Thanksgiving may be over, but the countdown to Christmas is on! If you're like most people, you're starting to feel stressed and overwhelmed. This time of year can be very demanding; entertaining guests, cooking and cleaning, shopping for presents, budgeting, and lack of sleep. Then you look out the window only to find a gray, dreary sky, with bone-chilling winds.
The winter blues, or seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is described by the Mayo Clinic as "a type of depression that's related to changes in seasons — SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year. If you're like most people with SAD, your symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody." You don't often see SAD in the spring and summer months.
Symptoms of the winter blues include:
-Depression, almost every day, all day
-Lack of interest in activities that were once enjoyable
-Low energy and tiredness
-Trouble sleeping or oversleeping
-Weight gain and cravings for carbohydrates
-Feeling sluggish and agitated
-Feeling hopeless or worthless
The specific cause of seasonal affective disorder is unknown, but there are some factors that could contribute. First, the body is experiencing a reduced level of sunlight, which may disrupt your biological clock (circadian rhythm) and lead to depression. Second, the lack of sunlight can cause serotonin levels (a neurotransmitter that affects mood) to drop. Lastly, the changes in the season disrupts the body's level of natural melatonin, which plays a major role in sleep patterns and mood.
When dealing with holiday anxiety and winter blues, stress levels reach a peak. Once they do, it's hard to regroup. For this reason the best way to deal with the blues is to prevent them from happening in the first place (especially if they've taken a toll on you in the past). Take steps to keep mood and motivation going throughout the year:
-Don't be afraid to say "no" to parties or other events
-Find time for yourself; invite over a friend if you're lonely
-Set realistic goals and expectations
-Set a realistic budget and stick to it
-Don't use the holidays as a time to fix past problems
-Stick within a normal routine as much as possible
-Limit alcohol intake
-Don't abandon healthy habits; eat plenty of fruits and vegetables
-Incorporate physical activity into every day
With your best efforts to battle SAD you might find that you are still depressed, anxious, irritable, unmotivated, and can't sleep. If symptoms last a long time, talk to your doctor or reach out to a mental health professional.