a preventative approach to seasonal depression

Last weekend, a friend and I went to the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens for Chase Away the Winter Blues, a guided walk focused on appreciating the outdoors during the colder months when many of us tend to become seasonally depressed. This walk was the first in a series that will take place monthly from now until March. I was all about this lovely little walk, even though my own depression doesn’t seem to be too affected by winter. It was delightful to get outside and learn a little bit about the plants surrounding us. (I’m pretty sure I hadn’t learned this much about flora since high school Biology. And that was a long time ago.)

Our guide, Lynne Spevack, had plenty of interesting information to share, both on the garden and seasonal depression. She gave us a handout that had a comprehensive list of tactics to combat the winter blues. The tip that made the greatest impact on me was the suggestion that we should do whatever we can to prevent the winter blues — it’s far easier to prevent depression than it is to untangle yourself once it’s already descended.

So with that in mind, what can we do to be proactive this winter and thwart the blues before they start? Well, actually, several things:
  • Spend time outdoors during daylight hours, especially in the morning. Lynne shared with us that even if it’s an overcast day, we can still benefit from the natural sunlight. (One lovely thing about last weekend’s walk was that we did plenty of sun-soaking while Lynne talked).
  • Exercise. This one conveniently combines with the getting outdoors recommendation. A walk or a hike or a jog or a bike ride (depending, of course, on your particular climate) are all wonderful ways to roll sunlight and physical activity into one.
  • Look into light boxes and/or dawn simulators. This is a pretty expensive option, but light boxes have been shown to be incredibly effective in treating seasonal depression. I can tell you from personal observation that a whole lot of people use these to great effect in Seattle, where seasonal depression is pretty darn common.
  • Get as much natural light as you can. Beyond going outdoors, you can also try to organize your home or office to maximize the natural light you get while you’re there. When you’re at home during the day, you can spend time near windows, and you can also increase the amount of light that’s being reflected by decorating with mirrors, white (or light-colored) walls, and even white sheets on your bed.
  • Pay attention to your sleep. Lynne shared that it’s important to get enough sleep, but it’s also important not to get too much. I’m not going to recommend a specific number of hours, because everyone is different. I will say that it’s helpful to observe what amount of sleep makes you feel best, and then do what works for you.
  • Feed yourself with food and drink that makes you feel good. Again, I’m not going to recommend specific types of food and drink, because everyone’s different. But this winter, you might pay attention to what makes you feel good, and what doesn’t. I personally have found that ingesting caffeine or alcohol may make me feel good for an hour or two, but when they start to leave my system, I suddenly feel very depressed, emotionally volatile, tired, and just all-around awful. (This is just my experience, and I seem to be much more sensitive to these things than other people I know.)
  • Interact with other people. One of the bummers about cold weather is that it can be a huge deterrent from getting outdoors and seeing the people who bring you joy. But it’s so important to do. You might really, really, really want to isolate yourself from other people in the winter, especially if you’re prone to depression, but I want to strongly encourage you to challenge yourself to socialize. Maintaining a robust community is important for all people, and it’s even more important to those of us who are prone to depression.
  • Lastly, do more of your own research into tools and tactics that might be helpful for you as we head into the darker months. The Center for Environmental Therapeutics is a great place to start, and Lynne also recommended Chronotherapy: Resetting Your Inner Clock to Boost Mood, Alertness, and Quality Sleep and Winter Blues.

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