by Blythe Pavlik
A few years ago I experienced my first winter with Seasonal Affective Disorder, often referred to as SAD. As November gave way to December, my mood became heavy and I was drawn to hibernate. The winter progressed and subsequently depressive feelings increased. I was withdrawn, highly emotional, and allowed negative internal dialog to deplete my sense of empowerment and wellbeing. In so many ways I was a helpless, blubbering mass of sorrow. According to Christine Louise Hohlbaum’s article, Women Suffer from SAD the Most, "75% of SAD sufferers are women!"
Humans are actually no different than flowers. Like flowers, we need light to bloom. Light supports the body in producing serotonin which is a naturally occurring hormone that regulates mood. With the increase of darkness in the winter many people undergo depression as a result of simply not getting enough light. In other words... we wilt.
There are a number of helpful ways to reduce the heaviness that can occur during darker seasons. The most important factor is exercise. It is vital to get some form of exercise daily especially when our bodies begin to shut down and hibernate. PSU offers programs for students to stay fit such as swimming and yoga. Motivation is my main obstacle to routine exercise. When I do show up for a yoga class, swimming, etc., I try to make a point to thank myself for showing up.
Along with exercise, I have found acupuncture and massage to be incredibly helpful in keeping my body happy and healthy. There are a number of local practitioners that offer treatment on a sliding scale - especially for students. It feels good and it’s good for you!
Natural supplements have also been very beneficial for me in calming depression and mood swings. I recommend seeking a naturopath’s advice prior to buying mood balancing supplements. Every person is unique and it is important to let a wise, skilled person help resolve imbalances holistically.
The foods we eat have a significant influence on how good or bad we feel. Processed foods are high in all the “bad” fats and offer low amounts of nutrition (Cruddy Fuel). I recommend unplugging your microwave and reducing consumption of fast foods. Eat more veggies! The more vibrantly colored veggies have large amounts of the good stuff our bodies need to be happy. Don't just choose "clean fuel" for your house and your car - put it in your body too!
Caffeine, as much as we love it, is very damaging to the body and can induce mood swings and overall imbalance. Try to reduce your caffeine intake and trade out your morning mug of coffee or black tea with green tea. Green tea has a small amount of caffeine to give you a slight boost and a large amount of anti-oxidants. Caffeine is like a credit card, when you ingest it you are literally borrowing serotonin from your future self. Headaches, moodiness, and the thirst for more caffeine is a sign of being depleted of the body’s normal level of serotonin. Apples and B vitamins offer natural energy boosts too! Oh... don’t forget to drink plenty of water. Hydration! Hydration! Hydration!
Full-spectrum lights have received good reviews from SAD sufferers. As well, spending time outside each day offers some level of light, which is better than no light at all. Last year I snowshoed for the first time and this year I tried cross country skiing. Playing in the snow is an awesome way to get lots of light. It also gets the blood flowing and the laughter going!
YOU ARE WHAT YOU THINK (about)! I notice that when I am critical or when I invest too much in (bad) news I feel overwhelmed and bitter. I find that welcoming joyful news and joyful ideas into mind has a miraculous effect on my mood and overall sense wellbeing. Outside of school texts, I strive to read books written by colorful authors like Sark or intuitive authors like Carolyn Myss. Also, reducing the amount of media we consume is extremely important to our wellbeing. The explicit and subliminal messaging that accompanies our favorite shows is extremely toxic. Television can be entertaining but it can also be a distraction from rejuvenating quietude and vital ventures of creativity! As a recovering television addict myself, donating my T.V. has been the only way for me to really disconnect.
You can find great resources on campus too! Through PSU’s Center for Student Health & Counseling (SHAC), students can engage in wellness practices for free. I joined the open meditation last week that SHAC offers every Tuesday from noon to 12:50pm. It felt nice to check out of the stress of school for a while and just BE. SHAC offers “wellness” resources and counseling. To learn more visit: http://www.shac.pdx.edu/wellness/.
Another place to find resources for wellbeing is by stopping by the 6th Annual Wellness Fair on February 7th from 11am to 1pm in the Food For Thought Café. For more information on the Wellness Fair check out: http://www.pdx.edu/recreation
Wellness is a vital key in the empowerment process. Women, especially, have more hormonal changes than men and must strive to soften bumpy hormonal transitions. We can learn to ‘own’ our powerful cycles and mood shifts by learning how to navigate them naturally and compassionately. Healing is a life long journey and everyone has healing to do. So even though we may feel isolated and lonely when we are sailing the turbulent seas of SAD, it is valuable to remember that we are never truly alone. At the moment we reach out for support, relief begins.
Hohlbaum, C. (2004). Women Suffer from SAD the Most. Holistic Living, http://1stholistic.com/Reading/health/A2004/health-women-suffer-from_SAD-most.htm