You can’t walk into a department store in the Fall without seeing aisles filled with colorful decorations signaling that the holiday season is upon us. The days become shorter, and the weather gets a lot colder, and while many are filled with the holiday spirit, there is a large majority of people who are affected by the change in season in far less cheerful ways. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a topic that comes up every year, and yet how many of us take the time to actually check in with ourselves with how seasonal changes may be affecting us? As much attention as there is paid to getting flu vaccinations, there needs to be more attention drawn to how people can be affected, and what they can do to practice self-care this holiday season. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a mood disorder that is often reported between the months of October and November, and for most people can feel like depression.People who experience SAD will likely experience a range of symptoms that can include difficulty getting up in the morning and being lethargic throughout the day at work or at school. While shopping for gifts and preparing holiday feasts with family can be stress inducing, many find themselves feeling more prone to feeling anxious and irritable, and having much more difficulty in managing stress. Much like depression SAD is also characterized by a decreased sexual desire, changes in sleep, withdrawing from others in isolation, and not being able to enjoy the typical things people find often happiness with during the holidays. Recurrent negative thoughts and feelings are more likely to enter our minds and stay with us over the holidays if there are issues in our family relationships, or a sense of being unfulfilled with our lives. A holiday season that emphasizes being joyful with family can be hard to deal with if there is any unresolved issues in our lives. Many find comfort and some craving in foods that are rich in carbs, which can also leave them a brief feeling of fullness and contentment, and later discouragement from unwanted weight gain.
There are a number of things that you can do to actively address the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder:1. Take a Mental Health HolidayThere can be a lot of pressure during the holiday season in shopping and buying gifts, traveling and seeing relatives, and putting on a cheerful face for the benefit of others. When people strive and work hard to meet unrealistic expectations, stress and anxiety can often follow. If any of this sounds familiar to you, then STOP. Give yourself permission to step out of this holiday madness and embrace the “keep it simple” philosophy this season.2. Embrace Your CompassionSo often we feel swept up in the day to day grind of our lives, or trapped by our own struggles during the holidays that we forget about others. Reaching out to someone you know (or even a stranger) with kindness can make a difference to both the person and yourself. Sometimes even a small act of compassion such as calling a family or friend you haven’t seen or talked to in a while can mean a lot more than you realize because we all desire connection. The act of listening and being supportive can help lift the mood of the receiver and the giver.3. Give yourself a break from pleasing everyone.There’s always someone in the family who takes on the herculean task of making sure that everyone else is happy whether it means doing all the Christmas shopping, hosting a holiday dinner, or taking on more than they can handle alone. The double edge sword of this scenario, is that you end up not being able to please everyone, and end up feeling stressed and disappointed and not being able to enjoy the holiday. Creating boundaries for how much you can do will protect you from being burned out. Let go of the need to make perfect holiday memories with family and friends, and you will more than likely feel a sense of freedom to enjoy things as they are and not get stuck in how you think they should be.4. Maintain Steady Sleep and Eating.It’s been reported that SAD can affect sleep, which in turn can affect our mood and ability to deal with stress. It’s important to adjust our sleep with the seasonal changes, so that people can get the sleep they need and improve their energy level during the day. Holiday dinners usually offer a bevy of guilty pleasures in the form of pumpkin pie, garlic mashed potatoes, and other foods that make our mouths water in craving foods loaded with carbs. People in a depressed mood can sometimes eat for comfort and later find that their weight gain only adds to their low mood and negative outlook. Create a balance for yourself by being mindful of what you indulge in, and prepare foods that are rich in protein and vegetables. Remember that it’s natural to gain some weight during the winter.5. Get More Sun (or Some Bright Light)One significant factor of Seasonal Affective Disorder is the lack of light during the winter. While feeling depressed and the wish to hibernate may be on your mind, people should make it a priority to get outdoors in order to get as much light from the sun as possible. Spending time outside and in nature can actually help improve both your mood and energy level. If you can’t get more sun in your day then look up light therapy, which is an approach used to treat SAD by providing up to 10,000 LUX of light, which can be a suitable substitute for being out in the sun. Taking a winter vacation somewhere that has a warmer climate and is sunnier, can also reduce or alleviate some of the symptoms of SAD.
6. Build Up Your Mental Health Immune System.Whether you’ve been diagnosed with SAD or not, the holiday season is a time where being around family can bring issues to light. Seeing a mental health professional such as a therapist to talk about personal issues. Often people who experience SAD have been prescribed antidepressant medications such as Prozac or Zoloft during the start of their symptoms in the Fall, and gradually going off of them by the Spring. The same way we get our flu shot and visit our doctor to tend to our physical health, it is as important to get a mental health check-up.7. Connect with SupportEveryone needs to feel unconditional acceptance and support. Sometimes people can find a sense of belonging and peace of mind through their church, a group of friends, or close family members. For some people this holiday season, they may need to find sanctuary wherever or with whomever may be a safe place or person to speak our minds with,and who can listen to us. Our private sanctuary of support and connection can be anything from a 12 step meeting, place of worship, therapist’s office, or even being in nature. Find your sanctuary or place of support and take an active role in your inner healing and peace of mind.Being proactive about your mental health is important to how you can work through challenges in life. By talking about SAD people can minimize the frenzy and stressful parts of the holiday season so that they can find hope and create moments of joy. If you think you are experiencing any of the symptoms of SAD, then call a mental health professional and discuss what you are experiencing in your mood and anything in your life that may be contributing to SAD.
Joshua Soto, MA is a Marriage and Family Therapist Registered Intern (639) in private practice in Irvine, CA. Josh specializes in working with teens and young adults. He is employed and supervised by Dr. Renee Miller, LMFT (43207) at Journey Holistic Wellness Center at 18023 Sky Park Circle, Suite G, Irvine, CA. Josh is accepting new clients and can be reached at (714) 422-0396.