Feeling the winter blues right now? You're not alone.

Depression grips everyone differently. To Trista Kempa, it means lying in bed and wishing she never woke up.

"It’s not that I wish I was dead," the 30-year-old New Yorker clarifies. "I just feel like I’m missing any feeling at all."

When Kempa was a college student living in Michigan, a doctor told her she she may have seasonal affective disorder — a form of depression, fittingly dubbed "SAD," that typically strikes when the days grow shorter in fall and winter. For patients, a persistent decrease in sunlight exposure may cause mood swings, energy loss, increased anxiety, and more.

It's the winter blues on steroids.



GIF by Emma Darvick.


To this day, however, Kempa's not even entirely sure she has SAD — or ever legitimately had it. And she's not alone. For many patients, and even for the doctors treating them, it's no easy task to identify seasonal depression with complete certainty. SAD, like most mental illnesses, can be a labyrinth to navigate — but you and your mental health are worth it.

Here are three things you should keep in mind when it comes to staying on top of your mental health during winter:

1. Many of us haven't warmed up to the idea that less sunlight can mess with our mental health. But we should.

Research has found seasonal depression is certainly real for millions of people, according to Norman Rosenthal, who first described SAD in a 1984 medical journal. Yet, "get some sunlight" fails to make it on most of our to-do lists.

"The mind naturally gravitates to psychological explanations for why one is feeling bad," he explains. It’s not intuitive to link a lack of sun exposure to our deteriorating mood. So we don't.

We tend to solely blame outside stressors — like breakups or career changes — and not even consider that short, dark days could be doing us harm too. Compounded with the general stigma that often accompanies any mental illness, many people are hesitant to acknowledge SAD's legitimacy.

"I was afraid of being weird, of seeing a therapist, of having an issue," Kempa says after having been told she may have SAD. "The stigma was very real for me."

2. Sorting out your own winter blues may not be so black and white. And that's OK.

Say it's mid-January. You've been feeling lethargic for weeks on end. You're craving sweets and starches, and your sleeping habits are out of whack. You undoubtedly have SAD, and you're stuck with it for life. Right?

“Oftentimes, it’s not that simple," says Rosenthal.

A spectrum exists when it comes to extreme SAD and mild winter depression, and patients may find themselves at various points on that scale depending on the year. While the American Academy of Family Physicians estimates about 4-6% of the population has SAD and another 10-20% has more subtle symptoms associated with the winter blues, Rosenthal says external stress and geography (distance from the equator affects the length of daylight) play roles in if and how severe you experience SAD.

One winter, for example, someone may be living in sunny San Diego and have low stress in their private and professional lives. The next winter, they could be living in upstate New York, overwhelmed by work deadlines and personal hardships. The difference may well manifest in a person's mental health, says Rosenthal: "You can have the winter blues one year and then full blown SAD the next."

What's more, if a person lives with other mental health hurdles that aren't necessarily tied to the seasons, it can be even more difficult to sort through how they're feeling and why. Physicians may also find it difficult to confidently diagnose a person with SAD, seeing as many of the symptoms are similar to those associated with other forms of mental illness, according to the Mayo Clinic.

"I still don't really know [if] I ever had [SAD]," Kempa says. "When you’re diagnosed with depression, or anxiety, or SAD, or anything that is trying to pinpoint what’s going on with your brain, it’s just complicated. It’s hard to know exactly what it is."

It's important to be aware of all the factors that could be contributing to your winter woes — including the amount of sunlight you're getting.

3. The good news is, there are many things you can do to curb the worst effects of Old Man Winter.

“Whatever your degree to which you are affected, there are lots of things you can do about it," Rosenthal says. "You don’t have to suffer.”

Let start with the most obvious: Get outside during the day, if and when you can! When winter daylight is short, many leave for the office in darkness and commute home after the sun sets. The struggle is definitely real. But even a short, brisk walk outside on a lunch break can make a difference.

You could also create a "light room." Clean the window panes, open the blinds, trim the outside shrubbery, and make sure you have (at least) one space in your home that gets maximum sunlight. Shift as many daily activities — like reading, Netflix-ing, or hosting friends — to that room as you can, so you can take full advantage of the rays.

And if the real sun's just not cutting it at home, consider buying a sun lamp. According to the Cleveland Clinic, they're a safe way to help your body regulate melatonin and serotonin — hormones that aid in sleeping and stabilizing mood.  

It never hurts to be mindful of diet and exercise. Staying active and eating proteins and vegetables — and (sadly) avoiding sweets and carbs — can give you more energy throughout the day.

Of course, reaching out for help is always a great option too.

"Understanding mental health is really complicated," Kempa says, noting that because of supportive family and friends — and being more cognizant of what she's feeling — she's been in a great place for quite some time. "It’s not diabetes. It’s not a broken bone. You can’t just fix it. There’s no one-size-fits all drug or path to healing and wellness. I think this is what makes it all so daunting. And when you’re in it, it’s hard to put in the effort."

Sometimes we can't — or don't want to — do it all alone. And that's perfectly OK.

If you need help now, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255. Read more about seasonal affective disorder at the Mayo Clinic.

Family

On an old episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in July 1992, Oprah put her audience through a social experiment that puts racism in a new light. Despite being nearly two decades old, it's as relevant today as ever.

She split the audience members into two groups based on their eye color. Those with brown eyes were given preferential treatment by getting to cut the line and given refreshments while they waited to be seated. Those with blue eyes were made to put on a green collar and wait in a crowd for two hours.

Staff were instructed to be extra polite to brown-eyed people and to discriminate against blue-eyed people. Her guest for that day's show was diversity expert Jane Elliott, who helped set up the experiment and played along, explaining that brown-eyed people were smarter than blue-eyed people.

Watch the video to see how this experiment plays out.

Oprah's Social Experiment on Her Audience www.youtube.com

Culture
via Cadbury

Cadbury has removed the words from its Dairy Milk chocolate bars in the U.K. to draw attention to a serious issue, senior loneliness.

On September 4, Cadbury released the limited-edition candy bars in supermarkets and for every one sold, the candy giant will donate 30p (37 cents) to Age UK, an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for the elderly.

Cadbury was prompted to help the organization after it was revealed that 225,000 elderly people in the UK often go an entire week without speaking to another person.

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Well Being

Young people today are facing what seems to be greater exposure to complex issues like mental health, bullying, and youth violence. As a result, teachers are required to be well-versed in far more than school curriculum to ensure students are prepared to face the world inside and outside of the classroom. Acting as more than teachers, but also mentors, counselors, and cheerleaders, they must be equipped with practical and relevant resources to help their students navigate some of the more complicated social issues – though access to such tools isn't always guaranteed.

Take Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, for example, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years, and as a teacher for seven. Entering the profession, she didn't anticipate how much influence a student's home life could affect her classroom, including "students who lived in foster homes" and "lacked parental support."

Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience, says it can be difficult to create engaging course work that's applicable to the challenges students face. "I think that sometimes, teachers don't know where to begin. Teachers are always looking for ways to make learning in their classrooms more relevant."

So what resources do teachers turn to in an increasingly fractured world? "Joining a professional learning network that supports and challenges thinking is one of the most impactful things that a teacher can do to support their own learning," Anglemyer says.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience.

A new program for teachers that offers this network along with other resources is the WE Teachers Program, an initiative developed by Walgreens in partnership with ME to WE and Mental Health America. WE Teachers provides tools and resources, at no cost to teachers, looking for guidance around the social issues related to poverty, youth violence, mental health, bullying, and diversity and inclusion. Through online modules and trainings as well as a digital community, these resources help them address the critical issues their students face.

Jessica Mauritzen, a high school Spanish teacher, credits a network of support for providing her with new opportunities to enrich the learning experience for her students. "This past year was a year of awakening for me and through support… I realized that I was able to teach in a way that built up our community, our school, and our students, and supported them to become young leaders," she says.

With the new WE Teachers program, teachers can learn to identify the tough issues affecting their students, secure the tools needed to address them in a supportive manner, and help students become more socially-conscious, compassionate, and engaged citizens.

It's a potentially life-saving experience for students, and in turn, "a great gift for teachers," says Dr. Sanderlin.

"I wish I had the WE Teachers program when I was a teacher because it provides the online training and resources teachers need to begin to grapple with these critical social issues that plague our students every day," she adds.

In addition to the WE Teachers curriculum, the program features a WE Teachers Award to honor educators who go above and beyond in their classrooms. At least 500 teachers will be recognized and each will receive a $500 Walgreens gift card, which is the average amount teachers spend out-of-pocket on supplies annually. Teachers can be nominated or apply themselves. To learn more about the awards and how to nominate an amazing teacher, or sign up for access to the teacher resources available through WE Teachers, visit walgreens.com/metowe.

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One of the major differences between women and men is that women are often judged based on their looks rather than their character or abilities.

"Men as well as women tend to establish the worth of individual women primarily by the way their body looks, research shows. We do not do this when we evaluate men," Naomi Ellemers Ph.D. wrote in Psychology Today.

Dr. Ellers believes that this tendency to judge a woman solely on her looks causes them to be seen as an object rather than a person.

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Culture