The proclaimed “most beautiful time of the year” is here with us. Cheers and merry-making everywhere. There’s an air of happiness. Of belonging. Of giving and sharing what we have with our friends, family, and strangers. The commercials have those cheesy Christmas tunes. You can be sure Santa will be at the mall for that family picture. The tree lighting ceremonies are on and if you pass by the church, the carol singers will delight your ears. Our watchlists are full of the same predictable Christmas movies; Two people fall in love when visiting their hometowns for Christmas – it’s only right they do because it’s Christmas. We’re still living in a pandemic but things have ‘normalized’ to some extent and the holidays are what we used to know before the virus hit.
For some people, this holiday season is the slowest and hardest time of the year. People who are often forgotten because there’s an unspoken expectation of how we should all feel and act in this season – bright smiles and open hearts. It’s also winter. The days are shorter and temperatures colder. For some, it will take a little more strength to pull themselves from bed or get anything done because of seasonal depression. This article is not just for them but for you to understand them.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) also called seasonal depression or “winter blues” is defined by Mental health America as, “A subtype of depression or bipolar disorder that occurs and ends around the same time every year. Seasonal depression typically occurs when the seasons change and most symptoms begin in the fall and continue into the winter months.”
People between 20 and 30 years of age are most vulnerable to seasonal depression but it can occur in children and teenagers as well. In the latter group, symptoms of SAD may appear as difficulty, laziness, irritability, aggressiveness, inattentiveness, and disruptive behavior. Be on the lookout for that because your child may be experiencing SAD.
Seasonal depression is caused by;
The lack of much sunlight during fall and winter lowers the levels of the hormone serotonin in our bodies which is associated with feelings of happiness and wellbeing. A decrease in serotonin makes one susceptible to mood disorders, especially depression.
We have a sleep-related hormone called melatonin whose production in our bodies is triggered more in the winter or in the dark. The absence of sunlight during the holidays increases the levels of melatonin in our bodies which means you might experience drowsiness and low body temperatures. Your body’s internal “sleep clock” is also disrupted so you have irregular sleep cycles and poor-quality sleep. All of these can trigger feelings of depression.
The pressure, stress, fatigue, unrealistic expectations, and responsibilities that come with the holidays can trigger SAD. There is so much to do and gifts to buy which can be a financial burden. Others don’t get time off like everyone else because the stores are full and businesses are busy. All the social gatherings can prove to be too much to handle for people who struggle with social anxiety. For others, this season reminds them of their loved ones who aren’t home with them, who passed away or the toxic family members they will meet.
Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder
Feelings of hopelessness, emptiness, despair, guilt, or shame.
Unending fatigue and muscle aches.
Changes in appetite, sleeping patterns, and routines.
Constant feelings of sadness and anxiety.
Low energy levels, sluggishness, and lack of zeal to things done.
Sudden weight gain or weight loss.
Irritability and sudden mood changes.
A need for more sleep, irregular sleep patterns, and difficulties getting quality sleep.
Low concentration spans.
Harboring thoughts of death or suicide.
Loss of interest and motivation to do things you enjoy.
Self-Care Ideas to Help You Manage Seasonal Depression
Journal your thoughts. It’s a way of decompressing and releasing all the complex emotions you’re going through. Write about what’s happening around you and how it’s making you feel.
Take one day at a time. Focus on getting through just this day with the little strength you may have. Be proud of yourself for making it through a whole day. Try again tomorrow.
Practice light therapy. Using lightboxes to expose yourself to artificial light is a safe and easy way to decrease melatonin levels and increase serotonin. Consult with your doctor first before using a lightbox because people with certain medical conditions should not use light therapy. Our friends at Very Well Mind have a wonderful array of lightboxes they recommend.
Eat foods that are rich in Calcium and Vitamin D. Spinach, kale, okra, collards, soybeans, white beans, orange juice, oatmeal, breakfast cereal, soy milk, mushrooms, cheese, egg yolks, beef liver, and fish like sardines, tuna, salmon, mackerel, perch, and rainbow trout.
Have a simple self-care routine. Wake up, spread your bed, meditate, journal, work out, go about your day saying positive affirmations to yourself, take long slow baths, read, go to bed. Make it as simple as you can and that may mean doing just what you can to take care of yourself and having a to-do list to hold yourself accountable.
Set boundaries with people around you. Don’t overstretch yourself mentally, physically, emotionally, or financially. Be honest about how much you can manage to get done. If possible, explain how this season makes you feel so that they can know how to treat you.
Move your body by any means necessary. Put on some music and dance. Go out for a walk or hiking. Go to the gym. Play with your kids. It doesn’t have to be strenuous, just something you enjoy that makes your body move.
Catch a sunrise. Go out and feel the sun on the days it comes out. Let your skin soak it all in as light is a huge component of wellbeing in your body during the winter months.
Don’t isolate yourself. The support from your community is paramount in this season because they will help you get through it – if you let them. If a task is too hard, ask for help. If today is gloomier than yesterday, ask someone who loves you to affirm you. Don’t carry the weight of the world on your shoulders if there are people who can assist you.
I wish you an easy holiday season. I don’t know what ease means for you but I hope it for you. Ease may look like slowing down, not buying gifts, taking a break, going on vacation, muting Christmas reminders, binge-watching your favorite shows, spending quality time with family, etc. Define your ease and pursue it relentlessly. This season has come and it will soon go. Your worth and productivity are not pegged to this season and how it makes you feel.