A lot of factors contribute to added stress and depression during winter; especially during the holidays. The cold, darkness, financial strains, and busyness of the season make the already anxious people more anxious. Seasonal defective disorder (SAD) is estimated to effect as many as 10% of the US population during the fall and winter. Typically, this disorder usually starts occurring in sufferers at about age 23.
Although the holidays should be a cheerful time filled with parties and happiness; the overwhelming need to get things done like shopping and planning, can make seasonal affective disorder sufferers the opposite of cheerful. The stress associated with the holiday season can cause problems like unhealthy eating, drinking, and sleeping habits. The depression can also take a toll on your performance at work and your relationships with your friends and family.
Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder:
- Weight gain or loss
- Crying spells
- Decreased energy
- Difficulty paying attention
What causes SAD? Researchers believe that the lack of bright light in the winter months is what causes seasonal depression. They believe the bright light is responsible for releasing the “happy” chemicals in our brain. Additionally, low levels of vitamin D are said to be triggers of this disorder.
However, it is still a mystery what exactly causes someone to be seasonally sad. Other factors might be your circadian rhythm is off from a mixed up internal clock when it starts getting darker out earlier. Or, melatonin levels may get altered which can mess up sleep patterns and mood.
How can you treat seasonal affective disorder? Light treatments and prescription medications are used to combat SAD. Suffers sometimes try using bright fluorescent lights during winter months in a technique known as phototherapy. Phototherapy frequently requires the use of commercial light boxes which get used about 30 minutes daily, mostly in mornings and at night. Actual light from the sun actually isn’t necessarily needed, believe it or not. And, quality of light is not as important as quantity. In other words, being in bright light (of any kind) can help against the winter-blues.
Antidepressants in the serotonin selective reuptake inhibitor family (SSRI) family have been shown to help against SAD as well. Some medications used include:
In addition to medication and phototherapy, other lifestyle factors can improve seasonal depression symptoms. Making sure to keep in contact with friends and family, planning cheap activities to keep yourself busy, and practicing stress relief exercises can also help with SAD.
How can you prevent the holiday blues?
- Avoid overbooking yourself: you don’t need to accept every holiday invitation.
- Set realistic goals.
- Don’t try to “out-do” holidays of years past or have the neighborhoods best light display.
- Plan ahead: don’t wait last minute to get shopping done or you’ll end up worrying more than you should. Take advantage of online shopping at least a month prior to the holidays to avoid stress and crowded malls.
- Keep out of family conflicts: if your rowdy relative starts an argument, simply ask them if you can talk about it another time or let it go.
- Seek help: support groups or psychologist visits can do a wonder for depression.
- Avoid binging on food and alcohol.
- Schedule your sleep: make sure you’re trying to go to bed and wake up at consistent times in the winter. Not getting enough sleep is terrible for depression sufferers.