Seasonal Affective Disorder and Millennials
While it is often thought that most twenty-somethings are breaking out their riding boots, pinning unlimited fall DIY’s, and relishing in pumpkin spice everything, many millennials are reporting feelings of anxiety and/or depression this season, perhaps even more so than other age brackets. Seasonal Affective Disorder, often referred to as the “winter blues”, can impact anyone regardless of age, race, or socioeconomic status. According to mayoclinic.org, seasonal affective disorder symptoms can be categorized as a variety of symptoms including but not limited to irritability, weight gain, hypersensitivity to rejection, and even problems getting along with others. Currently, my case load consists mostly, of millennials, a generation hit hard by the economy, college debt, and a not-so promising job market (for most), unless, on the off chance, you happen to have one of those amazingly creative, hipster-like jobs that only exist in business card or pharmaceutical commercials; I’m talking about making your own olive oil, starting your own brewery or having millions of followers on Instagram just for taking cute pictures of your dog (but seriously, where are those jobs?!) However, chances are, if you are reading this blog and you are a millennial, you’ve had your fair share of retail or service industry jobs while going to school and/or working as an intern. Maybe you’ve spent the past five years in school only to discover after you graduated that all of the “entry level” positions in your field ALSO require experience. I could probably write a blog series on all of the additional stressors that unfortunately, seem to define our generation in mainstream media, but I digress... Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), is actually pretty common. However, in my work, I have noticed that SAD symptoms may look different for a millennial, than for someone, let’s say, who is in their forties. For example, the feeling of wanting to “hibernate”, or load up on carbs, is a pretty common symptom for those diagnosed with SAD, but a symptom not classically associated with SAD may be anxiety. In the past couple of years, I have noticed many of my millennial clients report increased anxiety during the transition into fall and winter, especially when daylight savings time goes into full swing. Depression is typically associated with SAD, and can be a symptom experienced by millennials, however anxiety may be more reported by clients in this age-bracket due to the grueling schedule that, more and more young people are almost required to keep up. If you’re a young person, fall may represent going back to school, figuring out financial aid, and signing up for classes REQUIRED for your major that (of course) only have limited space. Anxiety in the fall season may be a psychosomatic response our body exhibits, perhaps a way of gearing up for a much more taxing schedule, a sort of “bracing for impact” brought on by our subconscious. While many people attend summer classes as well, summer is usually a time of leisure, and renewal, even if you are working and going to school during that time. We are also exposed to higher amounts of vitamin D in the summer, which, according to Livestrong.com, can significantly impact our mood. In a study published in 1999 in the “Journal of Nutrition, Health and Aging”, researchers found a correlation between vitamin D and mood. In fact, vitamin D deficiencies have also been found in people with mood disorders. During the fall and winter, many of us, experience lower levels of vitamin D, however, for some, these symptoms may be exacerbated by the fact that they wake up in the dark, and come home in the dark. Many millennials wake up early to go to work, and then go from work to their internship, and sometimes, work a double shift well into the night, thus, reducing their already limited exposure to vitamin D. The real question is, what can you do about it? First and foremost, if you believe that you may have seasonal affective disorder, it is important that you see a doctor, and possibly a therapist or counselor. The truth is, feeling down or anxious sometimes is a part of the human condition, but if you’re feeling that way for days or weeks at a time, it’s important to talk to a healthcare professional. Other things you can do? Keep a mood journal and document how you’re feeling for a few weeks. Many times, patterns can emerge that were overlooked, and this can help you and your healthcare provider determine the best course of action when it comes to your treatment. You can also take vitamin D supplements, which have a variety of health benefits beyond just combating the “winter blues”. Another biggie, which I cannot stress enough, is to be extra good to your body, particularly, in regards to what you are putting in it. While the urge to eat foods higher in carbs during the fall and winter months may be extremely tempting, our body’s nutritional levels directly impact our emotions, especially when it comes to anxiety and depression. The real point of this article though, is to challenge the assumption that seasonal affective disorder symptoms do not include anxiety, to create awareness, and possibly, start a conversation about the potential for sub-types of seasonal affective disorder, especially in respect to millennials.