The holidays are a mixed bag. We’re expected to give thanks and spread cheer. But when we experience seasonal depression, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, it can be hard to align how we feel with gratitude and joy. Fortunately, there is a lot that we can do (low and no cost options) to address the symptoms of mild-to-moderate SAD.
What is seasonal depression?
Seasonal depression is layman’s terms for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Per the MayoClinic, SAD is closely linked to the change in seasons, as symptoms are more evident in the fall and winter months. Symptom include:
- Low mood
- Disinterest in hobbies and activities
- Craving carbs and subsequent weight gain
- Poor focus and concentration
- Intrusive thoughts
What causes seasonal depression?
There are several potential causes for SAD.
- If you have a history of depression or bipolar disorder, or immediate relatives who experience those mood disorders, you are more likely to have SAD. Because of the stigma around mental health, this factor can be harder to identify in some families.
- In some cases, shorter daylight hours contribute to lower levels of Vitamin D. Vitamin D is essential to healthy serotonin levels; without adequate serotonin, mood disorders such as depression can take hold.
- Modern humans rarely change our schedules to align with the seasons. Do you rise with the sun and wind down with the sunset? Me, neither! This means that our circadian cycles can easily fall out of sync with the seasons. Such behavior can disrupt our melatonin balance, which impacts sleep patterns and mood.
- There are also circumstances that can contribute to the presentation of depression. Fall and winter mark several holidays. If you have challenging relationships with family, friends, or coworkers, you may feel down regarding group gatherings. The grief of lost loved ones may also feel more potent during the holidays.
How can yoga decrease the symptoms of seasonal depression?
If you are having thoughts of self harm, show yourself compassion and receive help. Consider calling or texting 988. If someone that you love is struggling with a mental health crisis, consider these police-free intervention options.
Yoga also offers multiple tools to help us navigate the symptoms of depression.
Identify, but do not identify with, your emotions. Mindfulness and meditation help us to observe our feelings with a sense of neutrality. We can create a distinction between how we feel and who we are. With practice, you can observe challenging feelings without identifying with them. “I feel lonely right now” is not the same as “I am all alone,” for example.
Practice containment, not denial. Practices such as a containment meditation can help us observe our challenging emotions and contain them until we are better prepared to address with them. This is not the same as denying, suppressing or judging ourselves for having “bad” emotions.
Release feel-good endorphins through movement. Serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline are three endorphins released during physical activity. These chemicals promote a sense of contentment and wellbeing in our bodies. Moving between yoga asana (postures) is a great way to help your body release endorphins.
I recommend heart-opening postures such as supported Matsyasana (fish pose), Salamba Bhujangasana (sphinx), and Ustrasana (camel) poses. Heart-openers can improve respiration (more oxygen to the blood, muscles and brain!) and tell the nervous system that it is okay to receive compassion, love, and acceptance.
Dancing is also a quick and easy way to give yourself a boost. Turn up your favorite music and just let yourself moooooove! Bonus points if you can dance in contact with soil, grass, or stone as those surface promote grounding and earthing.
Examine your relationship to self and others through a new lens. The Yamas and Niyamas offer practical ways to live ethically. These approaches to communing with self and others encourage us to examine the causes of suffering in our lives and address them with compassion.
Santosha (contentment), for example, reminds me that when joy and happiness feel out of reach, contentment is a state of being that I can always access. It calls me to reflect on the present moment–having all that I need and so much of what I want–without judging how I should feel / could feel under different circumstances, or comparing my life to others’.