Written by: Dr. Frannie Koe, MD
Edited by: Breanne Hughes
The blog today is a little more personal. I haven’t quite felt like myself for a few weeks, and it is sometimes a challenge to realize what is going on and to figure out how to improve things! Lately, I have not wanted to get out of bed. I have not felt like doing things that normally make me happy, and I have felt very irritable. This happens almost every year and some years seem a little worse. This is one of those years. What is one of the causes of this unsettled feeling? SAD, or seasonal affective disorder. Below is a link to an American Psychiatry Association article describing Seasonal Affective Disorder in more detail:
I have always been a person who likes bright days and fresh air. I love big windows and sunlight. This time of year, however, my farm looks brown, grey, muddy, dead and cold. It is raining a lot. The grass is dead. Nothing is vibrant or growing. I always feel sad during the winter. Last year, my partner, Tim, figured out that planting rye grass all around the house added a bright green color to the landscape, which helped. But now it is dying. Everything seems gloomy and lifeless. I know logically that is not true. I am rarely sad or depressed for any serious length of time; but now I have felt like this has been going on for too long. We all have a bad day or two. Maybe even a few days. But when it goes on for over two weeks, or stretches into a month of not feeling well, it becomes more worrisome.
I’ve struggled lately for many reasons. I felt I failed at my fasting, and I have been craving sugar. I have wanted to garden, but it has been too wet to do anything. I have been frustrated with not having enough time to do all that I want to accomplish, both personally and professionally. As we watch the situation unfold in Ukraine, I have been concerned about the future. I have seen so many sick patients at the clinic and have felt at a loss on some days how I can help fix everyone. One of my daily joys is journaling, but I have been so busy I have not been able to write. I have not seen my kids in several weeks, and family is so important to me. Besides the cold and dreary winter, these thoughts and personal challenges have caused me to feel somewhat sad and emotionally down.
I finally admitted to my clinic staff that I was having issues. There are actually a few of us in the office who have been struggling similarly this winter. It has helped to know I am not the only one.
Now that I have realized that there is a problem, what do I do? This weekend I have taken action. I have decided to make myself do many activities I enjoy in order to help lift my mood. This list will be different for everyone. For me, the first thing I did was make my bed. I read a book recently that has encouraged me to make my bed every day. I have not been doing it lately, which helped me realize I was struggling. Often, I give this book (link below) to friends because, as insignificant as it may seem, simply making my bed most days has improved my mood and my outlook. It feels good to come home to see it at night.
The book that inspired me, a #1 New York Times best seller written by Admiral William H. McRaven (U.S. Navy Retired), is called Make Your Bed: And Little Things That Can Change Your Life and Maybe The World:
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I have also worked on staying away from sugar this weekend. I rarely eat much sugar but I have been craving it lately. The sadness I have felt lately may have caused my recent sugar cravings. When we eat sugar, it can increase dopamine in the brain, making us feel better. We often eat unhealthy foods when we are depressed, especially sugar, because it can temporarily boost our mood while giving us a feeling of pleasure when we are struggling. However, the sugar crash and the unhealthy effects of sugar on our bodies are not worth the temporary feelings of enjoyment.
I am also working on getting more healthy fat in my diet. This can be brain boosting. It is especially important to eat omega-3 fats, like those found in fish. I take a fish oil supplement, but have not taken it regularly this month. I am going to work on taking it every day so I can get that healthy fat! I use Green Pasture Fermented Cod Liver Oil and Concentrated Butter Oil Blend, but I sell less expensive options in my clinic. The article below talks about the benefits of omega 3s and our mental health.
Also contributing to my low mood is the fact that I have been helping my dad every weekend for several weeks. My family responsibilities have seriously restricted the time I have to recharge after a busy week working at the clinic. My father has dementia, which is a hard illness to watch in anyone, but especially a parent. I think seeing someone we love struggle can cause us to be fearful about our own future and bring up concerns about how we will age. Taking care of someone can also take a toll on our own health and well-being. So, I have talked to my siblings and let them know my frustrations. They have helped to support me and have talked to my dad about not being so hard on me for trying to help him. I understand he can’t always remember from day to day. So I have struggled with guilt for being perturbed with him as he is simply trying to get through each day, not remembering the day before. The support of friends and family has been invaluable.
Another thing I did this weekend was to plan a date with Tim. We had movie night, which is not something we have done in ages. We set up the futon so that we could stretch out and I made popcorn. Popcorn is a complex carbohydrate and not something we often indulge in (I will delve into complex carbohydrates, wearing a Libre or blood sugar button, and demonstrate what popcorn does to blood glucose levels in another blog) but it was fun and we both love popcorn as a special occasion treat. I sprinkled on nutritional yeast, which adds B vitamins to our nutritional milieu. I have always called it cheesy yeast, have used it for years, and have taught Tim how to add it to popcorn. If you want to try it, I will put the (affiliate) link below!
This weekend I have done other things to improve my mental state. I stayed away from the news! I bought seeds to plant in my garden next week so that I can soak up the sun in the forecast and get some exercise while playing in the dirt. Additionally, I talked to my kids, and because I miss them so much, we planned some time together in March. Also, I have scheduled herb conferences in May and June. I carved out some time and was able to work hard on the Agroshare website this weekend. I have purged unwanted items in order to clean up my living space, and I’ve spent some time outside. And I will continue to get out in the sun every day this week as it will be shining! Finally, I’ve focused on gratitude and leaned on those around me, as I know many people have more struggles and challenges than I do.
Sometimes we have to force ourselves to do the things that we know are good for us. It can be hard to pull ourselves out of sadness when it gets really bad. But we can change our thoughts. We are the only ones who can do so. We can talk to someone when we find it difficult to get motivated to move and do self-supporting activities.
I am not a psychologist, but I am a doctor. I am also a mother, a farmer, a business owner and entrepreneur, a spouse, a life-long student, and a friend. I wrote this very personal glimpse into my recent struggles in hopes of removing some of the social stigma around mental health issues. I also wrote it because I think it is important to know that regardless of your background or profession or financial situation, everyone struggles sometimes and you are not alone.
Whenever life’s events seem overwhelming, be sure to talk to someone and see your doctor if you cannot pull yourself out of your negative mental state. There is help. There are many possibilities to improve how you feel. Medications, counseling, volunteering, exercise and improved diet are just a few things that can be done. Talking to your family and friends can often be helpful. Always reach out and let others know you are not feeling so well.
I’m already seeing an improvement in my energy and general mental state after this weekend where I purposefully worked to recharge, but I am not one hundred percent myself again yet. I will continue to prioritize my health and well-being, both mental and physical, and plan to write more about what works for me (and what doesn’t) over the coming weeks.
It is important to remember that while I am a physician sharing my personal experiences, they are just that — my own experiences.
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