How to cope with Seasonal Affective Disorder in recovery.
My annual depression — Seasonal Affective Disorder — has just started to rear its ugly head this week. As autumn approaches each year, I slowly retreat, and leaving my apartment feels like I have to wade through molasses just to open the door. The hardest part is that I know what I have to do to take care of myself, it just feels impossible to make it happen.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression, that typically occurs in late autumn and ends as the seasons change in spring. Although some people can suffer with SAD in the spring and summer months too. Symptoms are similar to depression: low mood, sadness, a feeling of hopelessness, irritability, craving carbohydrates, low energy and little motivation to get out, feeling tired and sleeping more than usual, and a loss of interest in pleasurable activities.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, you are more likely to suffer with SAD if family members have a history of depression. SAD is also more common in women, people who live far away from the equator, and in young people. It is not entirely clear what causes SAD, but researchers believe that sufferers have an imbalance in brain chemicals (the neurotransmitter serotonin), their bodies produce too much of the sleep hormone that regulates sleep (melatonin), and they don’t have enough vitamin D.
Treatment for SAD varies, but typically includes light therapy — exposure to bright artificial light for 20—30 minutes each day. It can also include antidepressant medication and talk therapy. Certain lifestyle recommendations ease symptoms too, like eating well and exercising.
Given my propensity to stay inside — and do nothing but lay in bed, watch Netflix, and eat carbs — I have to make a concerted effort to increase my self-care activities. That includes:
Eating nutrient-rich food, including lots of fruits and vegetables, high fiber foods, and omega fats
Drinking lots of filtered water
Exercising for 20-30 minutes every day — preferably outside
Spend at least 30 minutes outside each day
Working in coffee shops and co-working spaces rather than from home
Taking vitamin D
Checking in regularly with my doctor, and adjusting my anti-depressant medication as required
Acupuncture every two weeks
Restorative yoga twice a week
Making social arrangements at least two days per week
Meditating every day
Hiking at the weekend
This year I’m also investing in a light therapy alarm clock to wake me naturally up each day – I need to do everything I can because getting out of bed right now feels like I have weights attached to my limbs.
I’ve also started to make a comforting stew each week to make sure that I have healthy food prepared when I really can’t face cooking. My whole chicken and barley stew is my favorite right now. Packed with nutrients to enhance my immunity and keep my energy levels up, this stew is also hearty enough to provide a sense of warmth and comfort on those dark days. You’ll find the recipe below.
Note: Please make sure you consult with your doctor if you are suffering with symptoms of SAD.
Whole Chicken, Lentil & Barley Stew
1 whole organic (or hormone-free) chicken
1 large carton of chicken broth
3 stalks of celery chopped into big chunks
3 whole carrots peeled and roughly chopped
1 bulb of fennel, outer 2 layers removed and roughly chopped
1 onion peeled and roughly chopped
1 ½ cups of barley
½ cup of lentils
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt & pepper
1 tbsp dried mixed herbs
Place the chicken on a chopping board, breast-side down, and press down until you hear the bone crack and flatten the chicken a little.
Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a pan, and then place the chicken breast-side down to brown for 1-2 minutes. Turn and repeat.
Throw in the vegetables, stock and dried herbs into the pot, and season. Heat until the mixture is bubbling, and then turn the heat on low for 90 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the lentils and barley and cook for a further 30-40 minutes until the barley is cooked through.
Once the barley is cooked, turn off the heat and remove the chicken carefully (it may fall apart). Slowly shred the chicken and add the meat back into the stew, discarding the bones.
Serve with a sprinkling of fresh parsley and a few grinds of black pepper.
This stew will last for 3-4 days stored in an air-tight container in the refrigerator. Just re-heat until cooked-through and serve.
Need extra recovery support this winter season?
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Located in Portland, OR, Olivia Pennelle (Liv) is an experienced writer, journalist, and coach. She is the founder of the popular site Liv’s Recovery Kitchen, a site dedicated to helping people flourish in their recovery. Liv is passionate about challenging limiting mentalities and empowering others to direct their own lives, health, and recovery. You can find her articles across the web on podcasts and addiction recovery websites, including The Fix, Recovery.org, Ravishly, and The Recovery Village. Liv was recently featured in VICE.