Seasonal Depressive Symptoms May Require Change of Behavior and Outlook
In the wintertime many people experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD can be diagnosed in a clinical setting, but many people mistake milder depressive symptoms for SAD and miss the opportunity to address their low feelings with behavioral changes. There are several circumstances that could impact a person’s mood during the winter, particularly during the holidays.
It’s important to recognize the serious nature of depression and get help if a person meets the criteria for depression listed on the National Institutes of Mental Health’s website, but many depressive symptoms can be remedied with simple changes.
Depression is characterized by persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness and anxiety, and is often accompanied by feelings of irritability and the loss of pleasure in activities once previously enjoyed. Up to 10 percent of the population experiences symptoms that meet the criteria for depression at some point in their lifetime.
While depression can develop in varying levels of intensity, the symptoms can also worsen over time. Early intervention is important to effectively treat the symptoms and help a patient return to a better quality of life.
It’s important to resist the urge to camp out on the couch all winter waiting for temperatures to raise enough for outdoor activity. Just getting moving is enough to boost a person’s mood.
A full exercise routine may not be necessary. Even a few sessions of extra exertion during the winter months may help an individual ward off a low mood, like ice skating or enjoying a brisk winter walk.
Whether an individual’s schedule is bursting with social commitments or is a blank slate, the wrong mix of isolation and social obligations can trigger depressive symptoms. A person that feels stretched by too many demands from friends and family may be just as likely to experience a low mood as a single person that feels alone during the holidays. One way to tell that things have gotten too hectic is if the individual feels relieved or excited when an event is canceled.
In addition, the budgetary concerns of the holiday season can introduce negative emotions and lead to feelings of hopelessness. Develop a holiday shopping budget and think thoroughly through decisions regarding whether and what to buy for others. Taking control over financial decisions and having a plan can help an individual ward off feelings of hopelessness.
The holidays can also introduce settings in which nutritional priorities are shoved aside for what seems like a temporary binge on junk food and alcohol. However, the holidays span several weeks, and a prolonged period of eating cookies and drinking cocktails can significantly affect an individual’s energy levels.
To offset the party food, the article recommends making allowances for chips, cookies and alcohol by adjusting the menu before and after the party. For instance, consuming only fruits, vegetables and lean protein on the day of a party can help the extra salt and sugar consumed that evening take less of a toll on energy levels.
Expectations of a picture-perfect Norman Rockwell holiday can also introduce the feelings of sadness and hopelessness that characterize a depressive episode. Individuals that find themselves feeling let down by a less than perfect holiday can take a moment to remember that they are celebrating with real people that are more nuanced than what is seen in movies or books. Both life and people are unpredictable, and adjusting expectations for a dose of reality may ward off a let-down experience.
The seemingly never-ending winter season can lead to feelings of isolation, hopelessness and sadness. However, individuals that are feeling low may be able to change simple behaviors or perspective on situations and introduce new habits that help life their mood during winter.