Seasonal Depression

Seasonal depression is called by other names such as “winter blues”, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), holiday blues,âÂ?¦.etc. It can be contributed to by a number of things. In many regions as the days get shorter, SAD is much more common in Northern latitudes (where the days get much shorter and earlier) then Southern latitudes. Estimates go as far as predicting that less than 1% of the populations in Florida are affected, while in Alaska it can be as much as 10%, and that is in the region alone. Those estimates are talking about just the seasonal affective disorder caused by decreased sunlight. There is also a seasonal depression called the holiday blues because of the increased stress, tension, and expectations, that come hand in hand with the “family” holidays that happen in the winter. There is probably nothing more family orientated than Christmas, followed only perhaps by Thanksgiving. If you have any “problems” in dealing with your family, no family, or a poorly-functioning family unit (be it immediate or extended), there is no other time like the holidays for these simmering pots of pent up anger, jealousy, sibling rivalry, or resentments to boil over. Whatever the cause going through seasonal depression is no laughing matter. Symptoms may include weight gain, depression or depressed mood, lack of energy, fatigue, sleep changes (sleeping more or not able to sleep), increased/decreased appetite which may include cravings, reduced work productivity, irritability, and changes in sex drive.

I’ve told you the bad news about seasonal depression. Now, you’re probably asking yourself, why am I telling you this if there is nothing you can do about it? No one can change the length of the days or cancel the holidays. That’s true, but there are ways of helping yourself through the seasonal depression, while feeling good about the holidays and yourself.

First, we’ll talk just about the seasonal depression caused by the shortened length of sunlight. Be sure and keep those curtains open to allow as much natural sunlight into your house as possible. Get out and take walks on warmer days. Look into light therapy. You can buy lamps that stimulate natural sunlight that “tricks” your brain into thinking your days are actually longer than they “really” are. You can find them researching keywords such as light box, dawn simulator, SAD, SAD lights, sunlight simulator, port-a-sunâÂ?¦etc. You can go on short-term anti-depressant therapy over the winter months to correct the chemical imbalance. Keep to a good routine to keep your body in the best physical health possible with good nutrition and exercise, and mental health with therapy, laughter, humor, stress busters,âÂ?¦etc.

For the holiday blues you do all the above but add to it. Make a budget and keep to it. Do you holiday shopping early and try to avoid last minute shopping completely. Avoid the early “rush” sales, stores, and malls when you know they are going to be over run with people on the worst behavior and even worse sales clerks. Leave nothing to the last minute if you can avoid it. Plan meals in which most of the meal can be prepared the day, or days before. Pamper yourself. You don’t have to invite Uncle Mel who gets drunk and makes a complete fool of himself every holiday which makes you miserable. It’s your houseâÂ?¦your rules. I always hated going to family dinners because I was always miserable and upset by the time we left. My husband and I solved that problem as soon as we had kids by telling my family that we wanted to have holiday dinners at home with our kids to make our own traditions. We still got guilted into going for a “family dinner” from time to time but on the most part we made comfortable and wonderful traditional dinners of our own that are slow-paced and eagerly looked forward too by all of us. Instead of getting up extremely early to get that “bird” ready and into the oven and crabby and everyone fighting by the time they sat down to eat. We make all preparations the night before (as much as possible anyway), get up when we wake up, and eat the bird when it’s done. We have cheese and crackers, cookies, and appetizers to snack on all day until the bird is done sometime in the later afternoon. It may sound odd but some of our best holiday memories have been the activities of the night before or what activities we engaged in waiting for the bird to be done. If you don’t have kids and both set of parents expect you for dinner don’t fall into the, “dinner your parents, supper mine”, trap. You can plan to spend alternate holidays Thanksgiving at one and Christmas at the others. Plan on separate thanksgiving weekends and then Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and if your parent’s still aren’t satisfied then you need to set some boundaries NOW. You will thank me later when you do have children or if you or your parents move out of state.

If you don’t have family of your own, invite some friends over. Volunteer your time at a shelter, and/or shop for underprivileged children whether it is some you know or even those in other countries. I’ve always felt that the holidays were meant to be shared. There is no reason for anyone to be left out of the holiday seasons. Visit the elderly in nursing homes who family live far away or no longer have family. Read to children in libraries or teach the neighbor kids a craft project to make a gift for their parents. You don’t have to have money, just a wish to share. If you know of a elderly neighbor that will be left alone on the holiday invite him/her to dinner or at least fix them a plate of food to enjoy.

If the holidays are a bad time emotionally for you then find a therapist before the holidays to help you through them, start a journal, start a support group. Basically I am telling you this. A lot of people are affected by the winter blahs, holiday blues, SAD, but it is up to you whether you “suffer” from it or do something about it.

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