It’s a triple whammy. Most of us go from the warmth of Thanksgiving, to the exuberance of Christmas and Hanukkah, right to the excitement of New Year’s – and then what? Then we face the cold hard truth of January and February – the two most barren months of the year.
You are not alone if you feel blue just anticipating next week when all the hubbub of the holidays is over. If you take Google Trends to be an indication of how we are collectively feeling, searches for the words “depression,” “depressed,” and “sad” spike beginning the last week in December and don’t decline until April.
There are many good reasons to feel blue. Family leaves and kids go back to school. Some of us go back to work and others are left home alone. It’s cold and the days are short. Bills from holiday 'over exuberance' come due both literally and figuratively, especially if we over ate or over spent.
The American Academy of Family Physicians reports that four to six of every 100 people may have winter depression, or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Another 10% to 20% may have mild SAD. Furthermore, SAD is four times more common in women than in men.
There is no real test for SAD. But the U.S. National Library of Medicine lists the following symptoms:
- Increased appetite with weight gain (weight loss is more common with other forms of depression)
- Increased sleep and daytime sleepiness (too little sleep is more common with other forms of depression)
- Less energy and ability to concentrate in the afternoon
- Loss of interest in work or other activities
- Slow, sluggish, lethargic movement
- Social withdrawal
- Unhappiness and irritability
If you are experiencing the symptoms of SAD, you should consult with a psychiatrist.
Even if you aren’t experiencing SAD symptoms, just about all of us find the coming months a challenge. The holidays were uplifting for many, so it’s perfectly normal to feel a sense of loss when they are over. The best thing to do is acknowledge the feelings. Take advantage of the down time this week and build strategies to deal with the months ahead. Below are some you may find useful.
1. Remember to remember what is nice about the holidays
It’s wonderful being surrounded by family and friends. The holidays are a social time. Stay connected with people after the holidays. Continue to get together with friends and family on a regular basis. You may also find it helpful to visualize a positive and meaningful moment with others when you are feeling down.
2. Get outside and get whatever sun there is
We say this over and over, but experiencing nature is one of the best ways to feel better. Bundle up, get outside and get moving, even if only for ten minutes. Besides, it’s a good use of that new winter coat you may have gotten.
3. Keep in mind your true values
Contributing to others and acting in accordance with your values of compassion and giving are wonderful coping skills. This is the perfect time to volunteer at a food pantry, shelter or old age home. Even just researching where to volunteer will feel uplifting, and when you complete a volunteer commitment you will feel great. You’ll also be a wonderful role model for others in your life, especially your kids.
4. Clean out your closets
No kidding. The sense of accomplishment you will feel when you complete this task really does improve your mood, and it will feel even better in the morning when you can actually find what you are looking for. Plus, you can give all your old clothes to those less fortunate (See number 3).
5. Take it easy on New Year’s Eve
New Year’s Eve is often about over indulgence, especially if you are feeling sad and depressed. However giving in to over indulging will likely only leave you feeling worse when it’s over. Although it may be unrealistic not to drink at all, be moderate in your alcohol consumption. Save the champagne for the stroke of midnight, have one glass and be done. If you are a recovering alcoholic, be sure to stay away from it completely and plan a safe social activity with other sober people.
Throughout the winter, cope ahead by engaging in positive activities, such as planning a trip, going to a museum, or listening to an upbeat song. All of those are good distractions. And remember, December 21 is the shortest day of the year. From here on out, it really does stay lighter three minutes more each day. Spring will be here before you know it.
Brad Bloom and Margaret Weeks
Licensed Clinical Social Workers
Silver Hill Hospital
We look forward to your comments on this and all Silver Hill Hospital posts.
Silver Hill Hospital’s blog is intended only to provide information; it is not intended to provide diagnosis or treatment. If this is an emergency, please call 911.