Snow, holiday decorations, hot chocolate, ugly sweaters… it’s truly the most wonderful time of the year! Unfortunately, it can also be a time of great distress. Seasonal depression is more common than you may think. And with approximately 14 percent of Americans experiences the “winter blues,” it’s nothing to take lightly.
As the weather gradually gets colder and the days get shorter, people affected by seasonal affective disorder (SAD) will begin to exhibit symptoms of stress, depression and anxiety. These dark feelings can be overwhelming, but there are ways to manage these symptoms. Here are four things you should KNOW to help alleviate some of these feelings.
KNOW the Symptoms
Seasonal affective disorder typically appears during late fall or early winter and ends during the sunnier days of spring and summer. It’s important to know the difference between feeling glum or sad versus suffering from seasonal depression. Symptoms specific to winter-onset SAD include:
- Oversleeping or problems sleeping
- Appetite changes – weight gain or loss
- Feeling sluggish or agitated
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty
- Frequent thoughts of death or suicide
KNOW Your Limits
When it comes to seasonal depression, learning when to say “no” is vital. Putting limitations on stressful situations not only helps create boundaries, it reestablishes control of one’s life. These limitations include:
- Crowded places: Let’s face it, malls and shopping centers are packed during the holiday season. But this increase in foot traffic can also cause an increase in anxiety. When it comes to holiday shopping, limit your time in crowded areas. If you begin to feel rushed or overwhelmed, take deep breaths, count to ten and try to focus on your surroundings. Another way to limit sensory overload is to do a portion of your holiday shopping online.
- Expenditures: Between the increased spending on presents and gifts and the higher-than-usual utility bills, it’s easy to feel in-over-your-head finically. It may be challenging but sticking to a budget is the best way to stay on track when finances are tight.
- Sleep: Most adults need 7 to 8 hours of good quality sleep each night. It’s important to limit not only the number of hours you’re awake, but also the number of hours you sleep. Sleeping too much can increase the risk of diabetes and stroke. Not getting enough sleep can contribute to symptoms of depression and anxiety, while also causing heart disease, heart attack, heart failure and other health issues.
- Alcohol consumption: Alcohol abuse and depression are very closely correlated. Prolonged alcohol abuse can drastically change and rewire the brain and impact many other chemical balances in the body. This can intensify the symptoms of depression. If you suffer from SAD, be sure to limit alcohol intake.
KNOW Your Supporters
One of the symptoms of SAD is a feeling of loneliness. People who suffer from seasonal depression may find it difficult to take part in activities they used to find enjoyable – sharing lunch with coworkers, getting together with friends on the weekend, going shopping with family, etc. But isolating yourself can actually worsen your depression symptoms.
It’s vital to surround yourself with positive and trustworthy people who are there during your victories and struggles. They should be encouraging, care about your life goals and have your best interests at heart. Here are a few questions to consider when finding a support person or persons:
- How do you feel when you talk to them?
- Do you feel happy, at ease, empowered around them?
- Are they honest with you?
- Do they tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear?
- Do they encourage you?
- Do they challenge you to be a better you?
- Have they opened doors to new possibilities for you?
- Do they encourage you to get out of your comfort zone, meet new people, try new things, etc.?
Above all else, a support system is a two-way street. Your friends, family, coworkers, etc. will rely on you just as much as you rely on them. Connect with them regularly and keep them updated about the events in your life.
Knowing yourself is a great way to avoid feeling overwhelmed during the holiday season. Understanding your strengths, weaknesses, passions, fears and desires can help you cope with difficult situations. A few ways to know yourself include:
- Keeping a journal: A journal is a perfect way to keep track of your emotions and work through times of high stress. You can write in a journal every day, jotting down both successes and areas of improvement.
- Meditate: Taking 10-15 minutes of time to yourself can reduce stress and help you unwind after a busy day. Practice clearing your mind by focusing on deep breathing in a quiet, dimly lit room.
- Know when you’re in over your head: It’s never a bad thing to reach out for help, especially when you don’t feel like yourself. Schedule an appointment with your primary care doctor to discuss possible treatments for SAD.
Millions of people around the world experience sadness or depression at some point in their lives. The colder, shorter days of winter can elevate these emotions and create feelings of hopelessness. The Stormont Vail Behavioral Health Center is staffed by highly trained and compassionate professionals who are ready to help you overcome these feelings. Discover the many ways they can help you empower your wellbeing during the winter months and throughout the entire year.