Tears began slipping down my face. Soon, I could no longer hold them back, as loud sobs escaped. We had just left my mom’s nursing home. She didn’t recognize us, and she had no idea it was Thanksgiving Day 2006. I needed my mom to comfort me, but she couldn’t do that. I’m glad she didn’t know the truth; that her granddaughter, my daughter, had left home and wanted nothing to do with us.
Her departure in September drove me into a deep, dark depression. I felt good on the antidepressants, but I wanted to stop taking them. During the short autumn days and the holidays, I cried a lot. As much as I hated to admit it, I had to return to my doctor and confess that I couldn’t handle life.
My doctor didn’t seem alarmed. He told me that the fall and early winter days affect our moods. He suggested I begin the meds again, and if I felt like stopping them, we could do that in the spring. (When I stopped taking the meds, I did it under his supervision. Please never attempt to stop antidepressants cold turkey.)
That’s the first time I heard of Seasonal-Affected Disorder (SAD). My doctor explained that our bodies respond differently to the short dark days between fall and spring because there is less sunlight.
Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Toa Heftiba
Do You Have SAD?
Not everyone who feels a little down has SAD. Here are symptoms that might alert you as to whether you just feel a little bummed out or if you are dealing with a more serious condition such as SAD or winter depression (as it is sometimes called, according to the Mayo Clinic).
The Mayo Clinic lists the following symptoms that may need medical attention:
-Lack of energy
-Overeating, especially carbs
-Losing interest in activities you usually enjoy
-Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, or guilt.
What Causes SAD?
According to the Mayo Clinic, our bodies have a circadian rhythm which responds to sunlight or the lack of sunlight. I’ve experienced this change as my vision has grown dim. People who are totally blind, or as in my case, close to it, can grow quite sleepy during the day, especially the shorter days and cloudy days. Our bodies think it is time to sleep, even if it is in the middle of the day.
The same is true for SAD and the winter blues. Our internal clocks respond to less sunlight in several ways. Serotonin affects our moods, and their levels drop due to less sunlight. This can lead to depression.
The Mayo Clinic went on to explain that it also affects the melatonin levels, which affect sleep and mood. Less sunlight equals less hormone production.
If you struggle with SAD or just the winter blues, don’t feel you have no options. No, we can’t control the sun, but as Christians we are not without hope. Here are seven things that we can do to counteract the short days of winter:
1. Light Therapy
For the most severe cases, the Mayo Clinic recommends light therapy. Consult your primary care doctor to learn more. They will likely have a certified clinical psychiatrist you can consult for more specific treatment.
Antidepressants carry a stigma, especially in the church. However, they work well for many people. Have a discussion with your primary care doctor or psychiatrist about them. And don't forget, if Jesus used fish and loaves to feed five-thousand people, Jesus can use therapy and medication to aid your healing.
3. Vitamin D
Get more Vitamin D from the sun and foods rich in vitamin D. Even on a cloudy day, the sun’s rays reach us. Spend time outside even if you have to bundle up. I love going for walks, and I always find myself in a better mood when I get outside.
4. Controlled Indulgence
Treat yourself to something nice. Sip on some hot chocolate or hot apple cider. Perhaps, every now and then you allow yourself to have a special dessert. This doesn’t mean stuff yourself full of carbs, but it’s just a small indulgence.
5. Something to Look Forward To
Create something to look forward to. When the Hallmark Christmas movies begin, I try to end my day early so I can watch the evening movie. Not a fan of Hallmark? Try reading a book by the fireplace, take a bubble bath, or chose an activity in the evening so you have that to enjoy. It can be in the morning or afternoon if that works better for you.
Check out the FREE Christian Natural Health Podcast that teaches you about natural health from a biblical perspective. Join Dr. Lauren Deville, a practicing naturopathic physician in Tucson, AZ. In this podcast, she and her guests cover topics ranging from nutrition, sleep, hormone balancing and exercise, to specific health concerns like hair loss, anxiety, and hypothyroidism. Listen to all the episodes for FREE at LifeAudio.com. Click the play button below to hear her episode on burnout and mindfulness:
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6. Jesus, the Light of the World
When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12 NIV)
Let’s go back to John 7:2 for the context of this verse. The Jewish Feast of Tabernacles was taking place at this time. That means it was late autumn. That’s right, the Feast of Tabernacles occurred during the same time as seasonal affective disorder usually occurs.
During the feast, they had a light ceremony since the daylight hours and nighttime hours were of equal length on the autumn equinox. This light ceremony had a future meaning and a past one too. In Zechariah 14:7, we read that the Day of the Lord will have no night or day.
It also pointed back to the wilderness journey as the Israelites followed a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night to get to the Promised Land (Exodus 13:21).
When we follow Christ, we will never walk in darkness. Even though shorter days give us less physical light, I believe an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ can make up a large portion of that. Yes, we still need to get outside. Yes, we may need medication, but a close communion with Jesus Christ can do things for our mood that nothing else can. Just remember every year when autumn begins: Jesus is the Light of the World.
No matter what the season is, worship heals our sadness. Psalm 42 and 43 exemplify the healing ministry of praise.
Here, we find the psalmist in deep agony, shedding tears both day and night. He asks the question, “Why are you disquieted in me?” Then he responds, “Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him.” (Psalm 42:5 NIV)
Have you ever tried to praise God when you didn’t feel like praising Him? Have you ever sung to the Lord out of a deep dark place?
During my years of depression, I forced myself to praise, and I found what the psalmist says is true. Praise has an effect on our pain. It might feel unnatural. It might sound crazy, but praise works like a good medicine. It’s something you can do anytime or anywhere.
Now, you possess more knowledge on why you may feel a little down during the fall and winter days. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you might want to see your doctor. Meanwhile, you can implement the practical tips of treating yourself and getting outside.
Most importantly, you can spend time with the Light of the World, Jesus Christ. You can rest in the fact that Jesus is more than a light ceremony, but He is the Light that never dims.
While you spend time with our Lord, you can give Him some praise. Put on some worship music. Sing an old hymn. Soak in the light from the Light of Jesus.
Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Fachy Marin
Originally published Tuesday, 11 October 2022.