Every year in early November I feel personally attacked by a little thing called Daylight Saving Time. Though it’s said that it was put in place to reduce the use of electricity by extending daylight hours, the effects can feel anything but sunny for late risers like myself who are lucky to see eight hours of actual sunlight. If you tend to feel more sluggish and sadder during this time of the year, you may be suffering from seasonal affective disorder or SAD, a type of depression that usually happens in the fall and/or winter and is more likely to affect women over the age of 20, according to Dr. Jenny Taitz, clinical psychologist and author of How To Be Single And Happy. Dr. Taitz and I discussed some strategies to combat SAD and help you to feel your best, even when the weather and amount of light are literally the worst.
1. Find The Light
It’s not just you—there’s a science behind why you feel so sh*tty during the fall and winter months. According to Dr. Taitz, “Shorter days and reduced daylight can impact the brain and lead to feeling more lethargic, sad, and hopeless.” One of the best ways to target the problem is to seek out natural sunlight whenever possible, even with a short walk around the block. Another effective method is to purchase a light box designed specifically to treat people with SAD. The light emitted from the boxes mimics natural sunlight and produces effects in the brain that aid emotional regulation. Dr. Taitz notes that in many cases your doctor may be able to prescribe a light box that’s covered by insurance, but adds that there is a specific protocol to follow when using a light box, so it’s best to consult with your physician rather than treating yourself.
2. Watch Your Diet
If you’re anything like me, you may find yourself craving sweets and carbs every day more so than usual during this time of the year. This is because people with SAD tend to eat more foods that are rich in carbohydrates. As much as it pains me to type this, it’s a good idea to cut down on the carbs and stick to a diet rich in fruits and vegetables in order to combat depression. Studies have also found a link between SAD and low levels of vitamin D, so another useful strategy is taking vitamin D supplements or eating foods that are rich in vitamin D like eggs, salmon, and wild mushrooms.
3. Resist The Urge To Retreat
Because you aren’t feeling your best, you may feel tempted to stay at home and watch Schitt’s Creek until the next iteration of Daylight Saving Time retreat into yourself. To the extent you’re able, fight this urge and stick to a regular routine of seeing friends and family or doing something else you normally love to do. Dr. Taitz works with patients to create an “antidepressant schedule” consisting of things like plans with friends or a workout class that keeps them active and engaged. We are social creatures and being around other people helps to counteract the isolation and loneliness that SAD breeds.
4. Keep It Moving
Because our energy is lower during this time of year, it can be hard to summon the strength to get out of bed, let alone make it to a barre class. However, exercising not only boosts mood and focuses the mind, it also helps to maintain your circadian rhythm, which, when disrupted, is thought to bring about SAD symptoms. Ideally, if you can work out outside, you’ll not only get the benefits of exercise, you’ll also be exposed to natural light. If that’s not possible, then just stick to any routine that gets you moving.
5. Seek Professional Help
Depending on the severity of your symptoms, doing any of the above may feel downright impossible. If that’s the case, it’s time to seek help from a professional who can diagnose you and help you come up with a treatment plan. Dr. Taitz suggests cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which teaches you to notice your thought patterns: “I always encourage people to see emotional setbacks as opportunities rather than stuck points—rally your courage and problem solve,” she says. Many people suffering from SAD find that certain antidepressants can work wonders on symptoms. A doctor can tell you which medicine may be right for you and how long to take it, as antidepressants may take time to kick in and should generally not be stopped cold turkey.
If you’re feeling less than stellar this time of year, know you’re far from alone. SAD is treatable and you don’t have to spend the next few months in a dark hole. What other coping strategies do you use to combat SAD during the winter months? Let me know in the comments.
Images: Joshua Rawson-Harris / Unsplash; Giphy (5)
The sun is finally out, which has probably made you forget just how miserable you were during the winter months. Let’s be real, plenty of us dislike the cold and darkness, and that doesn’t mean that you’re suffering from any mental health issues. But for more than 3 million Americans every year who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), the winter months can bring about some distressing mental health problems. For those people, the change in seasons can bring about feelings of serious depression, hopelessness, and withdrawal. And it makes sense, since most experts associate SAD with a lack of sunlight and shorter days. But as someone who feels those symptoms when the days get longer and the weather gets warmer, it made me wonder: is summer seasonal depression a thing? I did some research and spoke to experts to find out if there’s any science behind what I am feeling.
For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, let’s start by defining SAD. Experts consider it to be a form of depression, the most distinguishing feature of this disorder is that there is a seasonal pattern to it. But notice it’s just a “seasonal pattern”, not specifying which season. As someone who is bothered by seasonal changes every few months, researching this topic was important to me personally. I started by googling summer depression, and then I spoke to an expert. I contacted Ian Cook, the ex-Director of the UCLA Depression Research and Clinic Program and now Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry. He’s also the Director of the Los Angeles TMS Institute. When I asked him about SAD, he said, “the particular symptoms can vary from person to person, but include the nine hallmark symptom areas that are used to diagnose depression.” He said SAD patients “predictably (more years than not) feel the onset of their symptoms at the same season, which is usually the winter months,” but in theory, the symptoms of depression can arise at any time of the year.
Seasonal affective disorder, baby?? https://t.co/GhboLWlIix
— Nyeleti? (@nyeleti_thabi) April 29, 2019
As our expert pointed out, the majority of SAD cases are reported during winter. However, Psychology Today reports that 10% of all seasonal affective disorder cases manifest during summer. That’s a sizeable percentage, so how come we never hear about it? Well, for one, research shows that we are better equipped to deal with winter depression. Basically, during winter months, we expect our morale to be low. Because of this, we may take precautions and prioritize our mental well-being. But when the winter’s finally over, we may end up taking our mental health for granted in the summer, which can lead to a different sort of seasonal depression.
There could also be something about the summer in particular that may cause people to feel more depressed during that season. While studies have shown that winter depression is triggered by lack of sunlight, depression is not as simple as how much sunlight we receive. Ultimately, there is a more complex mechanism in place. For one, humans are creatures of habit, and seasonal changes can too often throw our schedules out the window. This can factor into summer seasonal depression, because those symptoms include insomnia, lack of appetite, and weight loss, which are all things that can be caused or exacerbated by a routine change.
Whether or not Summer SAD is a concept that’s widely accepted by everyone, it’s important to take note of your mental health and how it changes during different times of the year. We all know that WebMD is not the best place to spend your time when you’re feeling down, but a quick Google search can give you perspective and put all your options in one place. For me, as I was researching this topic, I was surprised to see so many hits. Even though I experienced some of the symptoms of Summer SAD, I never got any help because I felt the symptoms I felt were relatively mild. I also told myself I could live with them because “nothing lasts forever.” In retrospect, I should not have just sat back and lived with it, and if I had known then what I know now, I would have been more motivated to seek out treatment options.
And, in general, if you find that seasonal depression is interfering with your daily life, then you should consider getting help. Like with any mental health issue, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all treatment approach. “We don’t have the kind of clinical trial evidence that would give us solid guidance, so treatment is largely empiric for each individual,” said Cook. However, like most mental disorders, experts have found ways to make daily life better. Cook added, “some Summer SAD patients have reported that trying to spend more of the day in a cool location, away from bright sunlight, may be helpful.”
If there’s one thing you should take from my search, it’s that preconceived notions of what mental illness looks like should not dictate your well-being. If you feel anxious, depressed, alone, just know that there are treatment options, and there are likely other people feeling the same way too.
Misha lives and studies in New York City, and is currently interested in the mystical healing powers in a glass of sangria.
Images: Sam Burriss / Unsplash; nyeleti_thabi / Twitter; Giphy
A few months ago, I came across an article from The Cut about the potential mental health benefits of infrared saunas. Even though I was in Los Angeles at the time, the sun was still setting at 4pm, and my mood levels had definitely been suffering for it. At that point, I’d tried exercising six times a week, meditating, and gratitude journaling to keep my Seasonal Affective Disorder at bay, and frankly, sweating it out in a sauna sounded like a way more appealing option. Once I was back in my beloved NYC, I promptly booked an appointment with HigherDOSE, an infrared sauna spa with locations all over NYC, New Jersey, and Connecticut. It’s also the preferred spot of celebs like Leonardo DiCaprio, Michelle Williams, and Bella Hadid, if you’re into that. Read on to find out the alleged benefits of infrared saunas, and what I thought after my 60-minute session.
What Do Infrared Saunas Do?
Simply put, infrared saunas claim to make you hotter in every way (obviously, pun intended). Not only does an hour of intense sweating knock off some water weight, but infrared heat may actually help boost your metabolism. According to Dr. Frank Lipman, who spoke to The Cut, just half an hour in an infrared sauna could help you burn up to 600 calories. (That’s like, one million squats or an hour on the treadmill. If this is what celebs have secretly been doing instead of working out, I will never feel okay again.)
For those of you less obsessed with losing weight (tell me your secrets), infrared saunas also have major skin benefits. Again per Dr. Lipman, infrared heat boosts circulation, blood flow, and collagen production, giving you an immediate post-sauna glow, as well as long-term benefits from regular use. Lipman, along with HigherDOSE’s co-founders, also hype up the detoxing capabilities of infrared saunas. Co-founder Lauren Berlingeri claims that infrared pulls “heavy metals, environmental pollutants, and radiation” from your system, and the instructional pamphlet inside the sauna room advised that some of your sweat may come out as black from all the toxins being released. (Sidenote: I’m still not sure that I believe “detoxing” is a real thing, but I really want it to be.) Other potential benefits include pain relief (from sore muscles to chronic headaches) and a boosted immune system.
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Currently sweating it out at an infrared sauna place. If you don't know about infrared saunas GET ON BOARD! I love it so much. It's not like a regular sauna where I can only sit there for like 10 mins and then I feel like I'm melting. infrared saunas are great for deep muscle relaxation, detoxing, cardio vascular health and your skin! Michelle told me it helps skin heal faster – I don't know about that but it does feel great! But you know, obviously, I'm no doctor(right @steveagee??)
Finally, the mental health benefits: a 2016 study showed that whole-body hyperthermia (whole body heating, specifically to 101.3º F, for the non-scientists among us), could have antidepressant effects lasting up to six weeks. Claims have been floating around for years that infrared heat can influence serotonin levels or release endorphins, but evidence is tenuous. The 2016 study, however, focuses on the “stress” aspect of sitting in a sauna—the extreme heat—and how these bursts of stress can better train your brain to deal with non-sauna stressors, like anxiety or depression. Again, no one’s claiming that this is rock-solid science, but these studies, along with the fact that everyone seems to feel f*cking amazing after leaving one of these saunas, was enough to make me desperate to try it for myself.
So, What’s An Infrared Sauna Like?
I visited the 11 Howard location of HigherDOSE, and was immediately thrilled by the spa-like room I entered. Each sauna room has a private bathroom (with a nicer shower than the one in my apartment), a Bluetooth speaker system, water, chilled eucalyptus towels, and of course, the sauna itself.
You’re given a chromotherapy menu, which tells you the different light therapy colors available to you, and the benefits of each type of light. It’s pretty intuitive (yellow and orange are more activating, blue is more relaxing), but given that I’m a type-A weirdo, I spent the first half hour cycling through all of them anyway. The first 20 minutes felt like sitting in a colorful, less-hot-than-normal sauna. I was warm, but I didn’t have that slowly-being-cooked feeling I get after about 10 minutes in a regular sauna. At the 20-25 minute mark, things got really satisfying, by which I mean sweat started pouring down my entire body. Again, in regular saunas, I’ll notice a drip here or there, then walk out and be surprised at how sweaty I actually am. In the infrared sauna, there was no doubt that I was coated in sweat, and steadily producing more.
I also have a pretty short tolerance for regular saunas; I’d say 20-30 minutes and I’m begging to leave. With the infrared sauna, I was happy to stay in there a full 50 minutes (I left 10 minutes to shower), and honestly could have stayed a bit longer. Promptly after showering, I noticed a few things. My skin was baby-soft, the dull full-body ache from yesterday’s boxing class was greatly improved, and while I didn’t suddenly feel an all-around calm or “mental high,” my anxiety was noticeably tamed. I know this because my face, which is highly sensitive to many things, including heat, got some crazy red blotches about ten minutes post-sauna. But the last time I’d gotten blotches like this, I locked myself in a bathroom for two hours, crying furiously and sending my dermatologist selfies. This time, I washed my face, said “f*ck it,” and moved on with my day. See? Anxiety calming.
I’m not including a description of my blotchy face to alarm you. Any discoloration was gone within the hour, and I trust that if you have skin like mine, you already know that heat is a trigger. But it was truly remarkable to look in the mirror at something that would have typically ruined my day and be able to let it go. In terms of a mental boost from the infrared sauna, I was expecting something like a runner’s high (which I’ve also never achieved, possibly because I’ve never run long enough to get there). But the mental boost I got instead was actually way more valuable to my life—for the next few hours, at least, I didn’t get derailed by minor sh*t. As far as superpowers go, I’ll take it.
So, the only real major con of infrared saunas? The price tag. HigherDOSE sessions cost $45 and up for solo sessions, or $30 and up if you go with two people. As a one-time expense, it’s not bad, but given that many of the benefits are unlocked by regular use, I wish the experience were slightly more accessible. Given my experience, I’d love to go more often, but until my wellness influencer career really takes off, I’ll likely have to limit it to a once-monthly treat.
Images: Keziban Barry; @higherdose (2), @busyphilipps / Instagram;
Sad news for, well, everyone. Rapper Mac Miller died today at the age of 26 in an apparent overdose, TMZ reports. Authorities responded to a 911 call from a male friend at Miller’s home in Los Angeles today and Miller was pronounced dead at the scene. His most recent album, Swimming, was released just last month.
Those who have followed Miller’s career will know the rapper struggled publicly with addiction and spoke candidly about his substance abuse issues. In May, Miller was arrested for a DUI after he hit a light pole with his car. Miller spoke about the incident with Beats 1 host Zane Low back in July.
“I made a stupid mistake. I’m a human being. Like, I drove home drunk. But it was the best thing that could have happened…I needed that. I needed to run into that light pole and literally like, have the whole thing stop.”
Sadly, addiction recovery is not an easy road and Miller is just one of the many people every year lost to substance abuse. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Helpline can be the first stop on the journey to recovery. Call them at 1-800-487-4889.
Apparently, there’s such a thing as a yearly “State of Our Happiness” report. And Americans really shit the bed in 2016 at being happy (shocker) with only 69 percent claiming to be happy.
“Happiness in the US is on the decline. Overall, happiness is equivalent to a D+ in school,” said Chuck Bolton, the author of the study.
To find this number, Bolton and his science people interviewed 1,461 people via an online survey. They were asked to rate their happiness on the usual shit: money, family, health and fitness, significant others, etc. And while basically every aspect of these random humans’ lives sucked, the question that garnered the least favorable responses (especially for women) was their significant other.
If we trust our fellow survey-takers, men not only suck now, they will suck even more as we age. Women are already dissatisfied with their partners at our age (only 71% reported satisfaction) but that satisfaction number drops 15 points among Generation X (56%). The beauty of aging.
Well color me fucking shocked. You mean men don’t suddenly become amazing and supportive partners as we get older? Damn. Really throwing me for a loop here.
Despite all the doom and gloom, millenials appear to be the happiest of all of the other depressed generations with 75% happiness. Which is still a failing grade for all of us who are too far removed from the beautiful years of college to remember happiness.
Yay. I need a fucking cocktail.