Coping with Seasonal Depression: How to Boost Your Feel-Good Hormones

Living in South Dakota means walking around in shorts and sandals on a Monday and by Wednesday you are risking your life to drive to work due to the first blizzard of the season. You know, when you wake up in the morning and it’s pitch dark out, and then the end of the workday rolls around meaning you venture back out into the darkness just to do it all over again the next day. I find myself to be a person who enjoys the sunshine and being outside, so I often find myself struggling to keep my mood up during the winter months.

While we can’t control the weather, we can control how we cope with the change in temperatures by boosting our daily D.O.S.E. of happiness chemicals. Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin, and Endorphins are the four major chemicals in the brain that can help us fight against “seasonal blues”. They are responsible for increasing our happiness and pleasure.

Increasing dopamine is a must for ourselves and our families. Dopamine is responsible for enabling learning, pleasure, and helping us reach our goals. Increase levels of dopamine by moving your body, expressing gratitude, meditating, or creating to do lists. With New Years around the corner, setting attainable goals can also help with this. Vitamins like B6, Magnesium, D, and Omega-3 have been shown to also help. While you might not be grateful for the freezing temperatures you are about to endure this winter season, you can try focusing on the positives of winter season, like spending time with loved ones during the holidays.

Oxytocin is referred to as the “love hormone” that motivates you to trust others, bond with others, and build relationships. So, yes, you can increase your levels of oxytocin by giving hugs or cuddling with a loved one. Other ideas might look like scheduling a massage, listening to music, or taking a cold shower.

Low levels of serotonin could be a reason why your mood stability is equivalent to the temperatures we are having throughout the weeks. Try taking a warm bath with some aromatherapy and calming music. Journaling, going to therapy, deep breathing or saying affirmations can also help increase serotonin levels and help your mood feel more stabilized.

Lastly, our endorphins help endure the pain this winter season may bring upon us. If the cold weather causes you to experiencing aches, pains, anxiety, or depression, increasing your endorphins can help with this. Endorphins help relieve our physical (and emotional) pain naturally. As we bundle up in five layers of clothes, snow suits, and boots to beat potential frostbite, you can also beat the emotional pain by eating dark chocolate or binging the comedy section on Netflix. Other ways to increase your endorphins might look like exercising, filling your home with citrus smells, and performing acts of kindness towards others.

So remember to take care of yourselves by increasing your feel good chemicals this winter season!

How to Care for You When the Kids are Sick

This past week has been a doozy for me! The Brockhoff family has officially begun Fall flu season, celebrating with a few acute care visits, sick kid calls from daycare, and a lot of tears from all members of the family. Despite how often weeks like this occur, I found myself unsure of how to find any balance in my life. Historically, I have coped by eating takeout, forgetting to shower, and sacrificing my own sleep in order to google ways to trick kids into taking cold medication. By the time we all said goodbye to our sicknesses, I felt so burnt out that I didn’t have the energy to pick up the pieces. 

 

At Reverence, we run groups teaching Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). An important part of this group is learning how to reduce our vulnerability and sensitivity to painful emotions. We cannot respond effectively in stressful situations unless we are in a good mental place to do so. In my own life, I did not have the patience for my son’s aches and pains because I neglected my own health. DBT tells us how to do this through the PLEASE skill:

  • Treat Physical Illness
  • Balance Eating
  • Avoid Mood-Altering Substances
  • Balance Sleep
  • Get Exercise

 

Marsha Linehan definitely took some liberties on what defines an acronym with this skill, but the content is very useful. If we are not taking care of our physical bodies, we will not be our best selves for our families. Newsflash: this is often why we end up sick when we are stressed. This cold and flu season, consider the PLEASE skill as a way to take care of your family and yourself. Happy sneezing everyone!

Gratitude

I think “gratitude” is an action verb.

My husband, who was an English major, claims it’s a noun. I know he is technically right, but hear me out.

Gratitude is a conscious effort to notice the good in others and in the world around you. It takes ongoing work because human beings are not designed to see good in the world. Nature trained us long ago to look for threats, to prepare for the worst, to strive for more because what we have isn’t good enough.

That’s a great way to avoid hungry lions and move forward as a species. On an individual level, it kind of sucks.

So it’s up to us to fight our animal urges to be miserable and practice gratitude for our own sake.

Gratitude can be practiced out loud or silently. It can be practiced in writing, in movement, in stillness.

When done consistently, gratitude improves your health. It improves your relationships by increasing your connection to others. It strengthens your ability to cope with negative circumstances.

Being grateful doesn’t mean we disregard painful feelings or challenges in our lives. It isn’t used to cover up things we don’t like. We’re all beautiful messes, and practicing gratitude simply means we’re able to see the good that exists in the mess.

Tonight my daughter cried because her fish – Sapphire – died, and she laughed because she remembered that Sapphire would bonk around the tank when she came up for food. Her gratitude and her grief for Sapphire fit together.

I try to remember to stop from time to time and send my thoughts in a direction I choose, rather than letting them run wild towards negativity. When I do, I feel more content and at peace.

I hope you’re able to find time to practice gratitude during the holiday season. Happy Thanksgiving!