Despite mental illnesses still often being loosely and carelessly shrugged off and sometimes referenced synonymously with negative stereotypes, mental health is finally, slowly, becoming universally viewed as something just as important as physical health. It has taken many years to overcome the stigmas that served as obstacles for individuals to hurdle over in order to receive treatments and discussion over mental illnesses. Mental health awareness is still a work in progress, and there will always be criticism over disorders that aren’t always possible to measure tangibly, but we are finally gaining momentum in acknowledging mental health.
That being said, there is still heightened sensitivity around topics regarding mental illness and mental health. For individuals, especially young individuals, it can be difficult to conceptualize how you feel because there is a limited amount of research around mental health compared to physical health. This can cause young people who don’t have the ability to drive themselves to an expert to suffer from certain symptoms and remain unsure of their diagnosis. Even more dangerous, as a result, it causes individuals who are suffering to remain unsure of how to cope with the issue.
Seasonal Affective Disorder or, in less medical terms, ‘seasonal depression,’ is a disorder that is crippling while simultaneously being a disorder that is often left out of discussion surrounding mental illnesses. Mayo Clinic, a well-known organization specializing in medical education and research, described SAD as “symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody.” So what can feel like just a bad case of cabin fever or unshakable winter blues is sometimes an underlying case of Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Winter is the more common time of year for SAD to creep in due to the overall bleakness, cold, and lack of sun during these months. Now that we’ve transitioned from the holiday season into the less spirited months of winter, seasonal depression is especially common. Maybe you’ve felt a sudden shift in your mood and behavior this season. Maybe you have felt certain tendencies in your daily life change like oversleeping, appetite changes, or low energy. Maybe you have felt a difference internally, such as losing interest in former activities or growing increasingly depressed. Maybe the way the sun sinks lower earlier in the day and the way it can be suffocating staying indoors all day has caused you to begin to feel hopeless.
But if you are feeling disoriented or a little off these last couple of months, you’re not alone, and there are ways to cope that don’t include bundling up and isolating yourself. Take on the melancholy feeling with some of these tips:
Move around. Get your blood pumping in order to release those natural endorphins. Go for a jog right after school and actually let yourself enjoy watching the sunset. Bait your friends into some morning yoga with the promise of getting donuts afterward. Join your sister for one of those spin classes you find intimidating going to on your own. Regardless of what physical activity you chose, be sure to work through that sluggish feeling, and the promise of natural endorphins will be the light at the end of the tunnel.
Soak up as much sunshine as you can. The overwhelming toll from not getting enough Vitamin D can effect your mood drastically. Open your curtains, eat your breakfast on the patio (with layered clothing and blankets), take a walk with your mom. Expose yourself to the sun and, hopefully, it’ll help alleviate some of your blues.
Immerse yourself with others. It can be easy to become recluse in the winter months, but leave the hibernation to the bears. Build a firepit with your family, go buy overpriced hot chocolate with that boy you’ve had your eye on, or stay inside baking all day with your besties. Surrounding yourself with people you love can make the bleak days seem a little less gray.
And lastly, talk to someone. Coping methods can only go so far, and, sometimes, you may need to speak with a professional about other options. Or, maybe, you just need to express out loud how you’ve been feeling to ease some of the emotions you’ve been harboring. Regardless, let someone know that you’ve been down and let them help you.