10 Summer Depression Busters

Although my mood seems to be better with more sun, I understand why a substantial number of folks get more depressed in the summer. Extreme heat is hard to tolerate. In fact, in a study published in Science in 2013, researchers reported that as temperatures rose, the frequency of interpersonal violence increased by 4 percent, and intergroup conflicts by 14 percent.

There are four distinct types of people when it comes to weather and mood, according to a study published in Emotion in 2011.

  • Summer Lovers (better mood with warmer and sunnier weather)
  • Unaffected (weak associations between weather and mood)
  • Summer Haters (worse mood with warmer and sunnier weather)
  • Rain Haters (particularly bad mood on rainy days)

Ten percent of those diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder suffer symptoms at the brightest time of the year. The summer’s brutal heat, bright light, and long days can affect a person’s circadian rhythm and contribute to depression for the opposite reasons that winter conditions do.

If you’re a Summer Hater, or just notice that your mood is affected negatively by the heat, here are some summer depression busters that may help you better tolerate these months — maybe even enjoy them.

Coping with Summertime Depression: The Light of Gratitude

July’s heat and the sun have made it pretty hot.

It’s steamy outside. But that’s just fine with me.  My feet aren’t cold, dark clouds don’t threaten snow, and everyone’s outside watering yards, humming a tune, and going for walks at night.

As we look over the horizon, August is almost here.

Author Natalie Babbitt captures some of the summer’s magic when she writes:

“The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless and hot. It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noon’s, and sunsets smeared with too much color.”

10 Summer Depression Busters

Ten percent of those diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder suffer symptoms at the brightest time of the year. The summer’s brutal heat, bright light, and long days can affect a person’s circadian rhythm and contribute to depression for the opposite reasons that winter conditions do. If you’re a Summer Hater, or just notice that your mood is affected negatively by the heat, here are some summer depression busters that may help you better tolerate these months — maybe even enjoy the

Out of the Blue of Depression

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August.

It seems like the sweet sun’s been high in a blue sky for months.

It’s steamy outside. But that’s just fine with me.  My feet aren’t cold, dark clouds don’t threaten snow, and everyone’s outside watering yards and going for walks at night.

Author Natalie Babbitt captures some of  summer’s magic when she writes:

“The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless, and hot. It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noon’s, and sunsets smeared with too much color.”

I’ve been upbeat and productive these past few months.  I wake with the light thrown through cracks in my bedroom curtains. I charge up on coffee, create a killer to-do-list, and fly out the door with a sort of crazy, off-kilter optimism.  Looking out at the sun-baked, south of France Monet-like landscape, all is good.

I am out of the blue of depression. And haven’t been in that god forsaken place since a murky week-long stretch last spring.  I am sure the stinky weather had something to do with it.  Months of accumulated winter darkness had tipped me into a dark well. Happily, it didn’t last too long.

And for this, I am grateful.

One of the things I do to stay healthy is to take time to reaffirm the goodness in my life when things are on-kilter and going well. It’s like building up a reservoir of fresh water that I can tap into when my streams run dry. I do this by taking the time to be grateful for the good people and things in my life. It warms my soul. And may even put a smile on my face.

Yes, it can be very hard to feel grateful when depressed. When in a bog of waist deep misery, it’s not only unlikely that we’ll give thanks, it might be impossible. We just can’t conjure up the goodness at such times. Everything feels like a mess.  We’re fragmented, lonely, and depressed.  There isn’t much to hope for. We sort of trudge through our days existing, but not really living.

The devil of depression seems to squeeze out all the goodness out of life. We’re left high and dry. When this happens, we need loved ones and a therapist to help us reap the goodness both past and present.  We can’t do it alone.  But when we’re feeling well, man is it a great practice.

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Here’s a neat and timely tome on this theme from humorist and NPR’s Prairie Home Companion creator Garrison Keillor:

“To know and to serve God, of course, is why we’re here, a clear truth, that, like the nose on your face, is near at hand and easily discernible but can make you dizzy if you try to focus on it hard. But a little faith will see you through. What else will do except faith in such a cynical, corrupt time? When the country goes temporarily to the dogs, cats must learn to be circumspect, walk on fences, sleep in trees, and have faith that all this woofing is not the last word. What is the last word, then? Gentleness is everywhere in daily life, a sign that faith rules through ordinary things: through cooking and small talk, through storytelling, making love, fishing, tending animals and sweet corn and flowers, through sports, music and books, raising kids — all the places where the gravy soaks in and grace shines through. Even in a time of elephantine vanity and greed, one never has to look far to see the campfires of gentle people.”

The goodness of others is grace. It’s the universe’s way of reminding us not to fret too much, that things will work out, that our important jobs are, well, just a part of life, and that uplifting fortune cookie messages sometimes do come true.  If I could, I would stick this quote by author Anne Lamott on one of those skinny wrappers:

“I do not at all understand the mystery of grace – only that it greets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.”

Think of the kind people you’ve had in your life from your past and today; the everyday saints who were dropped into your life for no other reason than to remind you that life can be good, that you are special and that life is worth living.

These people always leave us feeling better than when they found us.

Take the time today to reflect and take in the goodness in your life.  Depression may be part of your life.  But it isn’t the whole enchilada.

There is always the other side of the coin.

And it’s sweet when we think about it.

By Daniel T. Lukasik

Further Reading:

The Neuroscience of Why Gratitude Make us Healthier by Ocean Robbins in the Huffington Post.

How Gratitude Combats Depression by Dr. Deb Serani in Psychology Today.

9 Ways to Promote Gratitude in Your Life by Therese Borchard at Everyday Health.

 

Working Through Stress and Depression

Depression is tough. Stress is also tough. Being depressed and stressed at the same time is even tougher. As a person who struggles with depression and has to manage stress on a daily basis, I have some good news for you:

Managing stress while being depressed is possible if you have a plan.

Depression has been a part of my life from as early as I can remember. Like a never-ending fog, I walk through it each day. As I have gotten older, I have discovered that it manifests itself in a variety of ways.

● Sometimes it feels like anger.
● Sometimes it feels like sadness.
● Sometimes it feels like emptiness.
● Sometimes it causes me physical pain.
● Sometimes it is a combination of the above.
● Sometimes it is all of the above.

Like most children, I wasn’t as aware of my thoughts and feelings as I am now, as an adult. At it’s worst my depression became extremely frustrating and overwhelming. The only way I knew how to cope with it was to act out.

Acting out included violent outbursts and harming myself.

● Acting out got me hospitalized 3 times in a psychiatric hospital.
● Acting out got me expelled from 3 schools.
● Acting out lead me to try and take my own life at age 10.
● Acting out mad friendships and dating difficult.

Nowadays, I still experience depression. Fortunately, I don’t act out like I did as a child. Through therapy, support groups, and being a mental health speaker, I have learned that there are other people who struggle with depression, too.

In addition to depression, I also get stressed out from time to time. Stress can be the result of challenges at work, at home, or in my personal life. Sometimes stress is the result of living your life. Let’s face it, life can sometimes just be overwhelming.

Through learning to manage my depression, I’ve also learned to better manage my stress. I’ve learned the hard way that being stressed while you are depressed is a crisis waiting to happen. If you don’t have a plan in place to manage both, it can end up costing you your job, your health, your relationships, and worst of all, your life.

Here are some tips that I have learned to help me cope. They are part of my plan to manage my depression and stress:

1. Get sun every day

According to Healthline, “Exposure to sunlight is thought to increase the brain’s release of a hormone called serotonin. This is associated with boosting mood and helping a person feel calm and focused.”

My goal is to shoot for a half an hour of sun. Ironically, an hour before I began writing this article. I was feeling extremely stressed and sad. I spent about a half an hour in the sun and am feeling much better.

2. Exercise every day

Like sun, it’s important that I keep my body moving, even if it’s just a quick ten-minute walk in the morning. In fact, you can walk and get sun at the same time. The combination of both, even for a short period of time will do wonders for your stress level and depression.

My trainer and nutritionist, Maik Weidenbach, has helped me manage both my stress level and depression with customized plans. Check out his article, Depression and Exercise: 10 Tips to Stay Motivated and Strong and his book 101 Fitness Myths.

3. Writing Things Down

When you are feeling overwhelmed, sad, angry, upset, anxious, etc…, a yellow legal pad can be your best friend. By taking a few minutes to write down everything that is on your mind you can quickly clear your head. As you clear your head, you will feel better.

Also, by seeing what is on your mind written down on paper, you will feel less overwhelmed. I am not sure exactly why this works, but it does. Ironically it’s an exercise that many therapists and professional organizers give their clients.

As I am finishing up writing this article, I feel a bit depressed and a bit stressed. Regardless, it’s not stopping me from being productive because I have a plan in place that I used to take care of myself today.

Managing your stress while being depressed is doable, but you have to be proactive. I encourage you to make a commitment to try one of the ideas listed above every day for the next week. I also encourage you to spend the next week creating a plan for yourself to manage your stress.

What will you include in your plan to manage stress while depressed?

Mike is a mental health advocate and creator of the website Transforming Stigma.  To read more about Mike and his courageous work, click here.

Copyright, Daniel T. Lukasik, 2016

Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me: Seasonal Affective Disorder and Depression During the Winter

There is a distinctive pallor that comes over our world at this time of the year; grey parking lots seem a lot harsher, people wandering into Starbucks this morning a tad glummer. But nothing seems tougher to deal with than a dearth of sunshine.  It feels as though Mother Nature has pulled down the shades and they ain’t coming back up anytime soon.

As I scrape the shellacking of quarter-inch ice off my windshield at 6 a.m. that had built up overnight before I drive into work, I find myself pining for spring, for the sweet smell of the soil bursting back to life.  But most of all, I yearn for the return of more sunny days, to the end of the great ball of light’s hibernation.

“One must maintain a little bit of summer, even in the middle of winter” wrote Henry David Thoreau.  Well, that’s not always easy for those of us stuck in office buildings behind desks.

For some, the lack of sunshine actually causes a type of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD); a syndrome of god-awful crummy symptoms that affects about 14 million Americans during the winter. Symptoms of SAD include decreased concentration, increased appetite, weight gain (whereas some other forms of depression can lead to weight loss), social withdrawal, moodiness, and fatigue.

Some people chalk these nagging symptoms up to just being down in the dumps when in reality, SAD is really a form of clinical depression.  SAD is highly dependent on a person’s hormonal state, seasonal characteristics like ambient temperature, and exposure to natural light (which can influence the body’s production of melatonin).  Research has linked the prevalence of SAD to higher latitudes, regions that tend to have more intense and longer winters.   Just great, I thought. I live in Buffalo, New York.

But the lack of sun just doesn’t cause depression in those who might not ordinarily have it.  One study found that a lack of sunshine actually may cloud memory and other thinking functions in some people who already have depression to begin with.   Depressed adults from the least sunny areas were more than twice as likely to have impairments in memory and cognitive functions as those with the greatest sun exposure.  The sunshine-cognition link was not seen in adults without depression, however.

Here are some ideas to start feeling better:

Shake it in the morning.  For those afflicted with SAD, the time of day you work out matters.  Studies show that morning exercisers report better sleep, burn up more calories throughout the day, and have lower blood pressure.  Even if you don’t make it to the gym, just walking outside in the morning can really help.

Avoid the Pit Stop at The Olive Garden.  When I read that white pastas, bagels and bread could lower my mood, I just switched off my computer in protest – I love pasta as much as my mom and there’s no way I can possibly give it up. But I started watching as my mood did dip after consuming a leviathan portion of rigatoni. That’s so because simple carbohydrates – think white flour stuff – give us short-lived every boost, so it’s only a matter of time before we reach for that second helping of cake spackled with butter-cream frosting.  Instead, choose foods rich in protein and complex carbohydrates which release sugar into the body slowly and have a low glycemic index.  Check out foods that will actually help lift your mood.

Fill Up Your Calendar.  I know, I know.  It’s six o’clock and you just pulled in the darkened driveway on a freeze-your-ass-off day and you just want to eat dinner and park yourself in front of the old T.V. Even on weekends.  Yet research shows that people who suffer from depression report higher levels of well-being and satisfaction after positive social interactions.  Feeling a sense of belonging makes us all feel better, but all the more so when you’re feeling down.

Sleepless in Seattle.  Getting less slumber during these darkened days sounds like a crazy prescription for lifting one’s mood.  When we feel down and the world is dark, it seems like more sleep is what’s called for to make us feel better.  Not so say scientists. Instead, it’s very important to maintain a steady rhythm of sleep per night by waking up and going to bed at the same times every day – including weekends.

Light the (Artificial) Light Shine In.  A light therapy regimen can significantly reduce SAD symptoms, regardless of the condition’s severity.  Light therapy boxes range in brightness and type of light, so consult a physician before buying one.

Read Up.  Pick up a copy of Winter Blues by Dr. Norman Rosenthal, the psychiatrist who came up with the SAD term and has studied it extensively.  Check out his very informative website.

They say time heals all things.  If we can hang on just long enough, the days start getting longer and the sunshine becomes more plentiful.  In meanwhile, try these tips to make things more bearable and remember what the French philosopher Albert Camus once wrote,

“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”

 

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