Therapist Serena Eagan keeps a note nearby her at all times that reads: “Listen to a true crime podcast, sing karaoke and search Steve Harvey Family Feud outtakes.”
While it might seem a little silly, the Livonia mom of three uses that note as one tool in her arsenal against depression.
Seasonal depression is real, says Eagan, and it should be taken seriously.
Starting in fall, as days become shorter, there’s less sunlight and it impacts the body’s ability to produce serotonin. When serotonin is in short supply it can affect sleep, mood and more.
“You just feel different and your body is different,” she says. “It’s very common, and even personally, it’s something I have to watch out for.”
Signs of seasonal depression
Feelings of seasonal depression would “pretty much mirror” standard depression symptoms, according to Eagan.
“You might experience sleeping too much or too little, low energy, sluggishness, problems with concentrating — a lot of intrusive negative thoughts, hopelessness, guilt and loss of interest in things you used to enjoy,” she says.
For parents, seasonal depression might manifest in having less tolerance and less patience with family. Weight gain or loss and changes in sleep are other major signs that something is going on.
Combating seasonal depression isn’t easy. “People might say, ‘Oh, just stick to a routine!’ but that’s not helpful when you can’t leave your bed,” says Eagan. “For someone who hasn’t struggled with depression, they may not understand that it can be a lot to shower — let alone to brush your teeth and comb your hair.”
“It impacts the way you function and the way we interpret things.”
How to beat seasonal depression
In the United States, 10 million people suffer from seasonal depression and it’s a common disorder among Eagan’s clients at Great Lakes Psychology Group, which has locations across Michigan and Illinois, too.
While every person is different, three things tend to help Eagan’s clients of all ages struggling with seasonal depression: practicing gratitude, rehearsing positive thoughts and finding ways to change how you’re feeling — even if it’s only for a few seconds.
Eagan suggests to her clients to write down three things they’re thankful for every day and to keep in mind that negative emotions leave more of an impression than positive ones.
“Negative emotions put us in fight or flight mode, and your body is trying to survive, so the negative incident is going to be stored in our memory quicker, while the positive things require more effort to remember,” she says.
When it comes to changing your emotions, getting out of a negative loop, even for a few seconds, can do more to combat depression than you might think. That’s where Eagan’s note comes in handy.
“When you get to the point when you feel anxious, you can go to that list,” she says. “It needs to be very easy to identify, because otherwise it will be frustrating.”
“Choose simple things to do that change how you’re feeling immediately — even for a second, then practice those things when you’re not in a crisis,” she adds.
If you or someone close to you is struggling with depression, reaching out to a therapist can help.
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