Monday, October 5, 2020

Crafting a Path to Peace: 5 Steps to Turn Your Hobby into a Meditative Art Form

This post may contain affiliate links, by which I may be financially compensated. See Disclosures for more info. 


Happy Autumn! At the time I am drafting this post, fall has just ticked over from summer, and we are feeling that shift here in Pittsburgh. I am enjoying the cool mornings, warm and sunny afternoons, and crisp evenings, and I plan to enjoy every minute of it. 

Most people "hate" this change over from summer because they know winter is coming soon after, but I choose to live in the moment and take it for what it is: gorgeous weather. There will be time to complain about rain and snow soon enough. :) 

We all know that 2020 has been a you-know-what, am I right? There are so many lessons in this year. For this month's post, I wanted to talk about how you can use hobbies to gain some peace. I've mentioned it before, both in writing and in talks I've given—indeed, I was supposed to give a workshop on this topic in Sedona this past spring, but that never happened—so let's talk about it here instead!

As you may know from past posts, I'm really into prayer, meditation, and intuition work as a source of being true to myself, to always make decisions based on that truth, and to keep my blood pressure and stress hormone levels low. Paying attention to and developing these skills has brought me a great deal of peace in my life: reducing anxiety, helping me sleep better, and keeping me clear-minded. But it was only in the last several years that I realized I could apply these concepts to my crafting hobbies. 

You see, I used to be a stressy crafter. I used to craft as a means of escape, but would often find myself ruminating in the background. I had the wrong idea of what "escape" meant. My mind was so focused on what was bothering me that soon I'd find I was stabbing the fabric when I cross-stitched, tightening my tension too much in my knitting, or constantly breaking my singles while spinning yarn due to not paying attention to my drafting.

But now, I realize that "escape" is really transcendence, that I can craft my way to peace by being mindful about what I'm doing instead of ruminating. Keep reading... 


I've turned crafting into my own form of meditation. 

There are five steps you can take to start turning your hobby into a meditative practice and pass along all that good energy to others while you're at it. Here are the 5 steps I take every time I sit down to work on a hobby: 
  1. Breathe and stretch — before picking up my piece, I take a good 5–10 deep breaths. I stretch my neck, my hands, roll my shoulders, and shake out any tension from the day.
  2. Focus — I focus on the craft I'm about to pick up. For example, if I'm going to crochet, then I put myself into "crochet mind" by envisioning myself using the hook to make something beautiful. 
  3. Set an intention — whoever the recipient is going to be (including myself), I imagine that person in my mind and set a nice wish for them. I picture them wearing it or using it or smiling upon opening it. I imagine them happy and at peace. I might think of a specific situation that I want to turn out well for them and say prayers for them. This is where intuition can step in and help, too: what is your intuition telling you about what the recipient needs? You can pick up on that and focus on something good for them based on that nudge.
  4. Work mindfully—once I've done steps 1–3, I pick up the piece and begin. As I work, I continue to engage my breathing. Deep breaths in and out; no shallow breathing. I also focus on keeping my tension even. If I start to tense up, or feel my shoulders start to rise, I take a second to regroup, breathe, and focus on even tension. I refocus on happy things for the person I'm working the piece for. Mindfulness is the name of the game in this step.
  5. Don't ruminate! — energy transference is real, and I don't want to infuse the piece with anything negative. If I find my mind chewing on problems, I stop, regroup, breathe, then continue working. I stay focused on the task at hand; not my problems, the world's problems, or any other problems I could possibly dream up. If I start to ruminate, I might smile to myself to break the cycle, then...you guessed it: take a second to breathe, set my intention and envision happy things for the recipient again, and only then do I continue. If I can't get this last part right, then I put the piece down. (More about that in the next section.)

Energy Transference and Crafting

Some people take their crafts to the next level by learning new skills. I take mine to the next level with energy and intention. Some folks don't believe energy transference is real, but have you ever found yourself around someone really negative and not wanted to hang out with them any more? 

Your crafts (and any recipients, including yourself) are similarly affected. Don't put your bad mood into your work. Level yourself up by using intention and breath work. If you want to take your crafting into a safe space, where you can GET AWAY from your problems, not ruminate or stress out, taking steps 1–5 above are a great way to do that. I promise you it's next-level stuff. You may even find you're branching out in your actual skills as you engage with this new way of crafting. I can't tell you what this has done for my own abilities!

This process has become so important to me, so ingrained into my lifestyle now, that if I'm in a bad mood, stressed out, etc., I absolutely WILL NOT pick up a craft until I shift my mindset. I will not put any negativity into that piece, especially since most of what I make now goes to other people. Why would I give them a gift that has anything negative attached to it?

Here are some scenarios you can consider, followed by suggested answers/intentions.
  • How would a new parent feel about that gorgeous baby blanket you made swaddling their precious newborn if they knew you were angsty and angry about politics while making it? (Put politics aside and imagine that newborn growing up happy, healthy, cute, and giggly as they have tummy time and learn to crawl on that beautiful blanket.)
  • How would your mom feel while wearing the gorgeous necklace you made for her birthday if she knew you were upset about something the entire time you made it? (Why are you upset? Identify and deal with it, then take steps 1–5 and work on the necklace for your mom without those bad feelings; imagine her smiling beautifully and feeling thrilled as she proudly wears your elegant creation.)
  • How would your child feel hugging the new stuffed animal you sewed for them if they knew you cried over it every night while you made it because that was the only time you had to yourself and could let out your tears? (It's tough being a parent, and parents often hide their feelings while putting their kids first. Have your cry first, then take steps 1–5 and sew that stuffy with a clear mind while imagining your kiddo enjoying the heck out of their new toy.)
  • How would a cancer patient feel wearing the chemo cap you made for them if they knew it had all your work frustrations stuck in it? (Look, we all have work frustrations. Moan about it to a coworker or friend first to get it out of your system. Then set an intention for that cancer patient, that they will be warm and comforted by this hat and that they will regain full health; imagine them vibrant and happy and resuming activities they love to do.)
Do you see how using your imagination is a part of setting your intentions? 

By taking a few moments to center yourself, breathe, envision positive things, watch your tension levels, etc., you are helping both yourself and the recipient of your gift. 

This applies even if the item you're making is for yourself. By having a mindful crafting practice, you are helping yourself doubly. I absolutely ADORE a blanket I made for myself and feel so comforted by it because I know I am wrapped up in not only soft and squishy yarn, but in the positive feelings and intent I set for myself while I made it. 

Take Breaks for Physical Health and Flow

Finally, in order to make sure you stay healthy physically along with all this awesome emotional work you're doing, make sure you take some breaks. Don't get a repetitive stress injury (RSI) by doing a craft or hobby for too long. On your breaks, drink water or herbal tea and stretch. Do a little bit of flow, like Yoga, Tai Chi, Qi gong, or walking around. Keep that healthy, deep breathing pattern going. When you resume the project, remember to keep your intention in mind and stay in that positive mindset as you work.

You can apply the concepts I use to any hobby, too, as far as I can tell. Imagine following a similar process whether you're a knitter, crocheter, painter, jeweler, stamp collector, scrapbooker, woodworker, metalworker, sculptor.... The important thing is to breathe, flow, and set your intention to be a positive one. 

The bottom line is: hobby time is an opportunity to create a mindful and meditative state that positively affects both yourself and others.


Drop me a comment and tell me: 
  • Have you been crafting or hobbying during the pandemic? If so, what are you making or doing?
  • If not, do you think you might try it again using these techniques to "meditate"? 
  • Have you ever done anything like what I do?

I look forward to hearing from you! 

Oh, and if you want to follow my crafting projects, you can find them on my newly resurrected Crafting/DIY blog!

Be safe, be well, and take care. Till next time! 💛🐝



 ~positively b.e.e. is on FacebookInstagramTwitter, and Pinterest. Follow me there!~

Monday, August 17, 2020

5-Minute Stress Relief: 75 Exercises to Quiet Your Mind and Calm Your Body (Book Review)

This post may contain affiliate links, by which I may be financially compensated. See Disclosures for more info. 

Let's talk about stress this month. I imagine right now, a lot of people are stressed out over back-to-school stuff, more so in a pandemic.

Typically, parents would be preparing their kiddos to go back to school—buying new clothes, backpacks, school supplies and lunch boxes—but 2020 has really done a doozy on the process this year. 

I really feel for parents, teachers, and kids right now. Are schools opening or not for in-person classes? Do parents have to figure out home school or online learning options? Will kids ever get to see their friends during the school year and have normal, kid lives again? How are teachers going to cope with all of this, too? How do administrators keep kids safe if they return to in-person classes?

It's so incredibly stressful for all involved, with decisions literally impacting life and health to come. I don't envy anyone faced with these choices. 

Back-to-school stress isn't the only stress out there, but is a huge piece of the stress that I'm seeing in my circle of friends right now. Since stress is always a component of life, I thought it would be a good idea to review a book that may help.

5-Minute Stress Relief: 75 Exercises to Quiet Your Mind and Calm Your Body by Elena Welsh, PhD



I chose this book because I thought it would help people during the particularly stressful times we are encountering this year. It is written by a licensed clinical psychologist, Elena Welsh, who is based in Los Angeles, California and specializes in self-help books informed by science. 

Synopsis

This book says it will “take the stress out of relieving stress!” Sign me up! 

It offers simple activities one can do in order to reduce your stress levels, and it claims each of these will help you feel calmer within a few minutes. The book is small and portable, making it easy to travel with. It starts with  the idea that stress will happen, but you can change your relationship to stress in order to shift your experience.

The book is organized in a few different parts: 

Part One explains why you’re feeling stress and discusses what is physically happening in your body during stressful situations. The author discusses the parasympathetic nervous system and how stress can potentially be useful either in times of danger or in other situations that are not dangerous. She even discusses how generally happy situations, like weddings and births, can cause stress, and what a person can do about that. Causes, symptoms, and the mind-body connection are all explored in this easy-to-read section.

Part Two consists of a series of 5-minute exercises. She starts with various ways to quiet the mind—including one of my favorite techniques: listening to the sounds around you—but she lists many other ways, too. She then has a segment about writing your stress out, which of course appeals to me, since I work in the writing world. She gives several examples of writing prompts and even space to write them within the book. There is a small surprise in the book that I don’t want to spoiler too much, but you might want to have some colored pencils on hand.

My Thoughts

For such a small book, it is extensively researched if the reference list is anything to go by, with sources primarily coming from scientific journal articles about cognitive behavior and the effects of cortisol and stress, to the effects of mindfulness and flow practices (such as tai chi, for example) on stress levels, and more. I’m impressed by this level of research, in particular. I don’t think I’ve ever seen SUCH a heavily researched work for a smaller self-help book like this one. It may be tiny, but it's mighty!

My advanced reader copy does have an error in the pagination of the table of contents, but that's not a big deal. Hopefully they fixed it in the final print run. 

I think this would be a worthy addition to anyone’s toolkit if you are looking for ways to reduce your stress, particularly with 2020 going the way it has been. It addresses many kinds of stress and Elena Welsh writes in a way that is accessible to any reader and is authoritative in her knowledge. It's also easy to use the book if you want to hone in on a specific issue you'd like to address, and it's a fun read.

Get the Book 

5-Minute Stress Relief: 75 Exercises to Quiet Your Mind and Calm Your Body by Elena Welsh, PhD is published by Callisto Publishers, and I acquired my copy through their advanced reader program.  

You can purchase the book online at Amazon, and at the time of this writing, it is available for free with a Kindle Unlimited membership.

While I am an Amazon affiliate and appreciate any support you give by clicking on my links, I also support libraries and indie bookstores. Small businesses and libraries can always use the business, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic shut them down for a long time. If you prefer to shop local, click here to find an independent bookseller near you.


Be well! 🐝💛




 ~positively b.e.e. is on FacebookInstagramTwitter, and Pinterest. Follow me there!~

Friday, July 10, 2020

Using the Power of Your Mind: Virtual Vacations in the Time of COVID-19

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, by which I may be financially compensated. See Disclosures for more info. 


It's now July. The heat of summer is SIZZLING!! I don't know about where you live, but it's been in the high 90s here in Pittsburgh! I feel like I could fry an egg and bacon on the sidewalk and no one would bat an eyelash.

Typically I'd be down south by now, spending some time with my parents near the North Carolina beaches, enjoying a mix of high heat and humidity juxtaposed with ocean breezes and gentle evenings listening to the peepers.

But then COVID-19 happened, messing up vacation plans the world over.

I could sit here and be upset that I can't travel right now. I could feel bad for myself, even though I really have nothing to feel bad about. After all, I'm healthy and employed...I don't really have anything to complain about, except for general worry for the world, which sometimes lends to unhappiness and a feeling of helplessness.

Or, I could, you know...just not. Why put energy into something negative if I can at all help it? 

Everyone needs some time off, though, whether from work or other things. So in the absence of vacation plans, what's a girl to do? 

I've decided to find the feeling of vacation within myself instead of literally. 

Let me explain.

The ocean is where I find my peace. Unfortunately, I’m landlocked and can’t easily get to one without traveling through areas that might expose me to COVID-19. That isn't a risk I'm about to take, so instead, I'll go there in my mind. 

How? 

Well, here are some examples: 
  • I watch YouTube videos of ocean waves and beach sunrises. 🌊 
  • I create photo collages for my computer desktop that evoke the positive feelings I get from the ocean and beach. (I use Canva for this; it's a great tool with lots of free or paid options!)
  • I listen to sound files of waves breaking and seagulls calling. 
  • I sit and recall what the feeling of sand squishing between my toes is like. 
  • I imagine myself building a sand castle. 
  • I have seashells 🐚 near my desk. 
  • If I could import the smell of salt water and sand and seaweed, I would, but instead I just spritz a room spray. I found this awesome beachy-smelling essential oil to run in my diffuser, too. 
Through any or all of these activities, I can simply imagine myself there!😊

I decided to take it one step further, though, and made myself a video for a virtual ocean getaway. Enjoy this quick, virtual trip to the beach! 



(I did that using Canva, too, actually.) 

Look, I know it's not perfect, but our minds are POWERFUL things! We can imagine our way to a sense of peace again. It's no different than meditation ... it's just a different kind of meditation.

I hope this reminder that we can use our imaginations to create a sense of peace within us and take a mini virtual vacation inspires you! After all, the mind is a powerful tool!

So tell me: What do you do to put yourself in a good frame of mind? Where do you go in your imagination when you want to be at your happy  place? What concepts or memories take you there and comfort you? Share your ideas below! 👇

And if you created a photo collage or a video and you want to share, please do! 💛🐝

Have a wonderful rest of July. I'll see you next month!




 ~positively b.e.e. is on FacebookInstagramTwitter, and Pinterest. Follow me there for more content!~


 

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

On Pandemics and Productivity

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, by which I may be financially compensated. See Disclosures for more info. 


I can't believe we are already halfway through June, and I've only made one substantive post and two announcements here in 2020, so
 last week I sent my mailing list a message explaining my absence these past few months.

While I may not have any kind of viral following, the following I do have is steady, and people noticed I wasn't writing. Some asked me why. I gave them the basic answer but didn't really get into any negative things, because I'm not much of a complainer, and other people were going through so much more than I was — I didn't want to pile on.

I've been wanting to write here, but just...couldn't. And now I feel like I can again, but it seems weird to just resume writing without acknowledging that something happened. So let's get into the WHY of my absence. 

Between a deadly pandemic, natural disasters, racial injustice, and societal tensions, I wasn't coping too well. I got completely overwhelmed, actually. 

I'm a worrier by nature, and while I've worked very hard to turn that around and have had great success with that over the years, this particular set of events these last few months challenged me in new ways. My mindset DEFINITELY took a hit.

I mean, it hasn't been ALL bad. At the start of the year, I started a new dream job, where I was hired by a client to be a full-time editor. I still freelance evenings and weekends, too. And since the last time you've heard from me, I had the opportunity to perform Carmina Burana at Carnegie Music Hall with the Pittsburgh Concert Chorale just before COVID-19 hit its stride.

But then everything shut down, and so did I. I felt like a failure, not being able to write, but the words simply wouldn't come. I focused on sharing uplifting content on the Facebook page, and otherwise let this site slide. 

Maybe it was different for other people, but for me, apparently a pandemic isn't a good time to be creative. 

So then for some reason, thinking the pandemic would somehow give me more time to focus on "getting things done" (influenced, I'm sure, by the gazillions of articles and posts I saw where people were taking on pandemic projects) I decided I could at least be "productive" for positively b.e.e. by revamping the website. 

...which I didn't actually do, because I'm not exactly good (or patient) with tech stuff like building websites. I was struggling with design components and tech limitations and a lack of knowledge, and I simply stopped trying. 

Apparently a pandemic may not be a great time to be extra productive, either.
Let's be clear: I was managing basic productivity in terms of getting my regular work done. I'm a hard worker and able to compartmentalize in order to meet deadlines. But I'd work all day, do some freelance work at night or on weekends, and then...fizzle out. There really wasn't enough gas left in the tank for anything else. Add to that the fact that compartmentalization only works so well...once you start not living your true feelings, there can be side effects.

I constantly felt worried, stressed out, exhausted, and like I didn't have anything left in me after each work day ended. I was not sleeping right—well, let's be fair, I'm not much of a sleeper, anyway—but it was ten times worse than usual. I'd wake up in the middle of the night and worry incessantly about things. 

And I know I wasn't alone in this, because I saw it on my social media feeds. People were being stretched really thin emotionally, and it showed.

My meditation practice went down the drain, I had trouble concentrating, I had literally no desire to write, and the only comfort I found was to bury myself in working on an intricate blanket pattern that I'd bought on Ravelry. (A blanket I started nearly a year ago and only just finished, I might add.)

I have a lot of half-started projects around the house, too, which I would give a go but then just stop. I couldn't really get anything to stick.  It was basically a sense of listlessness. In between articles and posts about how productive or creative some people were being were just as many posts about how other people were having issues getting anything done. 

Did any of you experience the same? How did you cope?

Anyway, a few weeks ago, I subscribed to the Calm app. (THANK YOU to my credit card company, who offered a full year's membership FOR FREE!) If nothing else, it gave some structure to my day that didn't involve work or "getting things done." 

Doing the "Daily Calm" session is ten minutes a day where I can disconnect from all of those negative feelings and reconnect with something resembling peace. I also started listening to their sleep meditations and stories, which helped me whenever I'd wake up in the middle of the night and start ruminating unhealthily. 

Apparently a pandemic IS a good time to change up your meditation practice? 



After a few weeks of the new meditation routine, it seems to have done some good.

The theme of one of the meditations from last week was all about acceptance. After that session, I felt the best I had in a LONG time, and it's because some things synced into place for me. I realized AND accepted: 

☆ I can only do what I can do. 
☆ Pandemics aren't great times to "get things done."
☆ It's okay to slow down a little and take stock.
☆ It's okay not to be creative or productive during times of great distress.
☆ It's okay to take any time that I need for my well-being and mental health. 

And finally:

☆ I am definitely no web master! 😂 

So there it is. I went offline for a bit and accomplished, well, not much at all....and I accept that! I instantly forgave myself for not writing, not creating, and not revamping the website.

It was so freeing! And with that freedom came the first spark of creativity I'd felt in a long time. 

As I said to my subscribers, the time of being "shut down" is coming to an end, both literally and figuratively. As things begin to reopen in the world, I feel my spirit reopening, too. I feel I can write again.

Look, I don't write all this to make a spectacle. This isn't about "poor Beth" or anything. I'm not looking for any sympathy, and I have a TON to be grateful for.  

What this IS about is you

That's right. 

I want you to know that it's okay if you weren't super productive or creative during these uncertain times. I wanted to share my story—REAL TALK, not just the highlights—to let you know that you aren't alone if you had any of these feelings or difficulties over these last several months. 

While the focus of this blog is on positivity—getting the most out of life through gratitude, joy, fun, and other such things—you can't really appreciate or learn the positivity without looking the negative stuff dead in the eye. 

I'm often commended for my positive attitude, but at the end of the day, I'm just like anyone else: I have bad days, weeks, or months. I go through really rough times emotionally sometimes, especially in extraordinary circumstances. We all do —and that's normal. 

There are ways to get out of any of these negative moods again, eventually. That's why I started this blog all those years ago: to focus on ways to disrupt that negativity. I may be good at resilience, recovery, and regaining a positive outlook after taking a few hits in life, but that's only because I've had lots of practice at it. It takes time to heal.

There are resources to get help, healthy ways to find comfort or peace, and most of all, it's important to forgive yourself if you feel you've failed at something during this really extraordinary time in our world.

So with that, I'd like to hear from you and find out how you've been coping and if you have any advice for me and other readers. Please drop a comment below!

In the meantime, consider some of the below ideas if you're feeling rough around the edges: 
  • The Calm app. It's been amazing for regaining my inner peace. There are other apps out there, too, if Calm isn't the right fit for you, or maybe you want to try Tranquil Fern's mediation series.
  • Jonathan Kirkendall's 30-second(ish) Therapy (he has a particularly good meditation about uncertain times). Jon's posts always brighten my day!
  • positively b.e.e.'s Facebook page, which has content in between blog posts to help you stay upbeat 
  • Turn off the news. Seriously. It's on 24/7, it's everywhere, it's negative, and it's never-ending. Find a rhythm with the news cycle that doesn't trigger you into negative emotions.
  • Limit your time on social media. Mute the really negative people if you have to for a few days. Give yourself a break. I took the apps off my phone and that created some space for me to consciously participate instead of endlessly scrolling bad news, online fighting, and the other ridiculously negative stuff we see on a daily basis
  • Try to get some exercise if you can, since it will help with relaxation and releasing endorphins, which help you feel better emotionally. If you aren't comfortable going back to the gym yet when they reopen, there are a ton of free exercise videos on YouTube and other venues. The world is your exercise oyster—you only need to avail yourself of it. Here are some resources that I've used: 
And finally, if you need it, consider talking to a professional counselor. I found a list of sites that may be able to help, and/or your employer or health insurance may offer either an Employee Assistance Program or other access to mental health care. If you are unemployed or underemployed due to the pandemic, some providers may accept a sliding scale based on what you can afford. 

I know these have been a difficult few months in particular, and we've all been through the wringer a bit. In reading this, I hope you:
  • don't feel alone if you were
  • know that these feelings are normal if you're having them 
  • find peace in uncertain times 
  • forgive yourself if feel like you haven't weathered current events as well as you'd like, and
  • find resources that may help

I feel like I'm starting to get my groove back, and I hope this post helps you find yours, too. Until next month, be well! Take care of yourselves, okay? 💛🐝


 ~positively b.e.e. is on FacebookInstagramTwitter, and Pinterest. Follow me there!~

Thursday, June 11, 2020

And...we're back!

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, by which I may be financially compensated. See Disclosures for more info. 


So if you caught my last post, I had taken some time out (between new job and pandemic and current events and life stuff and and and and...) to try to spiff up this website. 

Long story short: I've decided to stay on the Blogger platform for the time being, after all. It looks like they've actually made some improvements to the tools, so I'm going to give them a chance. Sorry for the change in plans, but I'm no web master, and I'm choosing my battles, LOL.

I did some meditations on acceptance recently, and I accept that I can just stay here!  

Look for a post next week. I've got a lot rattling around in this ole' noggin of mine, and this is my favorite place to put those thoughts.

Thanks for your patience during the downtime. :) 

In the meantime, make sure you catch in-between-posts content on the Facebook page by following me there. 

See you next week! 🐝



positively-bee-new-posts-resume



 ~positively b.e.e. is on FacebookInstagramTwitter, and Pinterest. Follow me there!~

Monday, May 4, 2020

BRB - Renovations Underway

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, by which I may be financially compensated. See Disclosures for more info. 


Hello, 
I hope you are all well during the COVID-19 pandemic! We are doing fine here in Pittsburgh. We are sheltering in place and, so far, staying healthy.

I've been doing some work behind the scenes to make positively b.e.e. a better site. Since I work full time and also take on freelance work nights and weekends, this has been a slow-going process for me, but the blog WILL be back! 

Stay safe out there, and we'll see you soon! 







 ~positively b.e.e. is on FacebookInstagramTwitter, and Pinterest. Follow me there!~

Friday, January 31, 2020

Dealing with Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.)

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, by which I may be financially compensated. See Disclosures for more info. 


***Disclaimer: The following, as with any article on this website, is not to be construed as medical advice. It is simply my own exploration of a topic with links to additional information. Please consult with a medical professional for this and any health concern.

Hello everyone! I hope your new year is off to a good start!

For this month's post, I'd like to focus on something that affects many people this time of year: Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as S.A.D. I call it the "winter blues."

This syndrome seems common among people I know (including myself). How many memes have I seen on social media about how January is unendingly dreary, long, and awful? Perhaps talking about it will help us disrupt some negativity!


What is seasonal affective disorder?

Seasonal Affective Disorder is type of mood disorder where specific symptoms are worse during the darker months of the year—fall and winter. It is not a standalone disease, but rather a seasonal component of major depression.

Depression may include feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness, difficulty focusing or concentrating on anything for longer periods of time, low energy levels or feeling sluggish, losing interest in activities previously found enjoyable, and sleep and appetite issues.

The seasonal component

The winter seasonal component to major depression includes sleeping too much, being overly tired (even with extra sleep), craving more carbs than usual, gaining weight, and going into hibernation mode by withdrawing from people, avoiding social plans, etc.

Apparently there is a summer seasonal version, too! I was actually surprised to find this out, but according to the Mayo Clinic, summer seasonal affective disorder may include anxiety, agitation, insomnia, weight loss and a lack of appetite.

What causes seasonal affective disorder?

There are several theories about why symptoms of major depression get amplified seasonally, especially in winter. 

One of them is that your circadian rhythm gets messed up because of the lack of sunlight. In short, your body's clock doesn't really know what time it is, which can cause a disruption in mood.

Another cause is seratonin and melatonin levels not changing the way they should during specific times of the year. These brain hormones are important to the regulation of mood and sleep. For example, seratonin would naturally drop off during the winter, but a study of people suffering from S.A.D. shows that they don't experience that expected drop, which can contribute to a mood imbalance. And melatonin levels may be negatively impacted by changes in light exposure.

And with reduced sunlight, vitamin D levels can tank, leaving people deficient in this necessary nutrient that regulates not only bone health but also neuromuscular function and mood levels. In some studies, people with low levels of vitamin D have been found to suffer from anxiety or depression. Potentially related, it is said that people farther from the equator are more likely to experience S.A.D. Medical science doesn't fully understand this correlation, given the number of studies out there about it, but there does appear to be one.

What can you do to alleviate depression / seasonal affective disorder?

Seeing a doctor would be the first step in order to get a diagnosis. They will most likely ask a series of questions about things like changes in sleep and eating habits, changes in daily activities, family history, including history of depression, severity of the symptoms, etc. A doctor may also run some blood panels to see what your vitamin D and hormone levels look like.

Treatments may include medication and psychotherapy. Medication would help balance brain hormones, if necessary, and counseling can help with behavioral changes. In addition to these, sufferers may experience some relief with the addition of Vitamin D (if blood tests show it to be low), light boxes or other tools to help with the lack of natural light, and mild exercise, such as walking outdoors in the middle of the day.


Photo by sergey Svechnikov on Unsplash


My own experience with seasonal affective disorder

I definitely am affected by the lack of light—no doubt about it! For instance, here in Pittsburgh, January has been so gloomy that we have literally had NO days of sunshine this month. NONE. Unsurprisingly, my mood has been in the dumps frequently this month. I have a tendency to want to sleep too much, eat more carbs, and hibernate. Lately, there have been whole weeks where I have not left the house, which, I work from home, so my hibernation tendencies are amplified.

I'm starting to feel a bit better, though. I've been making sure my vitamin D levels are in the normal range with the help of my doctor and some supplements. To combat the gloom, my husband has installed brighter light bulbs in the house. We joke around about turning on the sun inside the house, but you can do a lot with natural light spectrum bulbs or lamps.

Another thing that really helps me is citrusy smells! Eating an orange, drinking some orange juice, or running citrus oils like lemon or tangerine in an aromatherapy diffuser instantly lifts my mood. It's like, if happiness had a smell, it'd be lemon or orange, to me. Anyone else feel like this? 

At any rate, I'm coping. 

Conclusion

I hope that you are not affected by the winter blahs, but if you are impacted by seasonal affective disorder, you are not alone! Know that you can do something about it and not be resigned to suffering through it. There is support out there. I hope this article is helpful in getting you started, and I'll drop some more resources below this article.

Until February, my bee-peeps, all the best! 💛🐝





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