Are You SAD? 3 Ways to Battle Seasonal Affective Disorder

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Do you feel depressed during the winter months?  Do you get the post-holiday blues that seem to hang on through February?  If so, you may suffer from SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder.

What is SAD?

SAD is a mental illness that consists of clinical depression which manifests during the winter months when the daylight hours are shorter.  Researchers report that the decreased exposure to sunlight during the winter months could lead to an increase of melatonin and a decrease in serotonin, both of which are brain chemicals that need to be at appropriate levels to keep an individual’s mood healthy.

Couple that with colder temperatures, which often keeps people indoors more than usual and you have a recipe for fatigue, decreased activity, decreased motivation, sadness, increased appetite, sleep disturbances, and poor concentration.

3 Ways to Battle SAD

    1. Light Therapy

For many people, light therapy is an effective way to combat SAD.  Sitting in front of a specially designed light box for a brief period of time each day can affect the brain chemicals that affect your mood.  It is best to follow your doctor’s recommendations regarding light therapy, and special precautions need to be taken for those individuals with bipolar disorder since light therapy can induce mania.

     2.  Social Activity

Maintaining an active social calendar can help ward off SAD during the winter months.  It is easy to want to stay inside the home where it is safe and warm, but that leads to isolation which increases depression symptoms.  Make a plan to put regularly scheduled activities on your calendar and stick to them no matter how you feel.

Attend church once a week or more.  Plan a weekly lunch or dinner or coffee date with friends or family members.  Join a writers’ group or other hobbyists’ group that meets weekly or bi-weekly.  Go to weekly support groups.  Take a continuing education class at the local college.  Join a gym.  Take an exercise class or cooking class or photography workshop at the local community center; anything to put yourself in contact with other people with whom you can socialize and form bonds.

    3.  Professional Treatment

Some people need medication to help manage their SAD symptoms or need adjustments made to their current medications.  If you feel symptoms of SAD, which are listed below, for more than a week or two, contact your doctor for help.

Symptoms of SAD

  • Oversleeping
  • Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
  • Weight gain
  • Tiredness or low energy
  • Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Feeling agitated
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty
  • Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide

Don’t let SAD symptoms go on and on, thinking they will go away on their own.  SAD is a serious disorder that needs professional treatment.  Call your doctor for help.  And if you are currently having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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Bipolar and Perseverance

board-928392_960_720Perseverance is defined as “steady persistence in a course of action…especially in spite of difficulties (or) obstacles.” The fluctuating moods of bipolar disorder often hinder one’s ability to persevere through various tasks in life.

Take this blog, for example. I haven’t posted in over four months for various reasons, but one has to do with lack of perseverance. There have been great difficulties in my life and other obstacles that have kept me from steadily posting, and I don’t particularly appreciate that. I like posting. I miss posting. Bipolar gets in the way sometimes.

The medications I take for my bipolar disorder slow down my thinking processes. This makes it difficult for me to write blog posts. This is one of the reasons I took to reporting on research articles more than writing essays. It is one of my strategies for persevering in spite of my bipolar disorder.

There are many other areas in my life where perseverance is an issue due to my bipolar disorder. I have half finished projects all around my house: Artwork started and then forgotten; shelves that I am in the process of repainting that should take a few days to do, might get finished in a month if I am lucky; exercise routines initiated and within a week abandoned; writing projects started and left to collect dust, and the list goes on and on.

There is a lot of research on impulsivity and distractibility in bipolar disorder. I think these play a role in the lack of perseverance some with bipolar might notice in their life. Starting projects on a whim then not being able to stay focused, both of which are common occurrences during hypomania and mania, would definitely lead people to abandon their goals. Starting projects while stable then becoming depressed would yield the same results.

So, you can see that lack of perseverance in people with bipolar disorder is not necessarily a character flaw or laziness. It is often times merely a symptom of their disorder.

Study Comparing Bipolar II vs. Bipolar I

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A recent study showed that Bipolar Type II, often thought of as the less severe form of Bipolar Disorder, is actually worse than Bipolar Type I is some ways.

Some of the ways Bipolar II is more severe than Bipolar I:

  • increased comorbid anxiety
  • increased first-degree relative with mood disorder
  • more prior mood episodes
  • current depression
  • current antidepressant use
  • rapid cycling in the prior year
  • childhood onset

On the other hand, Bipolar II patients had significantly less hospitalizations and current prescription psychotropic use compared to Bipolar I patients.

Both groups had a statistically similar rate of prior suicide attempts.

Comorbid Bipolar and Anxiety Disorders

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The largest treatment study of bipolar disorder conducted to date found that more than half the study participants with bipolar disorder also had a comorbid anxiety disorder.*

I have been experiencing what I thought were hypomanic symptoms – decreased need for sleep, restlessness, increased productivity/creativity, project-oriented tasks, irritability, OCD behaviors, agitation, and distractibility.

However, since my over all mood was not elated or euphoric but rather anxious, my psychiatrist said I was experiencing anxiety and not mania. I do tend to cope with anxiety by “keeping busy” to distract myself and to work off all of that “nervous energy.” And I get a bit obsessive with cleaning and organizing my environment in an attempt to control my surroundings in some way when I am feeling “out of control” on the inside.

It is frustrating to get confused on what my symptoms mean, however. I guess that is what the doctors are there for – to assess and diagnose. I would like to think I knew myself and my illness a little bit better by now though, but I guess we are always learning, aren’t we? Do your symptoms ever confuse you?

*Reference

3 Simple Ways to Combat Worry

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I am a worrier. Worry is one of the major symptoms of depression, and I have come to accept the fact that worrying is a part of who I am. Some days are better than others, but overall, my mind is usually running amuck with worrisome thoughts. Here are some ways in which I try to combat the worry in my life:

1) Practice Mindfulness

I try to stay focused on what is happening in the present moment. I asked myself, What am I seeing right this very second with my eyes? What do I hear? What task am I performing and how does that feel? For example, the laptop is hard and flat on my legs. The keys are small and black, and the cursor blinks methodically as I sit and think of what to type next. I am staying in the moment, not thinking of past or future events – not worrying! Being mindful by engaging in productive activity is one of the best ways I know of to stop worrying.

2) Prayer

I am not a religious person, per se, but I am a spiritual person. I believe in a higher power that gives me strength to deal with what comes my way in life. I have a plaque hanging on my wall that says, “God doesn’t give us what we can handle, He helps us handle what we are given.” I truly believe this, if we only ask for His help via prayer. It has always worked for me. Not always in the time frame that I want, but has worked eventually, nonetheless.

3) Talking with others

When I share my worries with others, especially others who have had similar fears, it seems to unburden the worries from my mind. It’s as if naming them aloud releases the power they have over me. By telling trusted friends how I am feeling, I also get the benefit of their insight and wisdom on how they dealt with the same worries, and their now broader perspective on the issues. It is also just nice to know that I am not alone in my struggles.

Are you a worrier? Is there a particular worry you can’t shake? How do you cope with worry?

This post is linked to Write into the Light’s Weekend Mental Health Writing Prompt – Worry.

Are People with Bipolar Disorder Lazy?

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A recent study reported that those of us with bipolar disorder are significantly more sedentary than those who do not have the disorder. Health professionals recommend 150 minutes of moderate to rigorous physical activity per week. Apparently, we of the bipolar persuasion sit on our duffs for 78% of the day while “nonusers of mental health services” are sedentary for only 59% of the day.

I get it…the numbers don’t lie. But, I’d like to let those researchers in on a little secret: we aren’t sitting around in a completely dulled state. More often than not, our minds are going 250,000 miles per minute thinking of project after project; worrying about the past; projecting into the future, and wishing more than anything that the pesky hamster taking speed, who continuously runs on the wheel inside our heads, would take a friggin’ nap already!

Wouldn’t it be great if mental activity burned as many calories as physical activity? Although, then we’d all have to be treated for anorexia, now, wouldn’t we?

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Or maybe we are in a dulled state. Why? Oh gee, could it be the multitude of medications we are on, or are we really just lazy? Don’t get me wrong – the researchers did NOT say we were lazy. That is my inference alone; I take 100% responsibility for it. They did however conclude that:

“From public health and clinical perspectives, these findings justify physical activity interventions targeting adults with [bipolar disorder],” ~ Janney et al.

I just have one question for Janney et al: Do you et al want me to vigorously workout before or after I take my daily dose of Seroquel? In other words, give me a medication regime that doesn’t include fatigue as a major side effect, and I’ll race you to the gym!

Can anyone relate?

Check out more posts on Bipolar Disorder:
Bipolar Disorder and Memory Problems
Impulsive Behavior and Substance Abuse in Bipolar Disorder
Jealousy and Poor Sense of Identity in Bipolar Borderline
Boredom – Is It Depression or Mania?

Are you newly diagnosed as having Bipolar Disorder? Check out these videos from fellow peers with Bipolar as they give words of encouragement to let you know you are not alone even though “you’ve got this!” (a Healthline campaign.)

Lastly, subscribe to my blog to receive more fun, fact-filled bipolar posts by using the ‘follow by email button’ or fill out the contact form below.

Bipolar Disorder and Memory Problems

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A recent study in Bipolar Disorder found that those with the disorder had prospective memory impairments compared to those without the disorder. Prospective memory is the ability to plan to do something and later remember to carry it out.

Just today my prospective memory failed me as I had plan to make a crock pot meal for supper which involved combining the ingredients and turning the crock pot on low five hours ahead of when we planned on eating. I became engaged in other tasks, namely watching TV and stressing about getting my house cleaned for company this weekend, before I realized it was four hours before dinnertime and I hadn’t even started preparing the crock pot meal!

Now this isn’t as tragic as forgetting to take an infant out of the car before going into the store, or leaving a scalpel inside a patient after surgery, which are both examples of failing prospective memory, but it was annoying nonetheless.  Next time I will set the timer on my microwave to remind me when I should have started the meal prep.

Here are some other ways to improve your prospective memory:

  • use checklists
  • write out when and where you intend to complete a future task
  • use calendar alerts on your cell phone to remind you to do a task
  • do not put off important tasks for later; do them now
  • write the reminder on your hand
  • tie a string around your finger
  • leave a note on the door you exit everyday

How do you remember to do something later?