About 2 to 3% of people will experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), often referred to as Seasonal Depression, in their lifetime. Another 15% will experience a milder form of SAD that leaves them only slightly depressed, but still able to live their life without major disruptions.
That's a lot of fucking people having a rough time for 4 to 6 months every year. Damn near 8 months or more if you live in Canada.
"We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails." - Dolly Parton
You're god damn right I just quoted Dolly Parton, she's full of wisdom and this is a particularly apt statement, especially as a parent. Problems will arise in our life like depression, they may at times be inevitable or unavoidable, but it's how we handle them that is most important.
Now, I am by no means a doctor or a medical professional. However, what I am is someone who has suffered from depression when I was in my early 20s through my late 20s. Anyone with depression will tell you it's never really fully gone and can sometimes rear it's ugly head, more often than not triggered by a specific stressor. While my depression has been under control for quite some time, I've had my challenges personally dealing with Seasonal Affective Disorder off and on for the past few years. Through this struggle I have found there are a few things I can do that have helped me keep it at bay and still be a happy and productive person.
As a father and husband, it is vital I am doing everything in my power to be my best self because my family deserves it and I deserve it too. As do you. It's easy as a dad to do everything you can to take care of those you love only to forget yourself in the process.
Tip #1 - Move Your ASS
It seems like the most obvious but I still need to remind myself to get moving more when the SAD hits. I feel instantly better immediately after some form of exercise. When you exercise your body releases endorphins which make you feel good, reduce your body's perception of pain and aid in sleep. Endorphins have shown to mimic the effect of morphine on your body. Exercise can LITERALLY be a drug, the good kind, the kind you don't have to do weird shit to pay for. It's win win!
I've always felt more motivated to continue the positive momentum after exercise which leads to better eating choices, more exercise and general heightened productivity. In addition to your body feeling damn good, exercise can also lead to; reduced stress, elevated self-esteem and better sleep.
Tip #2 - Talk it Out
Silence doesn't always equal strength. There is tremendous strength and empowerment in vulnerability which as a man can often be overlooked. As a dad we always want to be the strong one, always the one with the solution, always the one people can turn to. But I found I made the greatest strides dealing with my depression when I would talk it out with others. I didn't even need a solution or for what I was saying to lead anywhere in particular but it helped getting what I was feeling out in the open to another listening ear. Be as detailed as you feel comfortable being. Tell your partner or loved one or friend what you're going through, what you're feeling, how you're doing, good or bad. It's human nature to not want to burden others with our problems, but when we realize we're not burdening anybody and people care about us it's much easier to let go and allow yourself to feel vulnerable.
This was a tremendous help for me and still is when the Winter Blues hit. There's something so liberating about surviving a challenge you didn't think you could beat to realize you're more capable than you gave yourself credit for.
"I like to use the hard times in the past, to motivate me today." – Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson
Tip #3 - Get Better Sleep
When Seasonal Depression comes back into my life or if I start feeling like I'm not myself lately 99
times out of 100 it will correlate directly to me falling into a poor sleep pattern. Consistent sleep at consistent times always seem to get me back on track and there's a lot of literature surrounding that topic. The main issue is how inconsistent sleep can mess with your circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythm is essentially your internal clock that tells your body when it should release chemicals to aid in sleep based on when you should be sleeping. That is a very basic explanation and if you're interested in reading more I encourage you to check out this article by the Sleep Foundation for a more in depth read.
Tip #4 - Eat a Healthy Meal
Yes, no shit, we should be eating healthy. But, if you're anything like me and millions of people with procrastinating tendencies, if you can't do it perfect you figure, "why bother doing it at all?" I get that, I've lived that and trust me, one baby step forward is better than a giant leap backwards. I touched on this earlier in the exercise section but it works for nutrition as well. When you do something positive once you can build on that inertia to propel you to do more positive behaviors. Eat one great, healthy meal and you'll think, "huh, I think I'm going to go for a walk, I feel pretty good" or get out for a run and when you get home, "huh, that was a pretty great run, maybe I'll follow it up with a salad".
I'm not saying go balls to the walls with an all-or-nothing diet. Baby steps. Maybe today you have a nutritious breakfast and the rest of your day remains status quo. After a few days, maybe you're feeling good and you started incorporating more vegetables into your dinner. Before long you've now replaced the majority of your negative habits with mostly positive. Slow and steady changes in the short term made a monumental difference in my mental health and over time those turn into long-term changes.
Now, I'm not going to sit here and pretend I'm a beacon of health and fitness. I'm not. I'm a big guy who has a long way to go to be the healthy person I envision. BUT I do know my body because I listen to it and I know why I'm feeling the way I feel when depression hits and how to help myself based on my own experience. For anyone who is interested I will progressively add recipes that I enjoy that I've incorporated into my nutrition that are healthy and make me feel good.
Tip #5 - Cut Yourself Some Fucking Slack
None of us are perfect and we should never pretend we are. So if we're not perfect, why do so many of us hold ourselves to this impossibly high standard that we feel like failures once we inevitably fail to meet them?
It is easy to feel like shit when we don't meet our own expectations. So why set impossible expectations? It makes no fucking sense. Cut yourself some slack. I needed to learn this the hard way and basically needed my own kick in the ass from a friend who went through the same thing. Learn from my experience and don't be so hard on yourself. If you have a set back in your eating, that's fine, get back on track. If you feel like you let someone down, shit happens, learn from it but give yourself a break, you're human. You're not perfect and you're never going to be perfect, accept you will make mistakes and do your best to learn from them. Then be proud that you've done so and recognize you've grown and become better.
What Can You Do RIGHT NOW?
Just do something, try something, allow yourself to experiment. The worst thing you can do is nothing. All the tips I've provided have worked for me and some combination may work for you. I just encourage you to try something if you're experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder. If you feel like it may be more serious or you're struggling in spite of making positive changes consult a professional and accept their help. I had to do this at one point, which I will likely elaborate on in a later post, and it was the best thing I've done for myself in my life. Call a local help line if you need to, consult a librarian for resources, Google is your friend for resources as well (not self-diagnosis). Or if you really need someone to talk to, feel free to connect with me on social media @TheFFFblog and send me a DM or by email and I would be happy to lend an ear.
Canadian Mental Health Association | https://cmha.bc.ca/documents/seasonal-affective-disorder-2/#D
WebMD, Exercise and Depression | https://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/exercise-depression
Sleep Foundation | https://www.sleepfoundation.org/circadian-rhythm