Coping with Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a major depressive disorder that occurs during the same season each year. Also known as the “winter blues,” SAD typically comes on in the fall and winter, when the light is diminished.

SAD is believed to affect nearly 10 million Americans and is four times more common in women than men. Many people experience symptoms that are severe enough to affect their quality of life.

Though not everyone will experience the same symptoms, here are some of the most common:

  • Feelings of sadness and hopelessness
  • A change in appetite and developing a craving for sweet or starchy foods
  • Weight gain
  • A drop in energy level
  • Decreased physical activity
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Avoidance of social situations
  • Thoughts of suicide

Treatments

If you suffer from SAD, here are some ways you can alleviate your symptoms:

Light Boxes

By far the greatest relief, according to research, comes from the use of lightboxes. Lightboxes emit high-intensity light between 2,500 to 10,000 lux. Compare this to a normal light fixture that emits only 250 to 500 lux.

Lightboxes closely mimic the sun’s natural rays, helping our brains produce the right amount of neurotransmitters that are responsible for mood.

Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you may only need to use the lightbox for 30 minutes once a day. For more severe symptoms, people have found relief by using the box for long periods of time and can often feel true relief in as little as two weeks.

Some insurance providers will cover the cost of lightboxes, but not all do, so be sure to speak with your provider.

Exercise

While it may feel counterintuitive, if not downright impossible, to get up and get moving when you’re feeling depressed, exercise is one of the best ways to improve your mood. Exercise not only reduces stress and tension, but it releases those feel-good endorphins. Studies have also found that one hour of aerobic exercise outdoors (even if the sky is overcast) has the same positive effect on mood as 2.5 hours of using a lightbox.

Eat Well

It’s common to turn to junk food when you’re feeling the winter blues. High-sugar foods tend to give us a temporary boost in energy levels and mood. But then we come crashing down and feel even worse. A better choice is to eat a balanced and nutritious diet, opting for complex carbohydrates like sweet potatoes and whole grains.

Speak with a Therapist

If your symptoms are very severe, and if you are having any thoughts of harming yourself, then it is important to speak with a therapist who can help you navigate your depression and offer coping tools.

If you or a loved one are currently suffering from SAD and would like to explore treatment options, please get in touch with me. I would be more than happy to discuss how I may be able to help.

How to Deal with Loneliness Around Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s day is just around the corner. For many people that means celebrating with their spouse or partner and showing them extra love and attention. But for others, Valentine’s Day is a sad reminder that they are single or are perhaps grieving the recent loss of their significant other.

If you are celebrating it alone this year, here are a few ways you can alleviate your sadness this Valentine’s Day.

Give Yourself a Break

It’s bad enough to feel lonely, but it’s even worse to scold yourself for doing so. Loneliness is not an indication that you’re doing anything wrong or that there is something wrong and unlovable about you.

Even people that are in relationships can feel incredibly lonely. Loneliness affects everyone at some point in their life. It’s not a sin to feel this way, so stop scolding yourself.

Take Yourself on a Date

How many times during the year do you make a real effort to show yourself love? If you’re like most people, you don’t really think much about how you treat yourself.

This Valentine’s Day, if you find yourself a party of one, try and make the best of it by focusing all of your love and attention on yourself. Take yourself out to a nice dinner. Or, if you don’t like the idea of sitting at a table alone surrounded by couples, then order in your favorite food and watch your favorite movie.

Take a nice long bath. Listen to your favorite band. Buy yourself a little gift on the way home from work. Use this Valentine’s Day to commit to showing yourself more love and kindness throughout the year.

Show Your Love for Others

Valentine’s Day is a holiday to show love. No one says that love must be shown in a romantic way.

This is a great time to show your affection and appreciation for the wonderful people in your life. Get your best friend a box of chocolates or your mom a bouquet of flowers. Put a card on your neighbor’s windshield and your coworker’s computer monitor.

You can be filled with love by being loved, and you can be filled with love by loving others. The more love YOU show this holiday, the more love you will feel inside. And you would be amazed at how the loneliness quickly slips away when you are full of love.

Don’t let the commercialism of the holiday make you feel alone and isolated. You really can have a lovely Valentine’s day if you love yourself and others.

10 Signs You Might Be a “Highly Sensitive Person”

Are you a highly sensitive person (HSP)? If so, you’re not alone. It is estimated that roughly 15 to 20 percent of the population is highly sensitive. In fact, scientists now believe there is a gene behind this trait.

But what does it mean to be highly sensitive? The HSP is generally defined as someone with “acute physical, mental, and emotional responses to external (social, environmental) or internal (intra-personal) stimuli.”

The bad news is, being highly sensitive can make many “normal” life situations feel awkward and downright uncomfortable. But fear not, there are some benefits to being highly sensitive, and I’ll share those a little later in this post.

Signs You May Be a Highly Sensitive Person

If you are curious whether you may be part of the population that is highly sensitive, here are 10 signs to look for:

  1. You are quick to feel negative emotions such as sadness and anxiety.
  2. You may feel physical symptoms in relation to these emotions, such as headaches and muscle tension.
  3. You become overwhelmed with physical stimuli such as sound, light and smells.
  4. You have never felt comfortable around crowds. The energy of the crowd easily overwhelms you.
  5. You become very emotional over the injustices of the world. (you cry or become angry at the thought of children or animals being harmed, as an example)
  6. You often worry what others think of you.
  7. You take things personally.
  8. You have a hard time letting things go and receiving critical feedback.
  9. You avoid most social situations and prefer to stay home alone.
  10. You startle easily to loud noises.

Benefits of Being a Highly Sensitive Person

As I mentioned earlier, while being a HSP can cause you to feel awkward or overwhelmed at times, there are some definite perks to being highly sensitive. For starters, you are someone who can enjoy subtle sensory detail that a majority of the population misses. You get pleasure from noticing the end of day light play. You’ll notice subtle shades of color and texture and feel immense pleasure at the complexities of Indian cuisine.

You’re also someone others like being around because you are aware of others’ feelings, needs and emotions. Because of this natural empathy, HSPs make great teachers, managers and leaders.

HSPs are also incredibly creative. Many artists, musicians and famous actors are highly sensitive people who have gifted the world with their talent and insight into what it means to be human.

As you can see, if you can manage the negative aspects of being a highly sensitive person, you can reap some pretty great rewards.

If you or someone you love suspects they are a HSP and would like to explore treatment options to manage those negative aspects, please get in touch with me. I’d love to discuss how I may be able to help.

4 Signs You Might be Struggling with Depression

It’s natural to feel down or anxious from time to time. What’s not natural, however, is prolonged feelings of hopelessness and despair. When these emotions grab hold, and won’t let go, it is likely you may have depression. Depression makes every day a constant challenge. You no longer enjoy life as you once did. Just getting out of bed can feel overwhelming.

But, through education and therapy, you can overcome depression and get back to the life you were meant to live.

If you’re unsure of whether you are suffering from depression, read on to learn 4 common signs of the disease.

Signs of Depression

How can you tell if you are depressed? It may seem like an odd question, but a surprising number of people do not recognize that they may be suffering from depression. While some signs are obvious, others can be subtle.

Every individual will manifest symptoms in a different way, so it’s important to recognize any changes in your behavior. With this in mind, here are four signs you might be struggling with depression.

Changes in Weight

Depression can affect individuals in different ways. Some people may find they have no appetite at all and, before long, lose a significant amount of weight. Others may find their desire for food increases and they easily gain weight.

Changes in Sleep Cycles

As with a person’s appetite, the changes to one’s sleep cycle can also go in one of two directions. You may notice you feel lethargic and want nothing more than to sleep all day. Then again, you may find you can’t fall asleep and are restless all night long.

Anger and Irritability

It has been said that anger is depression turned inward. If you suddenly find yourself with a short fuse, and things that used to not bother you now cause you to fly off the handle, it may be a sign you need some help.

Physical Ailments

Many people don’t realize that depression can manifest itself physically. It is common for sufferers to feel sick to their stomach with whole body aches. Some may find they seem to have a cold or flu that won’t go away, while others may notice their chronic conditions, such as arthritis, are exacerbated by depression.

It is important to recognize these signs so you may seek treatment as soon as possible. While depression may feel like a life sentence, reaching out for help will put you on the path toward joy and peace once again.

If you or a loved one is interested in exploring treatment, please contact me today. I would be happy to speak with you about how I may be able to help.

4 Ways to Better Understand & Cope with a Midlife Crisis

It is said that if you live long enough, you’ll eventually hit middle age. Once they hit that mark, many people begin to look around at their life and notice what is working and what isn’t. Unfortunately, some people notice much of their life isn’t working, at least not in the way they thought it would, and a crisis strikes.

What’s Really Going on in a Midlife Crisis?

For many of us, middle age is the first time in our lives that we pause for a moment to reflect. Birth, in a way, is like a slingshot, catapulting us into life at a significant speed. That momentum never slows as we gain an education, make friends, choose a career, commit to a significant other, have children, raise them as best we can, and plan for our retirement.

Eventually the pace of life begins to slow and we find we have more time to take stock of our lives; of what we’ve become and where we seem to be headed. And what do many of us find at this juncture?

We find we’ve been so busy earning a good living, keeping up with the Joneses (whoever they are), and pleasing everyone around us, that we haven’t always made decisions based on our own self-interests. In other words, we find ourselves lost and unable to recognize our lives as anything that we once imagined.

4 Ways to Cope with a Midlife Crisis

It’s important to understand that in this situation, the word “crisis” is a bit dramatic. Midlife crises aren’t traumas; they are instead wakeup calls that alert us to the fact we need to start taking better care of our minds, hearts and bodies.

With this in mind, here are four ways you can cope with your own midlife wakeup call.

Get Active

As I mentioned, midlife is generally when many of us finally begin to slow down. While this slowing can lead to mental and emotional insights, it can also lead to aches and pains. In other words, slow your pace of life but not your physical activity.

Now is the time to become even more active. If you haven’t been exercising, start now. Take up a new sport, try dance lessons, go hiking. Keeping your body limber and pain-free will help you stay positive.

Embrace Your Creative Side

Everyone has a creative side. That’s what life is, one big creative project. But many of us completely ignore our creative impulses either because of a lack of time or a belief that we’re “not talented enough.” That’s hogwash! Tapping into your creativity is one of the best ways to reconnect with your true self.

Do something to feed your creativity. Write in a journal. Learn how to paint. Take piano lessons. Not only will this bring you joy, learning something new keeps your brain young and active and fends off dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Make Some Changes

Midlife is an opportunity to make some changes you’ve been wanting to make. A change could be a simple as finally painting a room in your house, to getting your teeth whitened or a tattoo you’ve had your eye on, or to finally dumping some of your toxic friends. Start making choices based on your own needs, you’ve earned it.

Hang Out with Like-Minded People

Social interaction is key to a happy and healthy life. But many of us spend the majority of our adult lives around people we don’t like very much: namely coworkers and the parents of our children’s friends. Now is the time to surround yourself with those people who support and nourish you, and share common passions and interests.

A midlife crisis doesn’t have to be a crisis at all but a chance for you to take control and make different choices in your life.

If you or a loved one is experiencing a midlife crisis and is interested in exploring treatment, please contact me today. I would be happy to speak with you about how I may be able to help.

4 Ways to Change Your Thoughts and Relieve Depression

Did you know that on most days, the average person has between 25,000 and 50,000 thoughts? That’s an impressive amount of thoughts.

But when happens when the majority of these thoughts are negative? Imagine the impact on your psyche and your life if you had thousands and thousands of negative thoughts each day?

This amount of negative thinking is a hallmark of depression. Negative or pessimistic thinking is depression speaking for you. It is the voice of depression. What many people don’t realize is that depression is manifested in negative thinking before it ever creates a negative thought itself.

This is why it is imperative for those suffering from depression to become acutely aware of their thought patterns. If not checked, negative thinking becomes a habit, one that has the potential to completely shape your life.

Change How You Think

One of the most powerful ways people can lift themselves out of the darkness of depression is to change their thinking patterns. This is why cognitive therapy is such a profound change agent. The approach is based on the fact that thought-processing errors contribute to a depressed mood.

By changing how you think, you automatically change how you feel. Once you become aware that changing your thinking is important, you are presented with an active choice you can take to benefit your mental health.

You will no doubt find that changing your thought patterns can feel about as easy as changing a tire in the rain with nothing more than a hardboiled egg and a paper clip. But it can be done.

Here are some tips on how you can begin to change your negative thoughts:

Keep Track of Your Thoughts

Many people are in denial about their thought patterns. They don’t want to believe they are overly negative or pessimistic. Catching yourself and recording as many negative thoughts as you can will help you to see your own mental patterns.

What will these thoughts look like? You could write things like, “I hate my feet.” “My boss is an idiot.” “I hate spring.” “I hate getting up this early.” “I don’t know what I’m doing.”

Be particularly mindful of making sweeping generalizations from one specific event so that your entire future looks doomed. For example, a generalized thought such as, “My girlfriend broke up with me so I’m doomed to spend the rest of my life alone.” This kind of extreme, black and white thinking is a sure sign of depression.

Identify Triggers

Once you get an idea for the frequency of your negative thoughts, try and pinpoint the triggers for them. Your journal will also come in handy here, because it will point out certain types of events that set off a chain of negative thoughts. Triggers can include being rejected or ignored, or having an unkind remark said about or to you.

Positive Conversion

You have so far learned that the human thinking process is habitual. But the good news is, you can create good thinking habits.

To do this you’ve got to start converting all of those negative thoughts into positive ones. It will be hard at first, and you will most likely feel as if you’re lying to yourself and pretending to be a glass-half-full Pollyanna.

But, as they say, “You’ve got to fake it until you make it.” Though thinking positively may feel foreign to you and like a waste of your time, you are retraining your brain to think (and feel) good.

Every time you have a negative thought, stop, recognize it as negative, and immediately flip the switch and create the positive opposite thought in its place. This could look like:

Negative thought: “I’ll never get this report done on time.”

Positive Switch: “I’m making great progress and being careful to always check my work.”

To get the hang of how to do this, go through your negativity journal and create a separate column in which you will write the positive opposites of your many negative thoughts.

If you feel too dark and down to complete these exercises, please consider reaching out to a trained therapist who can prescribe medication, should you require it, and help you work through your negativity.

If you or a loved one are suffering from depression and are interested in exploring treatment options, please contact me. I would be happy to discuss how I may be able to help.

What Does Postpartum Depression Feel Like?

Most new mothers are handed their swaddled baby along with a brochure about postpartum depression (PPD) when they are discharged from the hospital. And while it’s great that awareness of PPD is growing, each woman’s experience of it can vary greatly and include everything from obsessive anxiety, OCD, to a sense of disconnect to unremitting rage

A tiny brochure simply can’t cover the reality of postpartum depression, and, without the complete picture of what PPD can look and feel like, many women find themselves experiencing it without even knowing it.

What Causes PPD?

After childbirth, a woman experiences a dramatic drop in the hormones estrogen and progesterone, which contributes to increased emotions. Other hormones produced by the thyroid gland also drop sharply, which can leave women feeling depressed and exhausted.

And speaking of being exhausted, new mothers are sleep-deprived. In the first six months of their baby’s life, it is not uncommon for a mother to only average 4 to 5 hours of (disjointed) sleep a night. Over time, this lack of sleep can contribute to feelings of depression, anxiety, irritability and more. This, in combination with a hormonal shift, can lead to postpartum depression.

Though PPD can feel differently for each individual woman, here are a few of the most common experiences:

A Sense of Dread

Many new mothers experience an inexplicable and ominous feeling that something is just… not right. They have a sense of dread in the pit of their stomach that something terrible was about to happen. Some women may experience a racing heart and tightness in their chest.

A Huge Disconnect

Many new mothers find that they are able to carry out important daily tasks, but experience a sense of disconnection from their babies and their own sense of motherhood. Some women have described it as feeling numb. They made sure their babies were clean, warm and fed, but they had no real desire to cuddle with them or connect in any meaningful way.

Rage and Resentment

After giving birth, most mothers need a little R&R in the form of rest and relaxation. But many women are surprised when the R&R comes in the form of rage and resentment. This can be one of the hardest and scariest aspects of PPD to deal with.

The rage can be directed at all different kinds of things. You might feel rage about the expectations other people have of you. Rage about missing out on other parts of your life while you become a mother full-time. Rage about how intrusive your workplace is while you are away on leave. Rage for no apparent reason. And, sometimes the feelings of rage turn into feelings of resentment toward your newborn and husband.

Guilt

Of course, when a new mother feels rage, resentment, and detachment from her child, she naturally feels guilty for feeling these feelings that she doesn’t want to feel in the first place. A woman may also feel guilty about doing something for herself, even something as simple as taking a 10-minute bath. And, because PPD does not have to make any sense, a woman can even feel guilty about feeling guilty.

You are Not Alone

When it comes to motherhood, many women feel they have to be absolutely perfect. This makes admitting to anyone that they are suffering from PPD difficult, if not impossible. So, though they are suffering inside, women will put on a good face for the outside world and pretend they are fine – happy even.

It’s important that you never feel ashamed to speak your truth. You are not alone, and as soon as you can speak about your experience and what you are feeling, you begin your journey toward healing.

I would love to help you come out of the darkness and back into the light. This could mean simply listening to your story, helping you make lifestyle changes, or even discussing medication to get you through the rough patch.

If you’d like to explore treatment, please contact me today. I would be happy to speak with you about how I may be able to help.

Why Most People Misunderstand Depression

Of all the words in the English language, depression must be one of the most misunderstood. Why does this term seem to confuse so many people? Why is its real meaning so hard to grasp? It is because the term has two starkly contrasting meanings, depending on who is using it.

Among clinicians, the term depression is used to describe a debilitating syndrome that robs people of their energy, memories, ability to concentrate, love and experience joy. This is not just an emotional state, but a physical one that impacts specific regions of the brain. Depression actually lights up the brain’s pain circuitry, inducing a state of suffering that can become debilitating.

Beyond this, depression is actually neurotoxic, meaning the disorder can eventually lead to the death of neurons in critical memory and reasoning areas of the brain, including the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. Simply stated –  depression causes brain damage.

Colloqiual Usage

Confusion abounds when the term ‘depression’ is used by people in everyday conversation, however. In these instances, they usually are referring to something far less serious or clinical. In fact, most people use the term as a synonym for mere sadness or being slightly upset.

For instance, you will often here people make comments such as, “I was so depressed when Starbucks dropped its pumpkin spice latte,” or “Oh my God, I just ripped a whole in my favorite pair of jeans. I am like, so depressed right now.” No, you’re not, you’re bummed, pretty disappointed in fact, but you are certainly not depressed. These kinds of disappointments, while frustrating, are simply a part of life.

But ripped jeans and discontinued menu items have little effect on our ability to function, and the feelings of disappointment and annoyance rarely last for very long. A friendly word from a loved one or a hug is generally all that’s needed to get over the perceived “crisis.”

In contrast, clinical depression often persists for months, and no amount of friendly support from loved ones is enough to make it any less debilitating.

Time for New Language?

And that is where the confusion lies, and why many people simply don’t understand the true ramifications of clinical depression. It is also why those who suffer from depression are met with relative indifference when they open up to friends and family about their condition.

The sad reality is that, because of this profound confusion, many depressed patients are expected to simply “snap out of it” by their friends and family. No one would ever take this attitude with someone suffering from cancer or kidney disease; the admonition is equally offensive and inappropriate in the case of clinical depression.

Perhaps it is time to come up with a new term to describe the symptoms of clinical depression. By using new language, more people might understand the disease and show more compassion toward individuals suffering from it.

If you or a loved one is interested in exploring treatment, please contact me today. I would be happy to speak with you about how I may be able to help.