The holidays are a beautiful time of year; quality time with family and friends, good food, time off from work, and gift-giving are all exciting prospects to which so many individuals look forward. As mentioned in our previous blog, the latter few months of the year can also prove challenging. Stress over perfect seating plans, presents, and holiday outings can cumulate and leave us tired, anxious and, frequently, under the weather. This is, though understandably uncomfortable, natural and experienced by many. After all, the human brain can only handle so much at any given period.
Occasionally, though, these feelings are actually more than just a result of ‘too much to do, too little time.’ In the case of “holiday blues,” once these times successfully pass, stress also abates and we can continue as normal. However, some of us experience a much more marked mental health decline during the winter months, a decline not necessarily linked to holiday stress. Notable signs are:
Sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings
Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
Feelings of guilt, worthlessness or helplessness
Fatigue and decreased energy
Changes in weight (medlineplus.gov, 2016)
These are serious symptoms and if they consistently have a seasonal pattern can potentially indicate a condition that used to be called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). The condition’s name was recently changed in the 2013 publication of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) and is now a sub-disorder under Depressive Disorders. As a form of depression, it carries many of the same signs and symptoms. The National Institute of Mental Health lists further red flags here (NIMH, 2016).
Although, like clinical depression, SAD does not discriminate in terms of who it affects, there are certainly particular demographics in which the disorder more poignantly manifests itself: females, individuals living further from the equatorial lines, those with a family history of SAD, persons already battling depression or bipolar disorder, and younger adults (NIMH, 2016). If you fall into these categories and have experienced any of SAD’s notable signs/symptoms, we encourage you to address the issue as soon as possible.
You may wonder how, precisely, you might address said disorder. Luckily, there are several possible avenues to help create a smoother summer-to-winter transition. We understand it might be challenging to recognize or even acknowledge the right steps; seeking help can incite mixed emotions, especially when we already feel out of sorts. Here are our TOPPSTips to assist you:
Vitamin D is credited with moderating metabolism, mood, and our immune systems. Our skin produces it in response to sunlight, of which there is certainly not as much in the winter! Adding a vitamin D supplement to your diet is one simple way to ward off depression and keep your body healthy (healthline editorial staff, 2016).
Light therapy replaces the decreased light exposure mentioned above and, resultantly, also alleviates vitamin D deficiencies.
Psychotherapy helps patients to identify negative thought patterns/behaviors. This identification is crucial if negative patterns are to be replaced with constructive and healthy alternatives; psychotherapy can also aid individuals in creating those healthy alternatives.
Lastly, medications can address neurotransmitter imbalances associated with various mood disorders, such as depression and bipolar disorder.
As the holiday buzz and weather change approaches, it is so important to recognize when your emotions are more than just the “holiday blues.” Whether you are simply stressed, experiencing some of SAD’s symptoms, or experiencing all of SAD’s symptoms, the right approach can recreate a sense of ease and maintain your balanced mind, balanced body!
Healthline (23 June, 2016). The Benefits of Vitamin D. Retrieved from http://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/benefits-vitamin-d#Overview.
MedlinePlus (12 October, 2016). Seasonal Affective Disorder. Retrieved from medlineplus.gov.
National Institute of Mental Health (March, 2016). Seasonal Affective Disorder. Retrieved from nimh.nih.gov.