It isn’t just a case of “cabin fever” or someone who’s fed up with the weather. Seasonal affective disorder is real and for people who are already struggling with depression, anxiety or other mental health challenges it can push them into a deeper depression, exacerbate their anxiety and in extreme cases cause an increase in suicidal thoughts.
Like other forms of depression there are ways to treat seasonal affective disorder, including medication, talk therapy, photo-therapy and more. If you or someone close to you seems to be exhibiting the signs of seasonal affective disorder it’s critical to be able to talk openly. Dismissing anyone’s mood is at best unproductive and at worst could cause someone to keep how they feel to themselves and avoid seeking treatment.
If you’re like me and are already struggling with depression, this time of year can be especially hard. Mountains of accumulated snow, bitter cold and fewer hours of daylight mean I’m less likely to spend time outdoors or even want to leave the house at all. I don’t see people as often in the winter. It’s more difficult to change up your scenery or your routine. Even little things become tedious- lacing up boots instead of slipping into loafers.
I find myself spending an extra ten minutes every morning sweeping or shoveling snow. Leaving myself more time to get places. I spend more time in the car, more time stuck in slow moving traffic, more time worrying about whether I’m going to spin out or get stuck somewhere. I’m already susceptible to stress and anxiety bringing on a panic attack. This time of year there are hundreds of little additional things adding to those worries and fears.
Of course everyone who lives in a place like upstate New York has to deal with these things and I’m not saying these things are unique to me by any means. I understand the frustration and the rational side of my mind understands that we’re probably on the shorter side of it and that better days are ahead. I try and stay mindful of that and to control my anxiety when it starts to spin out of control (like a car on an unplowed, unsalted road…). It’s not always easy. I have a very difficult time getting myself to think in more positive terms and to find productive ways to relieve the stress, but it takes effort and practice. It’s not any easier when people dismiss it or tell you to look on the bright side. It takes a lot of work for some of us and in the meantime we’re suffering, and I’m not just throwing that word around.
Nobody wants to feel hopeless or stuck, but I can’t just smile my way out of it with warm and happy thoughts. And my guess is there are a lot of other people who may be reading this who can’t do that either. And the reason is that we don’t just have the winter blues or cabin fever. So please take it seriously.