“I pray this winter be gentle and kind–a season of rest from the wheel of the mind.” –John Geddes
The change in season—especially towards the end of the year—can be joyous and festive for some people. In November, some will enjoy great—or not so great—food and company of their families and friends during Thanksgiving. At times, even as Thanksgiving is taking place, the holiday fanatics will start decorating for Christmas and start looking forward to gift exchanges and/or travels to domestic or international places.
Nigerians tend to travel to Nigeria to celebrate the holidays. December, commonly known as Detty December or Onwa December amongst Nigerians, is especially joyous or in some cases, Nigerians will even say a season of “too much enjoyment.” For some Nigerians, it is a time to show off all the money they—legally and illegally— made that year. Many, including those who are always crying broke, will find a way to travel to Nigeria to spend time with their family and flaunt their temporary riches on various social media platforms. I also will travel to Nigeria but virtually. I live vicariously through my friends who actually traveled—geotagging myself in places that I can’t afford to be in—an art form that rapper Bow Wow made popular.
While the holidays are a joyous time for many, I have noticed that I do not feel my best during this time of the year. It has become a season that I want to sprint through like the legendary Usain Bolt. Over the years, I have struggled to identify why I feel down during this time of the year. After all, I have a lovely family and a great support system. Yet, I find my mood switching up and down like Drake switches accents. I am sure if I was a woman, the Nigerian elders will accuse me of being pregnant. While my stomach does look like the stomach of the surrogate mother for Dwayne Wayne and Gabrielle Union, I can say with certainty that I am not pregnant to the best of my knowledge. I prefer to say that my stomach is just a result of a cultural rite of passage known as Igbo Man Belly aka IMB. Or maybe I am being punished for not doing the Nigerian thing by being married before I turned 30? But, I doubt if that is the case. What is it then?
I have been taking mental notes and monitoring my symptoms over the years. In that process, one thing stands out—Daylights Saving Time also known as DST. Please don’t confuse DST with Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated. As a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Incorporated, I know the women of DST are also known to give us the blues. According to Wikipedia, Daylight Savings Time is “the practice of advancing clocks during summer months so that darkness falls later each day according to the clock.” In most parts of the USA, DST commences the 2nd Sunday in March and ends on the 1st Sunday in November. Many may view this as getting/losing an extra hour of sleep; however, for me, it has symbolized going to work at 6:30 am while it is dark outside to return home around 6 pm while it is still dark. In other words, I feel deprived of the sunlight that I have been accustomed to in Nigeria and the summer months. The more I researched the likely cause, the more information about Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) appeared. What a fitting name! SAD is a type of depression linked with changes in seasons. According to Psychologytoday.com, SAD affects approximately 10 million Americans. Additionally, an estimated 10 to 20 percent of Americans may experience mild SAD.
The Mayo Clinic reports that SAD typically begins and ends at approximately the same time every year. For me, I have a clinical diagnosis of major depression, which I have talked about here: platform. In the warmer months, my symptoms are extremely manageable. I have such a zest for life then; this energy is so apparent that a friend thought I did cocaine when she first met me during the summer of college. However, the colder and darker it gets the worse my depressive symptoms are. Over the years, I have noticed that I start feeling more depressive and anxious symptoms starting in late November and going up to March and April. During these months, I experience a strong urge to isolate and withdraw from normal activities such as working out, work, socializing or even eating. My shape would not show it, however, in the warmer months, I am in the gym approximately 5 times a week. But, in the colder and darker months, I will be lucky if I made it to the gym more than 5 times in a month.
How do you know if you or someone you know is experiencing SAD? According to the Mayo Clinic, the symptoms/signs of SAD typically include:
Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day;
Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed;
Having low energy;
Having problems with sleeping;
Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight;
Feeling sluggish or agitated;
Having difficulty concentrating;
Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty;
Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide.
While not as common, some people experience signs and symptoms of SAD that is specific to a particular season. For those that experience fall and winter SAD, the symptoms/ signs are:
Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
Tiredness or low energy
Spring and Fall SAD, sometimes referred to as summer depression, has symptoms/ signs of its own. Those include:
• Trouble sleeping (insomnia)
• Poor appetite
• Weight loss
• Agitation or anxiety
To date, those in the medical community have not been able to identify a specific cause for SAD. However, research points to the reduced level of sunlight as a key factor. Researchers believe that the reduced level of sunlight may cause a drop in chemicals such as serotonin and melatonin. Serotonin is a brain chemical that affects mood. The release of serotonin contributes to wellbeing and happiness. Serotonin is often referred to as the happy chemical. Melatonin plays a key role in sleep patterns and mood. Additionally, the reduction in sunlight during DST affects our internal body clock, which also affects our mood.
For those who struggle with SAD, there is some good news. There are things you/someone you love can do to mitigate the symptoms. Medication, light therapy, psychotherapy, and Vitamin D are the major types of treatment for SAD. Of the aforementioned, medication, light therapy and psychotherapy and exercise/movement have been most helpful for me.
For light therapy, I use Philips Go Blue Light, which I bought on Amazon. There are other companies that make these ‘SAD lights’ which anyone can buy on Amazon. The prices range from 30 to 200 dollars depending on various factions. I use my light therapy device first thing in the morning while I meditate for about 10 to 20 minutes. The artificial light is intended to mimic the effect of the sun, which in turn can improve one’s mood. I can certainly say that this has worked for me. Equally important, as is the case with most mood disorders, exercise and movement are extremely beneficial.
My symptoms are worse when I succumb to the temptation of isolating myself and being inactive. During these months, I struggle to make it to the gym because I convince myself that I will go after work. However, when I get home, the darkness outside paralyzes me. I end up watching silly cat videos on Youtube. You will be amazed by how much time one can waste watching cat videos. To combat the pressure to remain inactive, I have started working out at my work’s gym. This approach has given me the energy to engage in other activities when I get home. Another approach to encourage behavior is to have accountability partners. On days that I am not feeling motivated, I reached out to my fraternity brothers and ask them to call me at a particular time to make sure I am in the gym.
Thus far, I have been able to mitigate the SAD symptoms this time around I have a stumbling block in early January. However, I have been able to get myself closer to my baseline. For those struggling, please reach out and receive professional help. The journey can be a bit more bearable when we have support. As always remember, Talk More! Mental Health Matters!
“No winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn.”–Hal Borland