It has taken me a while to get this post to all of you. Each time that I have tried to sit down and put thought and experience onto paper, I have felt stumped by lacking creativity. Perhaps it is the transition back from the holidays, I have wondered. Or the demands of a developing two-and-a-half-year-old. Or a busy practice and paperwork on my desk. Or the driving desire to get out of my office and release some steam outside only to be reminded that it is wet and gray and too cold out there for my running preference.
Or, as Katherine reminded me, it might just be that it is the middle of winter.
Winter. It can be a tough time for all of us. The days get shorter and colder, the weather often chaotic, the roads sometimes dangerous, the gas bills go up. Fresh fruits and vegetables can be harder to find and usually become more expensive in these long months. Runny noses abound and the flu seems to be around every corner. The air gets drier, our skin cracks, and we often are not drinking enough water. Children tend to go stir crazy when the playtime outdoors is limited. And, if we do attempt to get those little ones outside, the efforts at managing struggling kiddos into appropriate layers can feel for naught when red-cheeked toddlers decide that they are cold and wet after only a few minutes of play.
Winter tends to be a time when our neighbors are rarely seen, when communities are harder to access, and when we find ourselves spending more time at home. We tend to loose our patience more. We tend to have a harder time concentrating. We often have less energy. We feel less creative. We might, even, suffer from a bit of Seasonal Affective Disorder.
While there are certainly numerous places in the world where winters are mild and seasons non-existent, daylight levels lessen in the winter months unless you are living on or very near to the equator. Less daylight can lead to an increase in melatonin production that, in turn, can increase feelings of lethargy. Sunlight is also a major source of the vitamin D that we receive, and decreases in Vitamin D have been associated with symptoms of depression and anxiety.
It is highly common for people to spend more time sleeping in the winter months, for daytime fatigue to set in, appetites to increase, and moods to dampen. Think hibernation. Often, as the days become shorter and darker and the weather less accommodating, many of us find ourselves wishing that we could crawl into a cave and hibernate with the bears.
Oh, and if you are struggling with postpartum depression or another postpartum mood and anxiety disorder, winters can feel long and intolerable.
I see the effects of the overlap between postpartum depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD)—or what I will call “winter blues”—in my private psychotherapy practice. The phone rings more and the referrals come in more frequently. And this makes sense, doesn’t it? We know that the key to a healthy postpartum experience and often the important pieces of a mom’s recovery involve community support, exercise, healthy nutrition and adequate water intake, fresh air and breath, and rest.
Consider this image:
A new mom lives in an area where the winter is long and dark and cold. She has recently given birth and her partner has returned to work. Biologically, she is craving more sleep and winter fatigue has set in, but her baby is fussy and she is unable to get the rest that she so much needs and desires. The roads are slippery and her increasing anxiety is making it feel nearly impossible to venture out to see friends, or get to that moms group she has been considering, or try the day care at the gym so that she can finally get some exercise. It is too cold and wet to walk outside as she worries about her baby in such weather. Her refrigerator is empty and although she knows that healthy food and fresh vegetables might make a difference in how she feels, she doubts that she will ever manage the shop that is required for this. Her skin is dry and she knows that she would benefit from drinking more water, but the cold weather makes it less desirable to do so. Her lacking perspective is making these months feel like forever, and she feels entirely unable to imagine that these long months will ever end.
The National Institute of Health (NIH) lists the following as symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
- Increased appetite with weight gain (weight loss is more common with other forms of depression)
- Increased sleep and daytime sleepiness (too little sleep is more common with other forms of depression)
- Less energy and ability to concentrate in the afternoon
- Loss of interest in work or other activities
- Slow, sluggish, lethargic movement
- Social withdrawal
- Unhappiness and irritability
For women who are caring for newborns during these months, symptoms of PPD and SAD can combine to create a perfect storm of distress.
– Kate Kripke
Thank you for this insight. I'm now 30 weeks pregnant with baby #3 and the stress of preparation, the weather, and the fatigue have definitely been leading to feeling like I'm unraveling a bit.
Being able to frame it as at least partially impacted by the time of year helps a lot!
I'm so glad it helped!
me too 🙂
This describes how I am feeling quite well…I'm 10 months post partum and was just diagnosed with PPD&A. The doctor prescribed Celexa and I had a day or two where I almost felt like myself. But the weather changed, the snow came and now I can't get out of bed. Thankfully my husband lost his job (what an odd thing to be grateful for) and he is there to take care of the kids while I literally hibernate. I haven't been to work for a month, I just don't care. How do I shake this funk?
I hope that you have found some suggestions in the follow-up post, Shannan. And, just a reminder- if you feel that the medications you have prescribed are not working, I encourage you to discuss this with your therapist and/or prescribing physician. Some women may need to try several different medication choices and/or dosages before they fine the treatment that works best for their symptoms…
and, of course, if you find anything else that I have not mentioned that is useful for you in getting through this season, please share with us!
I think you wrote this for me. Thank you.
I can't overemphasize to friends and family enough how living in the South is key to my mental health, as well as our healthy family dynamic. My active boys need to be outdoors every single day (even in January) and here we can do that. Also? I need that sunlight during all seasons to be motivated and not isolate myself. Even now, when it's chilly in Atlanta in the morning, I find myself having much more trouble getting out and not just staying home in my pjs all day. In the Summer, I have so much energy and am not tired until at least 9pm. Now with it getting dark at 5:30, I feel like I'm ready to hit the hay by 7pm most nights and that stinks!
I also believe it impacted my postpartum period. With L1, born at the end of September, I had horrible PPD/PPA for 5 months. With L2, born in May, I found myself enjoying socializing at the pool 2 weeks postpartum. There were many other factors, but I believe the season was a huge component!
Thanks for bringing awareness to this, Kate.
The minute the time change hit this fall, I was hit so hard. I don't know why it affects me like that but I end up feeling so tired. It gets worse as winter wears on. Thank goodness Spring always comes.
This is exactly what I'm feeling. I'm 6 months postpartum and I live in Minnesota where the windchill is often in the single digits if not below zero. Even when it is warmer, it's windy or snowing or icy. I love putting my baby in her carrier and going for a walk with our dog but it rarely happens. If it's too cold or windy she squirms and it isn't fun for anyone. I feel like by the time I get baby dressed, fed, and warm the car up, we have about 15 minutes before she wants to eat and go to sleep again, making errands and events (the few that are around) nearly impossible. I keep thinking that springtime and her getting older will help but in MN, that will be a few more months still. I can't wait. If our family wasn't here I'd be headed for the equator in no time. I can't wait to hear suggestions!
I hope that some of the follow-up suggestions help, Emily. I think that women who live in areas like you, where winters are extremely cold, the long months of winter can feel endless. What have you noticed happens for you when Spring and warmer weather creeps in? Do you notice a significant difference in mood?
This is me! I am so glad my baby was born in May. We will be timing all future pregnancies to give me the best chance of beating SAD.
This is SO SO SO SO true. I was doing great at the end of summer/beginning of fall. Then school started and my workout routine was interrupted. Then the weather got cold and I couldn't take walks outside anymore. Then it was dark at 4:30 p.m. every day. Talk about a relapse. WOW!! I fell deep into the pit again and am clawing my way out. Today I said "to hell with it!" and took a walk in the 34 degree weather. That's what the weather shield on the stroller is for. 🙂
Even living in the tropics as I do, I am not immune from S.A.D. It doesn't make sense, but it's true. Ever since my bout with PPD I have been susceptible to too much cloudiness. And wouldn't you know, I live in the cloudiest area here. When the kids were little, there were times I put them in the car and we drove in search of sunshine. It's either overly bright here or, when it's cloudy up my way, it's all the gloominess of a Seattle winter day.
Experience with a PMD seems to make us more vulnerable to smaller changes. I've learned from this, but I still feel more …aware.
I think you are right, Diane// Many women say that they are more aware of their "mood triggers" after they have suffered from a PMAD. While it can be frustrating to realize that there are many things that can impact mood, it is also so valuable to know what your particular triggers are so that you can plan ahead. Thanks for sharing…
Winter kicks my behind. Always.
I live in Canada and well…we all know how Canadian winters are. Long, grey, cold…
Most of my worst depressions happen in winter. I try to get out as much as possible. I've amped up psychiatrist appointments. I make sure to schedule at least one thing in my day that makes me smile. And I plaster pictures of spring and summer all over the house.
I love those strategies, Kimberly- Thanks for sharing!
I like Cristi's comment — I think you just wrote this for me.
In Jan 2011 when my first child was 2 and my second 6 mths I woke up one day and just wanted to cry all the time. The next day I had a nervous breakdown and couldn't stop shaking. Every day when it got dark at 4pm (in England) I started to have severe anxiety attacks which preceded into severe insomnia. I was put on a variety of SSRIs but they ALL made feel much worse. I had to stop breastfeeding in order to try those drugs and I will sadly always regret that decision. I sincerely wanted to die. I peacefully imagined myself laid out, like it was the perfect solution to my problem. All the time thinking that my family would be so much better off if I wasn't alive. A very good friend of mine committed suicide a few months earlier and that certainly didn't help. My husband lost his job because he had to look after me and the kids. The ONLY thing that helped me was exercising. And then when spring came I began to feel better. It did take about 6 to 8 months to recover. We moved to Atlanta (where my husband is from) and the warmer and sunnier weather helps although I really miss my homeland. I don't know if I would ever risk living another winter in the UK again though. During that time I was improving with gradually less and less insomnia. Less and less telling myself I would kill myself. Less and less telling myself I was insane. I had acupuncture treatments which also helped.
I still now have the automatic negative thoughts but I know how to shut them down. I begin to panic myself and then I say to myself 'anxiety is a choice' and then I choose no anxiety thank you very much. You have to find your own way to have this conversation with yourself. I am very aware of that fact that if you are in the depths of depression, it cannot simply be switched off.
I believe I had a combination of SAD and PPD and I still live in absolute fear of returning SAD. I try to exercise every day, get sunlight every day, and I take good quality fish oils. This winter it hasn't returned but I still have occasional sleeplessness worrying about feeling like that again. I still feel like I had a very long and painful near death experience and I don't like to discuss it as I know no-one who has experienced it or has an understanding of it. I think just about everybody thought I was just being a pain in the butt! I won't have more children as I fear the depression too much.
I think about it everyday. Up until recently I used to ask myself everyday 'Are you okay or not okay today?' and then eventually you realize that if you have to ask yourself, then yes you feel okay. If you felt bad you would already know it. That has been a big progression for me.
I plan to get therapy to better aid myself in case I ever feel like that again. I also plan to have a sunny holiday every year in January… cash permitting. Anyway I just wanted to share my SAD and PPD experience and how it has completely changed my life. You can feel better though… It is possible. It's really hard to believe in yourself when you feel so awful, wallowing in self loathing, so please believe what us survivors are telling you. You are not alone. You can and will feel better.
I thank you tremendously, Georgia, for sharing your story. I am most certain that there are other moms out there who have found validation, comfort, and hope in your words…
Yes, I agree with Georgia. Everything feels so hopeless, you just want to curl up in a corner all day and not talk to anyone.I went through the same problem when I had my second child (she'll be 3 next November). I'm glad I found your blog, its very informative.