What is SAD, How Do I Know I Have It and What Can I Do About It?
When the weather gets colder; when we see the sun less; when the holidays come and go and leave us feeling empty; when it becomes harder and harder to get outside for that workout or bike ride; No matter how active, optimistic or generally upbeat you are, there are times of the year when we all get a little bummed out. Maybe for you, that time of the year isn’t the winter at all. Maybe every May you get down because that’s when your mother passed away and it is a reminde she isn’t there anymore. Maybe you live in an area that is so hot, it makes it impossible to get outside when the sun is up during the summer. The lack of vitamin D really weighs on you that time of year.
So what is that feeling? Is it normal? Well, if “normal” means lots of other women experience the same thing, then YES!
Seasonal depression, or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), is a mood disorder—just like any other type of depression. However, this depression occurs annually during a certain time. It could be triggered by daylight savings time ending, a holiday, colder or wetter weather, by loss, or really anything.
Debra Stanfield is a licensed marriage and family therapist in the state of California. She specializes in working with the rehabilitation population and has had a generous amount of experience with all types of depression. According to Debra, SAD episodes occur more frequently in women and it is common for them to occur around the holidays.
“I think it has something to do with expectations of the holidays as well as it being darker. For women, we have to be the superhuman worker and mother and have the perfectly clean house and the food ready. Sometimes we feel like we just want to hit the fast forward button to January.”
We talked with some of our Liv Ambassadors in different parts of the United States to see if these amazing athletes, mothers and business owners had ever experienced Seasonal Depression. The response blew us away.
One bike shop co-owner in Minneapolis, Minnesota can relate to what Debra is talking about.
“Yes, the amount of light and the ability to be outside and be active affects me. But it is also the things that happen around this time. The holidays play into it. I found that my reaction to the holidays and the expectations of me around this time played into my feelings of wellbeing. It was harder for me to do the things that usually make me feel good.”
About 10 of our 110 US ambassadors responded to our inquiry about SAD. But keep in mind, these 10 women know that they have SAD and have the courage to share their story. Many women who may be depressed don’t know they have it or may feel ashamed to admit it. So, how do you know you are depressed versus just a little bummed about the weather?
“It is important to have people you can trust in your life that can see this pattern. Whether it is a good friend, partner or doctor, you need to have someone who you can ask, ‘What do you notice about me, is there anything different?” According to Debra, it is sometimes difficult to notice changes within yourself. You are so busy with work, kids, training or whatever you have going on that it is hard for you to tell when a pattern of depression starts showing up. Start paying attention to your body, here are some symptoms of depression to look for:
Debra emphasizes the importance of asking for help if you feel like you are experiencing any of these symptoms or if your friends and family notice any of these symptoms in your behavior.
“It is not a failure to have depression show up. It is just like any other disease. But, one of the tendencies we have as high-performing women is feeling like asking for help is a failure. If you had diabetes you would ask for help. This is no different. Let’s destigmatize depression.”
So, we asked our Ambassadors how they cope with their Seasonal Depression. These are women who have sought help and are taking control of their depression. They had some great advice:
Set a goal for yourself that requires you to stay motivated through the winter.
One of our ambassadors talks about how a goal for a century ride (and our own ambassador camp in Arizona) kept her going, even on the tough days. She knew that if she didn’t work for it, she wouldn’t be able to complete her goals. Suddenly, it was Spring and she was kicking butt!
Exercise. Indoors and Outdoors.
Even if it is cold or wet outside, have the tools you need to exercise both indoors and outdoors. Spend the money to winterize your bike, buy a new outfit or get into a new winter sport. Get a membership to a gym so that you have options!
Find something you enjoy OTHER THAN cycling.
I know, we love cycling. We LIVE FOR cycling. But, Debra warns against placing all your happiness on one activity. So, diversify! One of our ambassadors talks about how much she loves to dance. Dance classes, dancing with friends, you name it… it is just so joyful.
Walk or ride to school or work (even if it is cold)!
Get outside and get active when you can. Riding or walking to work could be the catalyst that makes your whole day so much happier. (bonus tip: take the stairs!)
Finding variety in your gym time.
One of our ambassadors talks about how much she looks forward to her family swim time at the indoor pool on the weekends. Switching it up, getting an unexpected workout and spending time with her kids gives her ammunition against her depression.
Keep a journal.
Be real and honest with yourself. Opening up about how you are really feeling can help you make sense of what is going on in your body.
Develop a strong network of friends.
And not just people you go to the bar with. Friends are people who you can easily and honestly talk with about your challenges. They support you, motivate you and give you a push when you need it.
Mindfulness training and meditation.
Yeah, yoga is good too, but you might need more than that. Take a mindfulness class. Meditation is a great self-care technique that you can do without relying on exercise.
Some studies have shown that acupuncture can help treat depression. Hey, it’s worth a try. Those little needles are powerful!
Find joy in the little things.
One of our ambassadors says she has been known to turn up the heat, put on summer clothes and eat her favorite warm-weather foods. Ice cream in the winter, yes please!
Have some gentleness with yourself.
From a Liv ambassador: “I am an athlete. I am a fairly driven person. If there is a problem, I want to get after it and solve it. But when it comes to depression, there is a certain amount of action that is required and there is a certain amount of acceptance too. I have learned respect and love for myself and depression is part of that, it is part of who I am. So, I slow down. I feel what I feel because those feelings aren’t wrong—you just can’t drown in them. There are cycles to how we are as human beings and there are times in my life when I have more energy and clear direction. But sometimes, you just need to rest.”
Want to read more awesome stories of women conquering their darker days? Click below!