8 points on emergency preparedness for winter depression

the days are getting shorter. it’s raining. cold creeps in.

for some people, yet another bout of winter depression, or SAD (seasonal affective disorder) is just around the corner.

chronic and recurring conditions – and for many people, depression falls under those categories – are manageable. we can learn from them: each time they happen, we can take note so that we can improve next time around.

it’s a little like emergency response. think about how hard places like japan used to be hit by earthquakes. yet today tokyo, for example, has a whole system of confidently building skyscrapers. it stands on shaky ground, just like people with mental illness often feel they stand on shaky ground, but with patience, experience and ingenuity, that didn’t prevent it from becoming one of the most vibrant, successful cities.

here are some ways to prepare for the depression emergency that my clients and i have found useful:

  1. make your mental health a priority. take an hour or so to think about what that means for you. if mental health is a big issue for you, you might have to make it priority number one – before work, before relationships. definitely before TV, computer use and whatever other “escape” activities you engage in.
  2. devise a ruse to get yourself outdoors for at least 30 minutes each day, during the daytime.
  3. don’t draw the curtains! drawing the curtains, together with the next point, not answering the phone, is perhaps one of the most typical activities of people in depression.it seems like a small thing but doing this helps in many ways. it keeps you connected with the world and with light, on a very physical level. when it feels like you don’t have the emotional connection, at least you can have the physical connection.
  4. answer your phone, for the reasons mentioned in 3. and 5.
  5. make sure to interact with people on a daily basis. talk and listen. the isolation that creeps in around depression is similar to the false protection our muscles try to give us after an injury. when you’re right in the depression, a lot of the things people say will irritate and bore you.however, if you can tell yourself before it gets too bad that staying connected will ultimately help you, you may not even fall that low, and you might just be able to stand the discomfort of these seemingly irritating interactions.
  6. make sure you have a trusted person from whom you can expect the understanding that you might not be able to get from others at this time. a friend, a spiritual director, a counsellor, a doctor.
  7. if you have a trusted mental health professional, make sure you stay in touch with her or him and do your best to follow any plans you’ve laid out together. this is probably not the time to experiment.
  8. most importantly, listen to yourself. what does your body need? what does your soul need? again, if you get yourself to train your inner ear now, you’ll have an easier time picking up on the messages should the numbness of depression set in more fully.

what are some ways that help you prepare for and live through the emergency of depression?

4 thoughts on “8 points on emergency preparedness for winter depression

  1. Myrthe

    Thank you, Isabella! This is a very timely reminder for me as I do suffer from SAD. I recently moved to a new apartment, within walking distance of my work (about a 45 min walk) and I am trying to build the habit of walking to work, because I like the exercise and also to try to avoid / lessen the winter depression in the coming months

    The advice about interaction with people is also a good one for me to remember, as I tend to retreat into my own apartment a lot more. Fortunately, this doesn’t last more than two days (the weekend), but still. Though, I also know that from time to time I need to give in to this need for seclusion and I just stay home reading, writing, doing things in the house.

  2. Myrthe

    Thank you, Isabella! This is a very timely reminder for me as I do suffer from SAD. I recently moved to a new apartment, within walking distance of my work (about a 45 min walk) and I am trying to build the habit of walking to work, because I like the exercise and also to try to avoid / lessen the winter depression in the coming months

    The advice about interaction with people is also a good one for me to remember, as I tend to retreat into my own apartment a lot more. Fortunately, this doesn’t last more than two days (the weekend), but still. Though, I also know that from time to time I need to give in to this need for seclusion and I just stay home reading, writing, doing things in the house.

  3. Fausto Intilla

    Science Daily — Brain imaging has revealed a breakdown in normal patterns of emotional processing that impairs the ability of people with clinical depression to suppress negative emotional states. Efforts by depressed patients to suppress their feelings when viewing emotionally negative images enhanced activity in several brain areas, including the amygdala, known to play a role in generating emotion, according to a report in the August 15 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience.
    “Identifying areas in the nervous system that correlate to pathological mood states is one of the pressing questions in mental illness today,” says Carol Tamminga, MD, of the University of Texas Southwest Medical Center. Tamminga was not involved in the study.
    Tom Johnstone, PhD, of the University of Wisconsin, and colleagues there and at Tufts University studied 21 adults diagnosed with major depressive disorder and 18 healthy subjects of comparable ages. Participants were asked to view a series of emotionally positive and negative images and then indicate their reaction to each one. Four seconds after the presentation of each picture, participants were asked either to increase their emotional response (for example, imagining a loved one experiencing what was depicted in the image), to decrease it, or simply to continue watching the image.
    During the test, a functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner detected changes in neural activity. Johnstone and his colleagues also recorded levels of emotional excitement by measuring pupil dilation.
    The data showed distinctive patterns of activity in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC) and the right prefrontal cortex (PFC), areas that regulate the emotional output generated from the amygdala. The VMPFC is compromised in depression, likely because of the inappropriate engagement of right PFC circuitry in depressed individuals.
    “These findings underscore the importance of emotional regulation deficits in depression,” says Johnstone. “They also suggest targets for therapeutic intervention.”
    According to previous research, normal interaction between the amygdala and the VMPFC may underlie the proper adaptation of levels of the stress hormone cortisol on a daily basis. These levels do not vary as widely in people with major depressive disorder; future research may now be able to clarify the mechanism that underlies this aspect of depression. It could also examine the possibility of using measurements of activity in the amygdala to predict the effectiveness of treatments for depression such as cognitive behavioral therapy.
    The work was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health, part of the National Institutes of Health, and Wyeth-Ayerst Pharmaceuticals.
    Note: This story has been adapted from material provided by Society for Neuroscience.

    Fausto Intilla
    http://www.oloscience.com

  4. Fausto Intilla

    Science Daily — Brain imaging has revealed a breakdown in normal patterns of emotional processing that impairs the ability of people with clinical depression to suppress negative emotional states. Efforts by depressed patients to suppress their feelings when viewing emotionally negative images enhanced activity in several brain areas, including the amygdala, known to play a role in generating emotion, according to a report in the August 15 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience.
    “Identifying areas in the nervous system that correlate to pathological mood states is one of the pressing questions in mental illness today,” says Carol Tamminga, MD, of the University of Texas Southwest Medical Center. Tamminga was not involved in the study.
    Tom Johnstone, PhD, of the University of Wisconsin, and colleagues there and at Tufts University studied 21 adults diagnosed with major depressive disorder and 18 healthy subjects of comparable ages. Participants were asked to view a series of emotionally positive and negative images and then indicate their reaction to each one. Four seconds after the presentation of each picture, participants were asked either to increase their emotional response (for example, imagining a loved one experiencing what was depicted in the image), to decrease it, or simply to continue watching the image.
    During the test, a functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner detected changes in neural activity. Johnstone and his colleagues also recorded levels of emotional excitement by measuring pupil dilation.
    The data showed distinctive patterns of activity in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC) and the right prefrontal cortex (PFC), areas that regulate the emotional output generated from the amygdala. The VMPFC is compromised in depression, likely because of the inappropriate engagement of right PFC circuitry in depressed individuals.
    “These findings underscore the importance of emotional regulation deficits in depression,” says Johnstone. “They also suggest targets for therapeutic intervention.”
    According to previous research, normal interaction between the amygdala and the VMPFC may underlie the proper adaptation of levels of the stress hormone cortisol on a daily basis. These levels do not vary as widely in people with major depressive disorder; future research may now be able to clarify the mechanism that underlies this aspect of depression. It could also examine the possibility of using measurements of activity in the amygdala to predict the effectiveness of treatments for depression such as cognitive behavioral therapy.
    The work was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health, part of the National Institutes of Health, and Wyeth-Ayerst Pharmaceuticals.
    Note: This story has been adapted from material provided by Society for Neuroscience.

    Fausto Intilla
    http://www.oloscience.com

  5. wayne

    winter seems so far away in many ways here in SE Pennsylvania. should be 61 on an average day and we are hitting 80 with good humidity. Thursdays have been my day to notice the difference. for the past 7 weeks I have been leaving at 6:30 to meet with my spirtitual director. Today the sun was barely up when I got to his office. It may be dark next week. My classroom has many lightstands for plants. If I have to be inside in the winter, it is a good place.

  6. wayne

    winter seems so far away in many ways here in SE Pennsylvania. should be 61 on an average day and we are hitting 80 with good humidity. Thursdays have been my day to notice the difference. for the past 7 weeks I have been leaving at 6:30 to meet with my spirtitual director. Today the sun was barely up when I got to his office. It may be dark next week. My classroom has many lightstands for plants. If I have to be inside in the winter, it is a good place.

  7. Pingback: In Between Meds, Searching for a Diagnosis, Richard Dadd, and Compassion for Your Self | JANE'S MENTAL HEALTH SOURCE PAGE

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