Winter is a time of year when our usual tasks and activities feel as though they require an enormous amount of energy and the peace of hibernation and avoidance become more enticing.
Catholic Health’s Casey Beauman, LMSW, shares helpful information for overcoming the “winter blues.”
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?
SAD describes an experience familiar to many people: the “winter blues.” The winter months can affect the body and brain’s serotonin and melatonin levels—chemicals that regulate our mood and sleep.
Common signs of “winter blues” include:
- Increased feelings of depression
- Loss of interest and energy
- Social withdrawal
Winter blues can be exacerbated by factors such as the region you live in or already existing mental health challenges in your life. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that millions of Americans experience SAD on a yearly basis.
How can I beat the winter blues?
While there are several factors that can cause the “winter blues,” there is much you can do to improve how you’re feeling during the winter months.
Helpful tips include:
- Seeking light (natural sunlight and artificially created)
- Staying active and healthy
- Talking about your experience
- Allowing yourself to find awe in these temporary winter months
Although it may be easy during this time of year to go on hiatus from our routines, such as exercise and healthy eating, it is important to dig deeper into these activities. Your sleep, energy levels and mood will benefit if you maintain these routines.
What about post-holiday blues?
A 2021 survey conducted by NAMI estimated that three in five Americans feel that their mental health is negatively impacted by the holidays.
Here are some potential reasons for why the post-holiday blues may set in:
- The holidays provide a disruption to our normal routine. It may be initially exciting to look forward to a break or experience out-of-the-ordinary events. But it can be stressful to change our daily routine and an even bigger challenge to resume our typical routine (e.g., work, chores) once the holidays are over.
- The holidays are a source of social, financial, emotional and familial stress. Although you may have successfully made it through the holiday season, effects from stress may linger and impact your mood.
- The holidays are a time of overindulgence. This may cause us to break from our typical eating, drinking and sleeping habits. The effects of breaking from our routine may linger beyond the holidays.
- Although often associated with joy and merriment, the holidays can also remind us of loss in our life—a loved one, career or relationships. It is not uncommon for this to be felt more intensely during the holiday season.
Can I recover from the post-holiday blues?
Here are some tips to keep in mind to help you through the post-holiday blues:
- Try to get back into your typical daily routine for eating and sleeping. If you are feeling particularly ambitious then you may even consider partaking in “Dry January” to reduce mood fluctuations and irritability exacerbated by alcohol.
- Incorporate self-care into your daily schedule to give yourself a much needed break as you transition back to the responsibilities of life like work, chores or school.
- Remain connected with your support system even after the holidays to avoid isolation and withdrawal that can worsen dips in mood.
- Plan something to look forward to, like exciting or relaxing events, to help improve your mood.
- Consider scaling back or giving up traditions around the holidays that cause more stress than joy.
Speaking to a professional for continued support is always a healthy option if you notice symptoms of low mood persist.
What is light therapy?
The power of light, both natural sunlight and artificially created, should not be underestimated. Light therapy, whether using a light box or making sure to be outside for a portion of daylight hours, has been shown to improve our physical and mental health.
Talk about your experience with people in your support system or with a mental health professional if needed. Remind yourself that the seemingly endless winter will indeed end. Similar to many aspects of life, this too shall pass.
Perhaps, however, before it melts away there is an opportunity to find awe and wonder in the beauty of this season as well. Make time, when you can, to find joy in the activities, landscapes and time with ourselves and others that this time of year may offer.
Call 866-MY-LI-DOC (866-695-4362) to find a Catholic Health physician near you.