“Life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.”
This quote is taken from one of my favorite century-year old short stories, The Gift of The Magi by O. Henry. The story [spoiler alert] takes place in in the early 20th century and involves a woman selling her most prized possession, her hair, for Christmas money to buy her husband a chain for his beloved pocket watch, which had been in the family for three generations. Her husband, as it turns out, desperately sold the prized watch to buy his bride combs for her gorgeous hair.
Following the holidays, it seems like people are financially, physically and emotionally spent; like the couple in this story. It seems like there are countless cases of sobs and sniffles around me. Several of my dear friends are divorcing with young children. A woman we saw frequently at Storytime in our local library was just arrested for felony check fraud. And even an otherwise bubbly 16 year-old girl, my friend’s daughter, is suffering with an uncharacteristic case of the blues. If nothing else, every woman and child around me is at minimum suffering with sniffles from a seemingly indefinite winter sinus infection.
Some friends of mine work in an ER in Denver and they’ve recounted tales of the “Merry Christmas Coronary” or “Happy New Year Heart Attack”; a rash of heart problems strike people around this time of year, especially on Christmas Day. Even more commonly do people report being affected by something called SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, during these otherwise dark and cold post-holiday months.
The Mayo Clinic describes Seasonal Affective Disorder as “…a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons — SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year. If you’re like most people with SAD, your symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody .”
Treatment for SAD may include light therapy (phototherapy), psychotherapy and medications. If you believe you have SAD, don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor about it. Remember: taking prescribed medication is always more brave than wallowing in misery that ultimately brings down your entire family and can result in depression, suicidal thoughts, alcoholism, drug abuse, or worse. Don’t beat yourself up any more than these cold and dark Winter Blues already have.
If you’re looking for some altogether less clinical ways to beat your SAD, here are a few things I’ve done to help me.
It may sound prosaic, but you must put your health at the forefront during these months. I’m no model of perfect health, as I’ve drowned my own sadness with gallons of MSG, corn starch, and food color-laden Egg Drop Soup this month. The holidays have certainly weakened my physical and emotional bodies with stress from overindulgence; including too much salt, tons of refined sugar (I’m looking at you Whole Foods Yogurt Pretzels), and a few too many glasses of “holiday cheer”.
January and February are prime months for fitness goals and detoxes. Health clubs and weight loss companies thrive on the influx of January subscriptions and my previous work in the weight loss industry relied on January for up to 15% of our gross annual revenue. In the finance industry I learned the mantra, “As goes January, so goes the rest of the year.” Go-getters are right to make January a banner month; it in turn manifests a banner year.
If you’re feeling sluggish and exhausted this winter, you’re probably having health food withdrawal. The sugar, salt, and other bad foods you’ve been binging on throughout the holidays don’t just make you feel bloated for a couple months thereafter, but they cause your body to feel sluggish. Eating unhealthily causes your system to slow down altogether, making it that much harder to fight those nasty winter colds and sinus infections. Many would argue that bad foods equate to mad moods, as well.
And about that morphine…
One of the best antidepressants on the planet is exercise. Try incorporating exercise into your daily routine if you haven’t already. I force myself to do a minimum of 15 minutes per day of exercise no matter where I’m traveling and what mood my kid is in.
Exercise promotes self-esteem and triggers endorphins that give you a positive high that may last up to 24 hours after you exercise. Some experts even compare the endorphins your body receives from exercise to morphine .
Natural morphine? I’ll take it. Exercise to fight SAD is one drug I can wholeheartedly get behind.
Take Your Sun-plements…
I’ve always been a freak about Vitamin D. In fact, my girlfriend had her daughter in January of 2014 and I was adamant that she bring her baby outside every morning for a dose of Vitamin D. Looking back… it was pretty extreme.
Truly though, I am still adamant about Vitamin D intake and getting lots of sunlight. It’s nature’s primary source of Vitamin D. However, it’s darn near impossible to get sunlight during the winter. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never lived in a place that isn’t shrouded in dull grey clouds all winter.
SAD is largely attributed to Vitamin D deficiency, likely due to our general lack of sun-plementation. According to a June 2014 article from The Independent, researchers in Sweden followed 30,000 women over the course of 20 years and found that you’re more likely to die from avoiding the sun (especially if you use sunscreen) than by bathing in it daily. Nature has made it so that we thrive in the sun, both physically and emotionally.
In fact, researchers believe that 32 percent of children and adults are Vitamin D Deficient.
Why is Vitamin D such a big deal for people with SAD?
Well, one way Vitamin D Deficiency promotes SAD is by decreasing your brain’s serotonin levels. Serotonin is the brain hormone that elevates your mood. It rises with exposure to bright light and falls when you’re in the darkness of winter. Scientists believe that people with Vitamin D deficits are 11 times more likely to be depressed.
Western culture has celebrated a therapy called Heliosis since the ancient Greeks; it’s a method of sunlight therapy designed to improve health. The sun is powerful in cancer prevention and reversal, healthy sexual functioning , resisting bacteria and skin infections, acne prevention, lower cholesterol, testosterone production, lower blood pressure, metabolism increase , strong bones in children and babies, mood regulation through serotonin and dopamine production , and even better sleep. (See references 4-15 below.)
When you’re otherwise covered in clouds, please supplement with Vitamin D.
When your child is born, your doctor will demand you supplement his or her diet with Vitamin D because aside from sunshine, there’s basically no other way we can create Vitamin D in our bodies (and you aren’t shoving mushrooms, liver, egg yolks, or other Vitamin D rich foods down your newborn’s throat).
Also consider supplementing with Vitamin K2 alongside Vitamin D, as this Vitamin is believed to counteract Vitamin D toxicity . Before starting any Vitamin regimen, it’s always best to discuss with your doctor or naturopath, not a blogger like me, to ascertain your specific needs and possible side effects.
Fight “Human Barbie Syndrome”
The pressure to stay slim when you’ve been subsisting on Christmas cookies for a month is a major contributor to SAD. In my own life, body image pressures have devoured years of my thoughts and energy.
I would ask for those years back, but instead I’m forging ahead with self-love and using my tears to lead other women to triumph over eating disorders.
Every year thousands of people die due to eating disorders, mostly women. But the truth is, many others live with eating disorders; they’re just dying inside. You may not be starving yourself or purging your food, but you may be dying inside because you can’t shake images of what you “should” look like. For years, I was unhappy in my own skin. I often call it Human Barbie Syndrome.
Human Barbie Syndrome is trying to measure up to a standard of perfection that isn’t natural- or even possible; and making yourself miserable when you don’t reach that standard. I’ve also called it by it’s more technical name, Body Dysmorphic Disorder in previous blog posts.
Human Barbie Syndrome is a major contributor to SAD during the winter months. We’re lethargic. We’re freezing. We’ve been binging on holiday cookies. And we’re largely prone to criticizing ourselves for the like.
However, fighting Human Barbie Syndrome is one of the best ways I’ve risen out of my own seasonal blues.
I don’t pressure myself into absurd things like bodycon dresses or midriff-baring tops. I rock a flannel shirt most days and if somebody doesn’t like my laid back look and self-confident attitude, they can shove it.
Focusing on what you love versus what you hate is a powerful way to fight Seasonal Depression, or any depression for that matter.
I love to surround myself with positive people because negative people are like those hideous monkeys from the Wizard of Oz. They screech, they’re ugly, and they love to cling to your back like little demons. Throw water on them. Run away. Just kick them out of your life, at all costs.
Above all, remember that anybody who measures your worth based off your dress size isn’t on your team. Anybody who compares you to Barbie, Beyoncé, or any other image that isn’t purely You needs to get off the bus.
Get into the practice of changing every self-sabotaging thought that enters your mind into a dose of self-love.
Here’s how mine looks:
“Your ass looks chunky” turns into “your ass basically looks like J-Lo’s.”
“That woman is so much more successful than you” turns into “you’ll get there soon.”
“Your hair looks ridiculous today” turns into “you’ll look great in a hat today.”
“Your legs look squat in those pants” turns into “it’s bullshit that anybody ever called you squat because you’re short and curvy. Turn that negativity into an endorphin-producing squat workout, and now we’re talkin’.
Rewrite your annual winter blues with these tips. Remember: Exercise, Vitamin D, and Self-Love. It sounds simple but it’s the tried and true winter cocktail that helps me kick SAD every time.
- American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry December 2006; 14(12): 1032-1040
- Vitamin K2 and the Calcium Paradox: How a Little Known Vitamin Could Save Your Life by Dr. Kate Rheaume-Bleue