depression, regardless of how we think depression works or if it is a disease or not.

So, without further adieu – I present my Top Ten ways to support someone with depression.

1. Get informed. NAMI and NIMH are both great places to start. In today’s age of information access, ignorance is no excuse.

2. Be kind. Just treat someone who struggles with depression like a human being.

3. Don’t assume, ask. Don’t make assumptions about their internal or cognitive state, just ask.

4. Be willing to take action or to give space. Sometimes someone struggling with depression needs a friend to push them to get out or to watch a movie with or help them get to the doctor. Other times, they just need someone to assure them that they are there and will be there when they are ready to engage.

5. Stay away from cliché remarks (or be honest about them). I’ll be honest, I’m the worst at this one. So I just admit it and move on. Honesty, once again, is the best policy.

6. If you don’t know what to say, say nothing (or that you simply don’t know what to say). This could easily be 5b. If we are at a loss for words, silence is often the best option. That, or just let the person know that you do not know what to say, other than that you care about them.

7. Keep the topic off yourself or your cousin. It’s human nature to want to associate other’s experiences with something that we are familiar with. Resist the temptation. That last thing a person who is depressed needs is to hear how your second cousin once removed once felt depressed and then bought a gold fish and everything was better. Just don’t.

8. Be patient. There may be minutes (or even hours) just sitting in silence or with just a few words spoken. Depression causes a cognitive fog that can be hard to get out of, so be patient. Sometimes it may take a while for someone to respond or share their needs. Hang in there with them.

9. Encourage them to get out doors (see above picture). Being outside, even for a short walk or sitting on the porch, can help push back against the fog of depression. Even just a few moments can be helpful.

10.    Keep at it, even if rebuffed. Keep the focus on them, not you and your feelings. Once again this is a human nature thing. We have a tendency to get our feelings hurt when others do not respond to our bids of help. When someone is depressed, they may not see those bids or even have the energy or self-esteem to respond. Keep the focus on caring and support. It is not personal, it is the depression. Do not get tired of reaching out.

11.    Bonus: remember that depression isn’t logical. This adds on to number 10 as well. Someone who struggles with depression may float in and out of logical thinking. Yes, that is frustrating and makes helping them more difficult, but that’s the truth. Remember this fact and it will help you see their feelings and behaviors in a different context.

12. Extra Bonus: Know when to reach out and get others involved. If you are unsure what to do, you can always call the national help line at 1.800.273.8255. You can also check out their website here.

Any others that you would add? Just leave them in the comment below.

Thanks for reading, and be well! (And enjoy some John Denver!)

Is YouTube Considered Self-Care?

selfcare, self care, self-care

A spa day can do wonders!

I’m sitting at the computer, sucked in to video after video on YouTube, when my wife comes in and says, “Honey, you’ve been on the computer for hours.”

“Sorry,” I say, “I was just engaging in some self-care.”

YouTube as self care?

Self-care is a phrase you may have heard. While the meaning may seem straightforward, in my opinion it is often ill-defined.

Self-care is not just egocentric behavior and gluttonous consumption of items and behaviors that make us “happy”(my thoughts on happiness are coming soon, stay tuned).

Self-care is purposeful action to do what we know is good for our mind, body, and spirit. These actions may or may not be things we want to do or gain enjoyment from doing.

For example: (On a personal note), I know that I feel better, both mentally and physically, when I lay off the Twizzlers and oatmeal cream pies. Now, do I want to do this? Simple answer: no. I love Twizzlers! They’re a low-fat candy (or at least that’s what the package tells me), but the sugar and empty calories can send my mind and body into a tailspin.

I also know that I need a certain amount of sunlight per day to keep my mood up. Not something I always enjoy doing, but I know I need to.

That being said, self-care may also include things that bring us joy and contentment, such as: spending time with family, engaging in a hobby, chatting with a good friend, or playing our favorite game. These are double dippers, they are both enjoyable and provide self-care.

The overall key is that these behaviors are purposeful, we acknowledge that our body, mind, or spirit is in need of something and we take action to try to meet that need. It is focused and meaningful. Remember, self-care is great and can be a buffer against many of life’s challenges, but it is not a license to self-indulge, rather it is a plan to recharge and maintain the health of our body, mind, and spirit.

That’s my two cents! Thanks for reading, and be well!

(Below you will find an example of my self-care – watching Kawhi Leonard dunk on the Heat! Well…okay…maybe not a great example of self-care, but I couldn’t resist!) I guess it’s up to you to decide: is YouTube considered self-care?

I’m not okay, but I will be okay”


depression, anxiety, communicationThis phrase has saved me many awkward moments. As an introvert, I prefer to work through my pain on my own first, and then if necessary, reach out to others. But my countenance and attitude gives evidence to others of my internal turmoil.

By saying, “I’m not okay, but I will be okay.”, I reassure those that care about me that I am working through something difficult at the moment, but will come out on the other side.

This phrase can be used in all manner of relationships and in a variety of situations. It allows us a way out of that quandary of choosing to either lie about our internal state, or be truthful and then spend 30 minutes reassuring others that it’s nothing serious or warding off well intentioned, but often counter productive, words of advice and suggestions.

That was often my internal battle, until I ran across this phrase: “I’m not okay, but I will be okay.” It’s both honest and reassuring. It lets the other person know that, while we are suffering in the moment, the moment will pass and we will feel better.

It is effective in allowing us to give others feedback on our internal state, yet also letting them know (and reminding ourselves) that the feelings are temporary and that we will, eventually, feel better.

I wish I could take credit for the creation of the phrase itself, but I cannot. I also wish I could remember where I ran across it, but once again my memory fails me. Suffice it to say that, while it is not of my creation, I use it as though it were.

Thanks for reading, and be well!

Breathing Room


Expansion v. Depression – Round 2

ACT, expansion, depression, anxiety, mindfulnessIn a previous post, we explored how expansion can indicate an exercise in which we expand our internal experience to include the world around us, thus allowing us to get out of our emotional tunnel vision.

In this post we will explore a meaning of expansion that aligns itself with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). From this perspective, expansion means opening up and making room  for painful emotions and experiences. It allows us to stop struggling with the painful emotions/experiences and gives them some room to breath.

Essentially, we give them the room they need to simply “be”. We do not engage with them per se, nor do we allow them to overwhelm us. We give them the space they need, and nothing more. We open up to experiencing the emotion in its totality (body, mind, spirit).

This does a couple of things for us. First, it allows us to redirect the energy that was consumed by trying to control our emotions to other areas of our life that are more value focused. Second, it makes it easier for the emotions and feelings to come and go, to move about, and even dissipate.

The purpose of expansion is not, however, to eliminate negative emotions or sensations, but to allow them to “be” which then allows us to re-engage with our life and what we find important. A great question to ask during expansion is, “Can I still ___________(insert a value driven activity), while I am feeling __________ (the emotion or sensation).

Example: Can I still go to work while I am feeling depressed.

We cannot pack down our emotions, nor can  we allow them to overwhelm us. Expansion allows us to feel what we feel, but without getting overwhelmed or ignoring our painful emotions/experiences.

Thanks for reading, and be well!

What a Wonderful World


                           Expansion v. Depression – Round 1

8038136One of the most powerful tools that depression uses against us is its ability to narrow our vision and life experiences. We begin to feel that the moment we are currently experiencing is the only moment that exists. We forget all about other people, our past, our future, and the world as it continues to move on around us.

This is a very powerful tactic. It limits our experiences and quickly eliminates any sense of hope, as it disallows us future oriented thinking. It keeps us stuck in a depressive rut, incapable of seeing any good behind us or any good that is yet to be.

But it is not invincible. This tactic that depression uses has it’s own achilles heel.

That achilles heel is known as the process of expansion.

Expansion is the practice of allowing our mind to expand itself from noticing our internal experiences, to noticing and encountering the external world. It connects back to the reality of the world around us and that our suffering is not only momentary, but also a small piece in the grand scheme of the universe.

Expansion may not work for everyone (or in every situation), but it can be a powerful tool to use when we feel depression closing in around us and we begin to see life through a narrow lens.

Below is a song that really epitomizes the process of expansion. It is one of the greatest songs (in my opinion) ever written, as it takes the listener on a journey through mindful, in the moment, experiences.  It provides a great example of how we can do the same thing when we are feeling depressed. We can bring forward out attention to the outward world and begin to notice what we see, feel, smell, hear, and feel.  The song is “What a Wonderful World”  by Louis Armstrong.

Thanks for reading, and be well!

Stop It!


Dodepression, anxiety, purpose driven life you ever get annoyed at stop signs? I do. And often. They become especially irritating when they present themselves on every corner of a vacant street. Stopping at each one becomes a Herculean task. 

I stop nonetheless. Well, mostly. 

But my “slow rolling” is besides the point. The point is that while stopping can be an annoyance, it is also essential. And as goes the roads, so goes life. 

In life, sometimes what matters the most is not what we begin, but what we put and end to. Our progress often hinges not on our speed, but on our ability to stop and release ourselves of excess baggage. It’s the baggage the weighs us down, it’s the set of behaviors or beliefs that keep up stuck and reliving a piece of our life that we would like to move on from. 

Below I have complied a quick list of things that we might consider stopping from having a place in our lives. 

1. Stop harboring hatred. 
2. Stop engaging in self-sabotage 
3. Stop looking for completeness from others. 
4. Stop defining ourselves and our relationships by past mistakes. 
5. Stop ruminating on past injuries. 
6. Stop worry about future events that we cannot control. 
7. Stop judging ourselves by our mood states. 
8. Stop chasing momentary happiness.*
9. Stop listening to the voices that tell us we can’t. 
10. Stop giving up on our dreams. 

I could expound on each of these, but for the sake of brevity, I will resist the temptation. And in conclusion, I have a video to share from the great Bob Newhart! Enjoy!

Thanks for reading, and be well!

*I have nothing against happiness (in fact, I love to be happy!), but I believe living a purposeful life is a much greater reward than chasing that elusive and slippery state we call happiness.