By Sierra Aceto
This is Do You Mind?, a series where I ponder and reflect over many mindfulness practices, what they mean and how to apply them. As the self-care and self-love revolution is on the rise, I hope to make you wonder, do you mind?
As spring continues to roll in with sunny weekends and rising temperatures, and the edges of summer seem just barely out of reach, many people likely feel thankful for the release from winter’s heavy hug. For some, the shadow of winter never quite fades away, though, even as the sun shines brighter.
If in these past few months you found yourself further down that mysterious dark hole than usual, perhaps slipping from mere sadness into acute depression, you might’ve dealt with a dose of Seasonal Affective Disorder.
This form of depression is distinctly influenced by the shifts in sunlight hours when the seasons change. Although it can occur in any season, typically less sunlight — and therefore less serotonin production — means a higher likelihood of SAD.
If you were aware of SAD and the damper it can put on your winter, you may still be asking yourself why you can’t shake yourself out of the depression you’re still experiencing. Is it the lingering effects of burnout or straight-up sadness that’s just sticking around? Or rather than SAD, do you have chronic depression? More importantly, how can you tell the difference?
(Disclosure: I am in no way authorized to officially diagnose any illnesses. I am simply attempting to offer several paths for those searching for an explanation.)
Sunshine as a cast, not a cure
The equally cozy and energizing effects of sunshine can only go so far in improving your serotonin and vitamin D production. Sometimes depression can be caused by an imbalance in neurotransmitters, which inhibits the production of hormones like serotonin, the “happy” hormone.
The positive effects of the sun may not be immediate, but it could be helpful to soak in some rays. If you feel like your mood doesn’t let up from spending time in increased sunlight and warmer weather, you may want to consider consulting a mental health professional.
The warmth of comfort foods like mac ‘n’ cheese, soup, dumplings and mashed potatoes all have one thing in common: they have a high carbohydrate content. Now, by no means should you ever restrict yourself from eating these foods. However, adding in bright fruits and vegetables to your diet may help improve your mood and energy levels.
Shift your diet to align with in-season, spring vibes — think carrots, arugula, mint and strawberries. Not only would this promote getting you outside to your local farmers’ market, but it would bring some vibrant color to your plate, as well.
Meet your friend: endorphins
Winter means cold, which means staying inside wrapped up in blankets much more often than going outside. As the need for multiple layers of clothing decreases, the accessibility of moving around outside increases. It can be as simple as a walk around your building or as intense as a road trip into the mountains for a weekend of hiking.
If going outside into ~nature~ isn’t your thing, even just dancing around your room or heading to the gym once or twice a week can increase your endorphins enough to help you jump into spring.
If activities like these still seem like dreaded chores after seemingly countless tries on sunny days, spring may not be lifting your sadness or depression, and you may want to talk to someone to discuss other possible causes.
Stress, drugs and other ghosts
If you’ve been under excessive stress from school or work, your thoughts and emotions can be drastically affected and cause bouts of depression, as well as burnout.
The use of drugs and alcohol can also cause mood swings and depression. Some doctor-prescribed medications list depression as a side effect. The irresponsible or excessive recreational use of some drugs, including alcohol, can also worsen your depressive state.
Lastly, if you’ve recently experienced a trauma or loss, both are likely to strongly influence your emotions and may be a defining cause of depression. Healing from grief often takes much longer than a few months, or even years, so a change in seasons may not be able to bandage the pain you’re experiencing.
Differentiating between sadness, stress, SAD and major depression can be a confusing and difficult process. As much as I wish sun, warmth and a smile could cure anything, they can’t. Don’t be afraid to speak up about what you’re feeling, even if it might just be today. Your friends and family care about you and want to be there for you — seriously.
If you’re feeling hopeless or concerned about depression, SAD or any other mental health matter, please reach out and talk to someone, whether it be a family member, friend or health professional. There is someone out there who cares.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
Behavioral Medicine at BU Student Health Services offers confidential counseling for mental health and is available 24/7 for emergencies. You are not alone. Behavioral Medicine is here for you. Call 617-353-3569 to make an appointment.