02 Dec 5 Ways to Battle Seasonal Depression
“Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again—my Savior and my God! Now I am deeply discouraged, but I will remember you…” – Psalm 42:5-6
The other day I posted a beautiful picture (if I do say so myself) of me and my granddaughter decorating my Christmas tree. My daughter-in-law is an artistic genius with an iPhone camera! The picture got lots of comments and likes as I kind of expected it would. That’s why we post them, right? We want other people to see our joy. I love that people could see the beauty that Liz captured in the picture, but there was something else going on in that photo only I could see.
What you didn’t see in the picture is how I had to fight to stay present in that beautiful moment.
I suffer from seasonal depression—some years are worse than others—but every year for the past twenty something years, as the days get shorter and the holidays roll around, I have experienced it to varying degrees.
Depending on the circumstances in my life it can be mild to severe. Some years, when there is little drama going on (oh, how I love those years!) it’s mild. Other times, various triggers set it off and it gets very dark and lonely.
This year has been a tough one. I was blindsided by it, having just come off of an AMAZING summer in Europe. I wasn’t anticipating it as I usually do because I was still basking in the unreal world of traveling from country to country, eating, drinking and being merry. I was so relaxed and refreshed as we travelled home. But life can turn on a dime.
After carefree days of sightseeing and unwinding, we came home to a hurricane. Literally and figuratively.
We arrived back in New York from Europe 3 days before the hurricane was scheduled to descend upon Tampa Bay. In addition to Irma, I had some other things going on in my life this Fall: my big decision to change roles here at FTGI, the closing of our FTGI Boutique, the ramping up and impending re-opening of my husband’s business, a serial killer on the loose in my son and daughter-in-law’s neighborhood, issues with people I love…just to name a few.
My body, mind and spirit know what to do under stress, they’ve been trained well over the years.
They fight. They fight hard and then…they crash.
So, a few weeks ago I ended up in the doctor’s office to go over the results of my blood tests and she led the conversation with, “So, tell me what’s going on with you?” Her tone of voice and raised eyebrows implied, “because OBVIOUSLY there is something going on with you!”
She confirmed what I already knew since I’ve been here before—my cortisol (stress hormone) level was elevated and I was in adrenal fatigue. I’m not always sure what comes first the depression or the adrenal fatigue, but they’re pals and usually show up together. I do know that the depression is way worse when my adrenals are drained.
Which brings me back to what you didn’t see in the picture—the battle.
Why am I telling you all this? Because I know how easy it is to look at other people’s pictures and assume their lives are perfect and that you’re the odd one out because you’re struggling.
Chances are if you made it this far into this article you may be having a hard time. I want you to know you’re not alone. Depression is already such a lonely state.
My hope is to share a glimmer of hope.
Please don’t misunderstand my little list below as a magic formula—there’s none. It’s mostly a “one day at a time” thing but we all have ways we cope and I just thought I’d share a few of mine. That’s the essence of #bettertogether, isn’t it?
- Practice self-care.
Taking care of yourself is NOT selfish. It is the opposite. I know my husband is way better off if I’ve taken some time to do things which are good for my soul rather than continuing to push until I’m good for nothing.
As a wife, mom, and grandmother I tend to want to take care of everyone around me first. But, I’m learning to do some things just for me and not allow myself to feel guilty about it. Tune into what feeds your soul and refreshes your body and do those things. For me, it can be some alone time reading something uplifting or listening to music or going to a yoga class. Getting up and out is helpful some days and other days I know I need to stay in and lay low. I’m learning to listen to what my body and mind need from day-to-day and not apologize for it.
Also, pay attention to what is NOT good for you. Maybe being in crowds is not beneficial for you at the moment. Be careful of what you watch and listen to. Avoid things that suck your energy or trigger you. Reserve your energy for the things that bring you joy and let the light in.
- Find joy and fight to be present in each moment.
I was really struggling with the darkness the day we picked out our tree and set it up to decorate. If you’ve had the unpleasant experience of clinical depression you will know it hovers like a dark cloud threatening to envelope you and makes you want to hide. But there in front of me were two beautiful reasons for me to fight for joy: my daughter and granddaughter. My granddaughter was chatting away, commenting on every ornament she placed with such innocent wonder it made me smile. Immediately, I recognized JOY.
It takes effort but when you see joy you must be very intentional about recognizing it and allowing it in. I actually visualize putting the darkness behind me or to the side and I fight to focus intently on the joy in front of me. It could be something as simple as recognizing a beautiful flower or sunset or the way your husband whistles while he washes the dishes. (I know! I have a husband who washes the dishes, what do I have to be depressed about, right?)
The point is—try to seek out the good and focus on it. It seems ridiculously elementary but I find the darkness wants to take over everything and make you overlook goodness. It tries to make you feel like you can’t access joy but I promise you—you can. It helps to recognize beauty and goodness to remind yourself it’s not all dark.
What I am not saying is that depression is a mind over matter thing. I’m one of the most glass- half-full people, but in the throes of depression, I cannot will it away and I exhaust myself when I try. I can steal moments of joy and zone in on them allowing them to pierce the darkness.
- Seek help.
Depending on the seriousness of your depression you may need professional help. You may need to see a doctor for medication or a counselor or both. Or, you may just need to phone a friend. I recently called my sister and chatted for about an hour and felt a thousand times better afterward simply from talking to someone who genuinely loves me and prays for me.
- Be gentle with yourself.
Even as I started typing this blog these thoughts ran through my mind…do you really need to put this out there? Can’t you pick something happy to write about? It’s Christmas-time for goodness sake? Just fake it if you have to…
We can be so hard on ourselves, can’t we? If you battle depression there is probably more to it than just chemistry, although I know that plays a big part. For me, it stems from repressed trauma, so I’m learning to be kinder to myself rather than angry at myself for not being strong enough to fend it off. Be as kind to yourself as you would be to someone else who was suffering. You’ve already been through enough.
- Pray and read Scripture—particularly the Psalms.
“The Lord is a shelter for the oppressed,
a refuge in times of trouble.
Those who know your name trust in you,
for you, O Lord, do not abandon those who search for you.”
Just a few weeks ago, at 2 AM when I couldn’t sleep, I read through 7 chapters of the Psalms very slowly to let each word seep into my spirit. I didn’t even say much in prayer, but just checked-in to let God know I was there and I needed Him. And He delivered. The peace that came from reading words of truth was soothing. Don’t worry about having the right words. Don’t worry about being honest about how you feel. He has big shoulders. He can take it.
I am well aware of the stigma attached to depression which is what compels me to share my story. Quite honestly, for my pride’s sake, I would rather not. I would rather just get through to the other side with as few people knowing as I can, but the stigma will never go away if we don’t share our stories. There may be people that see me differently because of it, but I’ve learned to be ok with that. Inevitably, I will get at least one message from someone who is hurting and it will be worth it to me.
Please reach out in a comment or private message—I would love to add you to my prayers—which is another good point—praying for someone else helps too!
I pray the peace of God would rest on you throughout this season and the Hope of the World would comfort and guide you.