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What No One Says About Seasonal Depression

What do you do when getting out of the house or going to the gym doesn't automatically fix your seasonal depression?

Photo by the Chicago Sun Times

*DISCLAIMER: I am in no way a professional of any kind. Information stated below is based on personal experience and might not be applicable to everyone. Please seek professional help if you are experiencing serious mental health issues.*

It's January again, and you know what that means: New Year's resolutions on every single Insta story, a whole herd of people heading to the gym, and the overwhelming focus on self-love perpetuating from all forms of social media. January seems to be the busiest month of the year for "getting back to yourself" and focusing on self-care. Thus, there are numerous amounts of articles focusing on improving yourself, especially in terms of health. Along with physical health and going to the gym, many Instagrammers have been focusing on mental health and the effects of seasonal depression or SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). As someone who has dealt with depression and anxiety—and not just seasonally—I have appreciated the visibility that SAD is getting from social media figures, with thousands of followers, who likely suffer from seasonal depression, but either didn't know what it was or didn't want to talk about it.

Yet, through all of the Pinterest posts and the Instagram stories about the "Top 10 Ways to Handle Seasonal Depression," I have noticed a lack of authenticity about the everyday struggles of SAD. More often than not, these posts claim that going to the gym, eating healthy, or getting more vitamin D (either from vitamins or the actual sun) will be the answer to all your seasonal depression needs. Not one post that I have read has explained the complexity of seasonal depression or the crazy mess of after effects that it can cause in your life.

Seasonal depression isn't always feeling a little bit down or not wanting to go hang out with friends as soon as the sun starts setting at 4:30 in the afternoon. I'm not discounting the experiences of others, who do deal with these issues and struggle to navigate the complex emotions that come with that; however, it seems to me that in the eyes of these social media moguls, SAD is easily dismissible as long as you take your vitamins and go to the gym. This is not true. Seasonal depression is a tangled web of emotions that, especially if you only experience it once a year, and it can be overwhelming and almost impossible to weave yourself out of. For me, seasonal depression is a catalyst for so many other emotions and potentially toxic behaviors that I fall into.

I am not a professional in any way, and who knows, maybe the vitamins and exercise work for some people, but what happens when SAD is so bad that getting out of bed to go to the gym just isn't possible for you? For me, this is a reality. From October until about March, my motivation to do just about anything flies straight out the window. School becomes harder, seeing my friends and making plans suddenly seems like much more of a hassle, and honestly, it feels like my energy source is slowly being sucked out of me through negative thoughts and toxic behaviors. In my life, there is a constant cycle of stress because I'm not motivated enough to do the things I need to like homework, that then becomes anxiety that courses through my everyday activities like a constant underlining sense of being doused in cold water, and rounds itself out into depression that controls my entire life, making my decisions for me. I am tired of people making posts and self-help blogs about how SAD is something so simple to solve.

The truth is that seasonal depression is not just feeling a little bit down for a couple months out of the year. SAD is much more complex than that, and if you aren't paying attention, it can impact every aspect of your life and follow you into a year-round depression. Those on social media who brush it off as something simple are harming those who suffer from it. This blasé attitude towards it takes away its seriousness and credibility when those who are suffering try to speak about it or find solutions. As I stated earlier, I AM NOT A PROFESSIONAL and, therefore, have no medically backed advice to give, but here's some advice of my own that I hope can help in some way.

1. Emotional Inventory

For me, managing my seasonal depression comes down to taking what I call an "emotional inventory" and assessing my needs—not based on what a social media post told me, but based on what I feel are the right steps to take. By taking an "emotional inventory," you can take a step back from what is happening as a result of your emotions, and just look at exactly what you are feeling. This helps to decipher what is causing the way you are acting, and for me, helps with my ability to decide what is next.

2. Talk to someone.

This varies by person, but the biggest help for me is having someone to talk, honestly, with. I have a friend who I can actually say the words: "I am feeling depressed this week" or "Today is a bad day and I don't feel like there is hope for much of anything I'm doing." Having that one person who you can be brutally honest with and not scare them off or have them react negatively to what you say is incredibly important. This also helps with actualizing that what you feel is real and it is important. I personally struggle with accepting that what I am feeling is validated or real. Most of the time I believe I'm being dramatic and by talking to my friend, they help me realize that feeling certain ways are not only valid, but that it is also okay.

In saying this, I realize that there are many people out there who do not have a great support system like I do. At times, finding someone to talk to is incredibly challenging, and at other times, it's just impossible. This leads me into my next piece of advice.

3. Speak with a doctor.

Yes, almost all blogs, articles, Instagram posts, etc. mention this as the last resort when everything seems too much or there is no definitive next step to take. While they are all true, I do not believe that going to the doctor should be a last resort. Going to the doctor should, in a perfect world, be your first step. Without the correct tools and advice from a professional, SAD and other forms of mental health issues cannot be addressed and solved in the correct ways. Take it from someone who has suffered for many years with mental health. I did not go to the doctor during the first three years of my stress, anxiety, depression cycle (mentioned above), and it was the worst thing I did. I thought that all doctors did was prescribe medicine and send you to a therapist because you had failed at keeping your own mental health in check. THIS IS FALSE. Although it's part of a doctor’s job to find you the correct resources to help with your mental health—whether that be with therapy or medication—doctors also do a great job at listening and finding alternative solutions that you may have never even thought about. It is literally their job to help you, so if your seasonal depression is something you want to deal with and address, go talk to your doctor or even an online mental health service. Help shouldn't be something you are ashamed to ask for. We all need it, and suffering in silence is not an effective way to handle your mental health struggles.

Below I have listed some resources that I found online.

*Disclaimer: I have not used any of these services, nor am I being compensated in any way to mention these services. I have heard positive things about them and hope that they may help you in some way:

Online Counseling:

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