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  • Savanha Rawls

Depression looks different for everyone: Warning signs and Ways to care for yourself

It’s that time of year again. There is less daylight in our days, the trees become bare, the weather is frigid, and many begin to develop or experience an increase in depressive symptoms. A number of people attribute their depressive episodes to the changing seasons. Although this can be a direct cause of depressive symptoms for some, it is not the case for the majority. It is estimated that only 0.5-3% of the population are affected by seasonal affect disorder, most commonly known as seasonal depression. Depression is one of the most prevalent mental health disorders in the United States. A recent study found that over 21 million people worldwide suffered from depression in 2020 alone, which equates to about 1 in 10 Americans. Current research further identifies young adults aged 18-25, females, and individuals of two or more racial identities as the populations most affected by depression.

Depression has a multitude of causes from biological to physiological to social, to a combination of all the above. This can include genetic predisposition, hormone levels, brain chemical imbalances, poor gut health, adverse life experiences, physical health problems or other chronic illnesses, lack of social support or social isolation, medication, substance use, experiencing another mental health disorder, history of abuse, and/or major life transitions. *This is not an exhaustive list* It is important to remember that depression looks different on everyone, but the following are a few warning signs to look out for if you are concerned that you or a loved one may be suffering from depression.

  • Persistent sadness

  • Loss of interest or pleasure in normally enjoyable activities

  • Increased anxiety

  • Feelings of emptiness

  • Hopelessness

  • Irritability

  • Fatigue or loss of energy

  • Suicidal ideations

  • Sleep disturbances – early awakening, excess sleep, insomnia, restless sleep

  • Social isolation

  • Crying spells

  • Changes in eating patterns – excessive hunger, poor appetite

  • Weight changes

  • Difficulty concentrating

*This is not an exhaustive list*

Again, depression affects each person differently; while some individuals may experience only a few of these symptoms, others may experience all the above. Thankfully, there are changes or adjustments you can make to your current lifestyle to help alleviate symptoms of depression. First and foremost, taking proper care of your body is essential when combating symptoms of depression. However, in order to make some of these fundamental changes, you has to have the energy and the mindset.

To increase energy levels, it is important to maintain a healthy sleep regimen, maintain healthy eating patterns, drink plenty of water, and exercise. On average, adults require seven hours of restorative sleep each night; both too little sleep and too much sleep are detrimental to health. The quality of sleep is also crucial in maintaining healthy energy levels. To assist with this process, it can be helpful to create a consistent sleep schedule. This may look like starting a 30-minute bedtime routine at 10pm, get in bed by 10:30pm with the goal of being asleep by 10:45pm, and waking at 7am. Consistency is key when establishing a sleep regimen because it helps your body restore a natural circadian rhythm. Furthermore, a bedtime routine is also crucial in this process as it signals to your body and brain, “Hey, we are about to go to sleep, so it’s time for you to start getting sleepy.” Bedtime routines can vary in length and activity; however, consistency is key. An example bedtime routine may include turning off all screens, turning down the lights, and having a cup of tea while reading a book or engaging in some other form of relaxing self-care.

Additionally, healthy eating patterns are known to help stabilize energy. Healthy eating looks different for everyone, but a few things to consider are consuming a variety of food groups that fuel the body with essential nutrients, eating to contentment (not restricting or binging), and consuming the appropriate number of calories for YOUR body. With this, it is important to also stay hydrated. It is recommended that adults consume at least 70oz of water daily, with a target of consuming yourr weight in ounces (i.e. 150lb individual would consume 150oz of water daily).

Last, regular exercise is correlated with higher energy levels. The CDC states that adults require 150 minutes of physical activity and 2 sessions of muscle strengthening each week – or 30 minutes of daily exercise. These numbers may sound daunting. Give yourself permission to start small and build up to those healthy habits. If starting the morning off with 5 minutes of stretching sounds manageable to you, great! This might be more movement than your body is used to, but any movement is better than no movement and you can always work towards more.

Not only is energy helpful for tackling symptoms of depression, but so is a positive and grow-oriented mindset. A few reminders or adjustments may assist with beginning to shift your mindset from inability towards ability, growth, and optimism. These include but are not limited to:

  • Name your thoughts – as just that, THOUGHTS. Thoughts do not define you.

  • Set aside a specific time to acknowledge and/or reflect on these thoughts and fears to reduce their dominance.

  • Journal.

  • Meditate.

  • Practice daily affirmations.

  • Identify 2-3 gratitudes daily.

  • Notice 3 positive changes daily – no matter how small they may feel! Progress is progress.

  • Talk to someone.

The above are just a few potential changes that may assist with reduction of depressive symptoms. The following is a list of apps that may further assist with this process by maintaining accountability and monitoring progress towards wellness goals. *We are not affiliated with any of these companies nor do we receive compensation for your usage*

  • Insight Timer

  • DailyBean

  • Habit Tracker

  • I am – Daily Affirmations

  • Finch: Self-Care Widget Pet

Take a moment to fully orient yourself to the present moment and give yourself permission to start implementing (at your own pace) one or two small changes that work towards reducing your depressive symptoms. Remember, there is no need to dive into everything all at once; start small and create attainable goals. Allow yourself the time to adapt to a new change before implementing another and be compassionate to yourself! Be forgiving when or if you are unable to meet your goal. Behavior changes require 90 consecutive days of consistency to form into a habit. If you don’t go to bed by 10pm one night or overindulge in an after-dinner-dessert – you are still strong, you are still capable, you are still enough, and you are still making progress towards your goals! Tomorrow is a new opportunity to try again.

Let’s take one final moment to recognize and appreciate the beauty in the little things this season – the alluring holiday lights, the thick, fluffy snow elegantly fluttering to the ground below, the feel of a toasty, ceramic mug containing your favorite hot beverage, the warm scent of freshly baked cookies, the soft sounds of holiday music filling the air. Now, let’s summon your inner courage and strength to become growth-minded this winter and nip depression in the bud! You got this!

Remember, you are not alone in your suffering, and if at any point you want or need assistance with managing your depressive symptoms, we are here to help!

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