Let me out! Seasonal Affective Disorder and Claustrophobia

Placeholder ImageI left my office on a very gray day this week and battled the urge to go home and sleep for a week.  I think most people in Michigan struggle with some degree of Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SADD and the symptoms of lethargy, hypersomnia, depression, irritability, increased appetite (Or cravings for carbohydrates), and lack of motivation.  The cold weather combined with shorter days alone tempt us to hibernate until the grass turns green and the trees bud.  We force ourselves to put on our boots and heavy jacket and tread out anyway, not having the luxury of living in a  rent free cave, and we survive.

The gray weeks, though, are enough to turn the optimistic snow skier into a recluse.  As I was driving home in rush hour traffic, I had time to ponder those skies.  I looked through the rain to the unbroken gray that started under my tires and ran up the sides of the atmosphere, making me feel like I was in a dreary bubble.  It was then that a thought hit me, I feel claustrophobic.

Claustrophobia is a “fear of being shut in”, mostly of small or crowded places.  The amygdala is the part of the brain that reacts to danger and produces the Fight, Flight or Freeze response.  More about that in a later post.  But in many people the amygdala is hyper vigilant, looking for potential danger lurking and producing anxiety and panic as a protective mode.  The problem is that it detects danger in places where there aren’t any, and the body responds.

That’s what clicked on that gray day; the feeling of being closed in without relief.  So I thought I would share a couple tips to help minimize the effects on those dark days.

One is of course to exercise and take supplements, such as Vitamin D, which increase the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitters in our brains; (Both should be cleared through your doctor).  A full spectrum mood light can also help in the mornings to improve alertness and mood. Second,  use mental coping skills such as visualizing you are on a plane that is breaking through the clouds. Feel the warmth of the sun, see the blue sky past the clouds in your mind’s eye.  Remember that you aren’t closed in, the clouds are vapor and they will float past eventually, revealing the gorgeous sky and the bright sun.  It’s days like these that make me think about God, how we can feel overwhelmed and surrounded by our problems but He is always there, always waiting for the clouds to slightly part so He can shine His radiance through and warm our souls.  In the meantime, go home, lay on the couch, eat a healthy meal and watch a good movie and remember, “This too shall pass”.

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