Taking Care of Our Mental and Emotional Health During the Winter and Holiday Season
With colder weather, not only do the days get darker earlier, shorter days take away possibilities for daytime activities, but also some people suffer from what is called Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is a type of depression related to seasonal changes. Symptoms generally begin in the fall and continue through the winter months, noticeable by a drop in energy levels and depressive episodes, fatigue, excessive sleepiness, appetite changes, especially a craving for carbohydrate-rich foods, weight gain, lack of energy, hopelessness, and social withdrawal.
In conjunction with this, for many people, the holidays, instead of being a season to be cheerful and in good spirits, feel depressed either by being away from family members, missing those who have departed, family conflicts, disruptions in routine, additional chores and unreasonable family expectations, leading to stress and exhaustion, which further worsen the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Fortunately, there are elements that can be incorporated to make the holiday season somewhat rewarding and can also mitigate the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder.
According to Mayo Clinic, the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder can be regulated if steps are taken in advance to control symptoms. First-line treatments include exposure to sunlight for ten minutes a day, phototherapy (therapy with light), psychotherapy, vitamin D, and in more severe cases, antidepressant medications. Including other natural methods, aerobic exercise has been shown to help decrease the symptoms of mood disorders and for this, choosing to exercise outdoors in the daylight provides maximum benefits, as well as creating situations for socializing and meeting with people, even if the tendency is to shut down.
In reference to depression or stress related to the Holidays, it’s advisable to talk to a therapist before the season, to mentally and emotionally prepare for its arrival. For those who have family members far away and cannot be together for the holidays, during the pandemic we have become avid users of technology to make video calls and celebrate from a distance. Sure, it's not the same, but to some extent, it gives us a sense of intimacy, and if it helps, we should consider that we are not alone in such circumstances. There are many people who, for various reasons, can’t be together during the holidays.
It’s also advisable to make plans to gather close friends, create community during these times of the year and avoid feeling alone. Another alternative, for those who don’t have family or wish to share the holidays partially with family, is to take a vacation. Considerable people choose to take a vacation for part or all of the holidays, visiting places they have been planning during the year.
For those who have family conflicts, yet still wish to get together, it’s important to set clear limits on how much we can share so that it does not become an obligation. We can also avoid touching on conflicting topics, thus minimizing conflict and emotional triggers. Likewise, we can work mentally to be aware that we can choose to get angry with someone for a comment or not. We have the authority on how we respond to a circumstance.
Another very valuable element is to maintain our self-care practice. For example, if that includes exercise, yoga, or meditation, keeping up with these routines is essential for your mental and emotional health. Likewise, cultivating a gratitude mindset, highlighting what is working for you and in your life instead of focusing on what is not working, can help you have a positive mind, which will affect your emotions positively during the Holiday Season.
Dr. Graciela Aires Rust, PhD
HOLISTIC GROWTH INTEGRATIVE COUNSELING
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