Seasonal Depression: Navigating Beyond the “Holiday Blues”
written by Hannah Gul-Khan
Tis’ the season where people sing and say, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” but is this always the case? While many people can be full of cheer and energised by the holiday season, others may experience sadness, fatigue and a lack of motivation when the days get shorter and the weather becomes colder.
It’s a time of year that can leave you wanting to pull the covers back over your head as you wake up to a dark and overcast view in the morning’s early hours. While most people attribute these feelings to the “holiday blues,'' it could also be a medical condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Seasonal depression usually emerges during the winter period, as our hours of daylight become shorter.
“Millions of American adults may suffer from SAD, although many may not know they have the condition” according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
If you have already been diagnosed with depression, the winter holiday period can take a large toll on your mental well-being. Having a preexisting mental health condition – specifically major depressive and bipolar disorder – may mean you are more at risk of developing SAD.
We all experience constant changes in our mood, but seasonal depression relates to a low mood that is both persistent and can interfere with your ability to go about your day-to-day life.
Here are a few signs you may be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder:
*Feelings of fatigue
*Changes in appetite
*Sleeping too much
*Finding it difficult to focus
*Wanting to isolate yourself from others
*Feeling anxious and more irritable
For many, as spring approaches, symptoms of seasonal depression do tend to ease.
However, until our hours of daylight return back to normal, there are ways you can manage your mood and protect your well-being during this difficult winter period.
Tips to help you cope this season:
Give back to your local community
Taking steps to help others can bring you a sense of purpose and the opportunity to participate in an activity bigger than yourself. It helps alleviate those all-too-common feelings of social isolation and loneliness. Giving back is also incredibly rewarding, when we help others, the positive boost in our mood that it can bring is hard to ignore. So reach out to your local food bank or homeless shelter, and if these aren’t for you, have a search through local charities in your area and see what you like.
And find one that supports you
You may have heard the saying that you can’t pour from an empty cup. It rings truer during these trying months. Being able to rely on a support system that understands what you are experiencing can help combat those feelings of stress and isolation. When you connect with others in the same situation as you and see that these may resonate with your own, you’re more likely to feel safe in a judgment-free environment, open to sharing your thoughts and experiences.
Get your body moving
It’s something that’s always recommended to us, but it doesn’t have to take up lots of your time. Find out what you enjoy, whether it’s Zumba® or football, and join a local class. Or maybe you’d prefer a brisk morning walk through your local park, feeling the leaves crunch beneath your feet. The key is to be as present as possible, so whichever activity you choose, allow yourself to take some deep breaths to relax and recenter.
Celebrate moments of joy no matter how small
When you end each day, there might be moments when you feel emotionally exhausted, confused or drained. It can be an upwards battle trying to bring yourself out of these emotions where showing kindness to yourself feels out of reach. But it’s not about an overnight transformation into a fully healed human being, it’s all to do with taking small but meaningful steps to release what is bringing you stress and sadness. Reflecting on one moment of joy a day you felt yourself or witnessed in others can help achieve this release.
The holidays can be filled with merry cheer, but they may also be a season of stress, depression and low mood. Connecting with a supportive community can restore a sense of peace to alleviate the symptoms of SAD. It is important to remember, seasonal depression affects many of us, and it is okay not to feel okay. When spring approaches with the prospect of a new season, you will find your symptoms do not last forever. In the meantime, prioritise your mental health and support you to get through this year’s wintry holiday.
If you find your SAD symptoms continue into the warmer months, reach out to mental health services and access support.
Seasonal Affective Disorder. (n.d.). National Institute of Mental Health, 20-MH-8138. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/seasonal-affective-disorder