Seasonal Affective Disorder Part IV: Hygge!

I am so beyond excited for this part, I’ve actually been looking forward to writing and sharing it for some time. I’m going to have to reign myself in and not ramble on, because I’ve so fallen in love with many aspects of the Hygge lifestyle (especially during those long, dark winter months). 

 

Basically, hygge (pronounced “hoo-gah”) is a Danish word and lifestyle, meaning an acknowledgement of a feeling or moment alone or with loved ones, at home or out, as cozy, charming, or special. What the lifestyle has come to mean in recent years is basically the art of getting cozy, in the present moment, and soaking up the warm and positive feeling. While hygge is a mindset to work towards, it does encourage us to think about what actions to take, as well as people and objects to surround ourselves with, in order to feel as cozy and internally warm as possible. 

 

This is the time to indulge in warm, soft sweaters, cozy sweatpants and blankets, muted lighting, cozy socks or slippers, warm and tasty beverages (like my new favorite mushroom vegan hot cocoa), and even a nice mug to drink from.

 

This is the time to enjoy those books you’ve been meaning to read, take on self-improvement projects you’ve been wanting to work on, and to turn inward to find ways to be more comfortable with one-on-one time with yourself.

 

It’s also an excellent time to reconnect with friends and family on a more intimate level. Consider having or attending a small gathering for coffee, a glass of wine, book club, cookie swap, a crochet/quilting group, a card game, or any other activity to help you feel more connected to yourself and others. 

 

Other ideas to connect with a hygge lifestyle: 

            -Bring the outdoors in! This is a major tenet of hygge, because often it’s too cold/dark/the weather is too bad to enjoy nature the way we normally do. As humans, we’re hard-wired to respond positively to nature. Plants recycle energy and oxygen and remind you that things are alive, especially in those late winter months when we’re tired of looking outside at things that appear to be dead or dormant. Add some small plants to your indoor décor where you will see them every day! I also like to have rocks from some favorite places I’ve visited (looking at you, Block Island!), birch coasters, and flowers. It may not seem like much, but nature has a major positive effect on the psyche!

            - Get a fire going or turn up the heat! I have a small space heater that has a faux flame in my office, which adds to the coziness factor, along with the quilts on the walls. Just make sure you’re aware of fire hazards! Sitting next to a fire reading, journaling, or connecting with loved ones feels incredibly intimate and is guaranteed to raise your spirits! Weighted blankets offer warmth and slight pressure that can be extremely comforting for many people, and can even lead to better sleep according to one of my friends who uses one.

 

Since we’re talking about intimacy, it’s time to de-clutter your space. This will help you feel more organized and relaxed, rather than chaotic and trapped inside. What can you get rid of? What is in your way or no longer serving you? If you haven’t used or worn something in six months, is there someone who may get more benefit from it? 

 

It’s also suggested in this Mental Floss article ( http://mentalfloss.com/article/91378/10-ways-master-danish-art-hygge-your-home ) to surround yourself with things that are meaningful to you, rather than mass-produced items. So if you’re reaching for a soft blanket, why not try to make one? Or maybe cover yourself in an afghan or quilt made by a loved one? The item will be associated with memories, which will feel much cozier and more nostalgic.

 

The Mental Floss article further suggests that sharing meals in the winter is an intimate practice that everyone involved benefits from. Have your friends over for a small meal and some warm drinks, or meet them out at a cozy, intimate restaurant with muted lighting, soft music, and a hearty seasonal menu. Put your phones on “Do Not Disturb” and really commit to spending time connecting!

 

Once you start incorporating some of these hacks into your lifestyle, you’ll see why they’re so popular and how the practices can help you to overcome some of the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder. Who knows? You may even find yourself adopting these practices year-round!

 

Rebecca Toner, MA, LPC

Freer of Souls. Connector to Purpose. Healer of Lives.

Rebecca Toner, MA, LPC is a group private practice owner, EMDR therapist and consultant-in-training, and a life coach operating out of Plainville, CT. She specializes in treating clients with chronic attachment trauma and dissociation, and has passion in working with coaching clients who are learning how to reclaim their power after processing trauma.

Rebecca Toner, MA, LPC is a group private practice owner, EMDR therapist and consultant-in-training, and a life coach operating out of Plainville, CT. She specializes in treating clients with chronic attachment trauma and dissociation, and has passion in working with coaching clients who are learning how to reclaim their power after processing trauma.

Seasonal Affective Disorder Series Part III: Natural Remedies

In this third part of the four-part series addressing Seasonal Affective Disorder in the winter, I will discuss some things anyone can do to mitigate the severity of SAD symptoms without needing to add medications. If you are already taking medications, these strategies may add to the benefits you may be feeling or looking to feel with your current regimen. 

 

1.)  Natural Light- align your schedule as much as possible with the sun. Wake up at sunrise, or even a little before, and spend the time meditating, stretching your body, moving your body in some other way, or even reading/listening to soft music. I don’t recommend starting your day with the news or scrolling through social media. Take the time to be alone with yourself and appreciate the sunrise before having to launch into your day. Sometimes a nice, warm beverage is great too!

a.    Take every opportunity to expose yourself to sunlight throughout each day. Sit next to windows at work if you can. Take lunch breaks in your car if you must! Bundle up and go for walks or enjoy some light yardwork- anything to give you more access to light!

2.)  Other options for light- amber bulbs, especially those that mimic light are preferable over LED bulbs (link: https://www.amazon.com/MiracleLED-604592-Replacing-Replicate-Organically/dp/B07DB4KWSG/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1542046093&sr=8-4&keywords=amber+light+bulbs+sunrise). They block blue light, which can be harmful for your eyes over time, and send mixed messages to your brain about how awake you should be. 

a.    Happy Lamps or other similar products are inexpensive and are a great idea to expose yourself to some natural-simulation light. I use one to wake up as my alarm clock, and it mimics the gradual light of the sunrise. This means a much more natural wakeup process, so by the time my alarm actually goes off I feel rested and ready to wake up. It’s great for those pre-sunrise workout wakeups! 

(link: https://www.amazon.com/Sunrise-Nature-Sounds-Bedside-Simulator/dp/B07FFW8GPX/ref=sr_1_7?ie=UTF8&qid=1542046222&sr=8-7&keywords=sunrise+alarm+clock+wake+up+light&dpID=41X8Y97jmZL&preST=_SY300_QL70_&dpSrc=srch)

3.)  Mitigate blue light- as mentioned, blue light sends the message that you should be wide awake, which can be harmful to your eyes first thing in the morning and can keep you awake longer at night. Devices, such as TV, computer, phones, and tablets, are a major source of blue light. If you’re trying to sync your body’s rhythms up with the sun, exposing yourself to devices after dark can be a major roadblock. Since it’s getting dark by 5 pm where I’m from, screen exposure after dark is basically unavoidable. There are blue light cancelling glasses that can be worn while having post-sunset screen time in the earlier part of the evening (link: https://www.amazon.com/Blue-Light-Blocking-Glasses-Artificial/dp/B07CXYT17C/ref=sr_1_1_a_it?ie=UTF8&qid=1542046398&sr=8-1-spons&keywords=blue+light+blocking+glasses&psc=1).

a.    Many electronics also have settings where light can be turned down. I have Apple products and can even set a timer each day where the light turns down to a softer amber color, which is less harmful for eyes and allows for better sleep.

4.)  Go to bed earlier! This may be a challenge for many, and falling asleep earlier may be difficult at first. It may be helpful to discuss with your medical professional some vitamins or natural supplements to help you sleep. I take a magnesium gelcap before bed and I wake up feeling fairly refreshed, however it’s important to discuss this with your professional beforehand as everyone’s needs are different, and different bodies will respond differently. Plus, I’m not a medical professional. So don’t take my word for anything- do your research and speak with your doctor!

a.    When it gets dark so early, it’s easy to lose track of time and go to sleep too late. This is a change to get cozy (more on that next week- I’m so excited for that part!), turn off the TV, and grab a book, put on some meditation music, and do whatever you need to do to release your day and embrace sleep. 

5.)  Sleep hygiene- This is important any time of year, but if you don’t want to feel like you’re losing it, it’s even more important in the winter. Some helpful tips:

a.    Try to keep your phone away from your bed or in another room if you can

b.    Maintain a similar routine each day, and commit yourself to it! This means avoiding sleeping late on days off, because your body needs the consistency.

c.     It’s OK to say no to activities if you’re tired. 

d.    Don’t drink anything caffeinated in the afternoon.

e.    Get cozy! Make your bedroom a sanctuary where you want to be! Do this with aromatherapy (just please don’t fall asleep with candles on!), soft sounds, soft lighting, comfy/soft blankets and pillows, and don’t do anything in your bedroom other than sleeping. Keep food and work out of your room- you have other rooms in the house that can be used for that!

f.     Mitigate disturbing noise (anywhere but especially in your bedroom). At night, use theta waves and binaural beats or guided meditations to relax before going to sleep. They basically act as a massage for your brain and nervous system (I’ll get into it more on a later date). This is the only time I advocate for keeping your phone near you at night- using Youtube or apps such as Insight Timer to access these is instrumental in helping me get to sleep each night.

g.    Journaling- I look at this as a “brain dump” of all the things I found myself still carrying from my day. It’s just a nice way to let it all out, process my day and package it all up so that I’m done with it (good or bad) and ready to rest before starting again the next day. 

 

I hope this list has been helpful! Next week we’ll get into my favorite part of this series- the art of getting cozy!

Rebecca L. Toner, MA, LPC

Freer of Souls. Connector to Purpose. Healer of Lives.

Rebecca Toner, MA, LPC is a group private practice owner, EMDR therapist and consultant-in-training, and a life coach operating out of Plainville, CT. She specializes in treating clients with chronic attachment trauma and dissociation, and has passion in working with coaching clients who are learning how to reclaim their power after processing trauma.

Rebecca Toner, MA, LPC is a group private practice owner, EMDR therapist and consultant-in-training, and a life coach operating out of Plainville, CT. She specializes in treating clients with chronic attachment trauma and dissociation, and has passion in working with coaching clients who are learning how to reclaim their power after processing trauma.

Seasonal Affective Disorder Series Part II: How SAD Impacts Other Conditions

Last week, I briefly defined Seasonal Affective Disorder and the very basics of how it works in the winter, and I outlined some of the symptoms most people tend to complain of. This week, I think it’s important to touch on how SAD can impact other conditions.

 

SAD is sometimes tricky because it can have a temporary impact on other mental health conditions. Those suffering from psychotic symptoms, for example, may notice increases in hallucinations, difficulty focusing, harder time waking up (which can be further impacted by medications), weight gain (also an impacted side-effect of medications), or general lethargy. In my practice, I work almost exclusively with clients suffering from PTSD. A hallmark of PTSD can be extended periods of anxiety or depression, which can also be worsened with less access to natural light. In the earlier part of the winter, around the holidays, many of my clients also face trauma/loss anniversaries, triggers from difficult family dynamics, feeling drained by fuller-than-normal social calendars, end-of-year work stuff, etc. And those suffering from bipolar or other mood disorders are even more at risk of depressive periods despite sticking to strict medication, diet, supplement, and exercise regimens. 

 

Maybe reading this information is teaching you something for the first time, or maybe it’s validating something you’ve experienced or are presently experiencing. Either way, these difficulties can make functioning that much more difficult. Now, let’s take a look at some of the impacts of SAD on physical health:

            -weight gain- lethargy, desire to sleep more, and carb/sugar cravings all contribute. This can have lasting impacts on those at risk for diabetes, heart disease, and thyroid issues. 

            -joint pain- For those with fibromyalgia, tick-bourne diseases such as Lyme, arthritis, lupus, etc., winter can be excruciating. We as humans also just have less natural desire to move around in the winter, because it’s way better to stay indoors where it’s warm and bright, which can increase pain. This can be super frustrating to individuals who are used to a more active lifestyle, which can increase hopelessness, frustration, moodiness, and in extreme cases, suicidality. Check on your friends, help them shovel, and make extra effort to connect with those you love whom are struggling, even if it’s not in person (I will get more into natural remedies in next week’s blog). 

            -Headaches- lack of light, wanting to sleep, dietary changes all create the recipe for headaches!

            -other sleep disturbances- because it gets darker earlier, we expose ourselves to more unnatural/blue light after the sun has gone down, especially with technology. This can severely impact sleep (I’ll discuss this more next week as well). Sleep disturbance can cause further weight gain and lethargy during the day, which impacts all areas of functioning and over time, raises cortisol levels in the blood and creates massive health issues.

 

While many doctors recommend medications, I will get into natural remedies and some of the strategies I use to combat the fatigue and moodiness next week! Please stay tuned, and if any of this sounds like you, know that you’re not alone!

 

Rebecca L. Toner, MA, LPC

Freer of Souls. Connector to Purpose. Healer of Lives.

Rebecca Toner, MA, LPC is a group private practice owner, EMDR therapist and consultant-in-training, and a life coach operating out of Plainville, CT. She specializes in treating clients with chronic attachment trauma and dissociation, and has passion in working with coaching clients who are learning how to reclaim their power after processing trauma.

Rebecca Toner, MA, LPC is a group private practice owner, EMDR therapist and consultant-in-training, and a life coach operating out of Plainville, CT. She specializes in treating clients with chronic attachment trauma and dissociation, and has passion in working with coaching clients who are learning how to reclaim their power after processing trauma.

Seasonal Affective Disorder Series Part I: What is it? How Does it Work?

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a very common shift in energy and mood that typically begins and ends around the same time each year. Most people experience an increase in depressive symptoms in the late fall/winter, but others can also experience a sharp increase in energy once the sun returns in the late spring and early summer.

 

Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder include: carb and sugar cravings, lethargy, moodiness, and just feeling “in a funk,” according to the Mayo Clinic

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20364651

In the winter, this can be amplified by holiday-related triggers that can remind us of traumatic or recent losses, tricky family dynamics (especially the ones that leave us having to expend more time and energy on upholding boundaries, and the demands of the holiday social schedule can leave us feeling zapped, moody, and overwhelmed, especially with the ever- decreasing access to light in the winter. 

 

Also, according to the Mayo Clinic, other symptoms can include feelings of hopelessness, guilt, trouble concentrating, changes in weight/appetite, trouble sleeping or oversleeping, and loss of interest in preferred activities.

 

The reason is believed to be due to the lack of light- in winter, New England (where I live) is dark more hours of the day than it is light. This, coupled with snowstorms, frigid temperatures, and ugly words like “wind chill factor” can make even the most well-adjusted person feel despondent and isolated. Plus, winter can start as early as October/November and last all the way until mid-April. It can feel like it will never end and like it has been cold and dark forever!

 

I don’t want you thinking that this blog is intended to create more hopelessness about the winter than you may already have. The good news is, there are tons of tips for battling SAD in the winter that I will be touching on in this upcoming blog series. That way, you can hopefully look forward to at least one small part of your day and find the energy and tools to create some meaningful daily practices to leave you feeling more hopeful and fulfilled.

 

In the next several weeks, join us on the blog to discuss how SAD can impact pre-existing mental and physical health conditions, natural remedies to ease symptoms of SAD, and some ways to remind yourself of some of the best parts of winter, even if you hate the cold weather! If you find that you need to connect with someone to manage more acute symptoms, don’t hesitate to reach out!

 

Rebecca L. Toner, MA, LPC

Freer of Souls. Connector to Purpose. Healer of Lives.

Rebecca Toner, MA, LPC is a group private practice owner, EMDR therapist and consultant-in-training, and a life coach operating out of Plainville, CT. She specializes in treating clients with chronic attachment trauma and dissociation, and has passion in working with coaching clients who are learning how to reclaim their power after processing trauma.

Rebecca Toner, MA, LPC is a group private practice owner, EMDR therapist and consultant-in-training, and a life coach operating out of Plainville, CT. She specializes in treating clients with chronic attachment trauma and dissociation, and has passion in working with coaching clients who are learning how to reclaim their power after processing trauma.