1. Be Aware of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and Substance Abuse. Get Treatment Now if You Need it.
For some lucky folks, the onset of chilly winter weather brings cozy thoughts of hot cocoa and roaring fireplaces. Other people may experience holiday-related depression. They’ll be tempted to use negative coping skills through this stressful time of year with alcohol or substances. And for others, this change in seasons brings on a very real, very dreaded, about of seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Why are the cold months so hard?
Know that you’re not alone! The holidays can be incredibly stressful. Almost Everyone experiences a certain amount of struggle this time of year:
- Finances are stretched to the breaking point as parents attempt to provide amazing holidays for their family and “keep up with the neighbors”.
- Marriages are stressed as family members visit for extended periods.
- Disappointments happen. Travel plans are set with high expectations, sometimes to be foiled by inclement weather, airport closures, or road work.
- Utility bills soar! The sunsets earlier and the temperatures drop, and the family needs more clean laundry too.
- Work gets more stressful. Between holiday orders, impending tax time, and a variety of situations, many people face a challenging workload.
- Social isolation is another seasonal stressor. People experience loneliness, sadness, and isolation this time of year.
The winter holidays lead to excess. Excessive eating, drinking, and endless holiday parties take their toll.
If you experience extreme stress, depression, and anxiety during the cold months, you might suffer from SAD. Read on to learn what we know about this condition, the symptoms of SAD, and treatments that might help.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?
Mental health professionals are making leaps and bounds towards understanding this condition, though we don’t fully comprehend it yet.
- We used to call it “winter blues”.
According to the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH), Seasonal Affective is Disorders “a type of depression displaying a recurring seasonal pattern. To be diagnosed with SAD, people must meet full criteria for major depression coinciding with specific seasons (appearing in the winter or summer months) for at least 2 years.”
In other words, SAD is deep, annual depression that goes on day after day. It is not grief-related (though grief can make it much worse).
Symptoms of Depression & SAD
- Feeling depressed every day, all day long
- Problems sleeping: sleeping too much or not at all
- Feeling hopeless
- Feeling worthless
- Losing interest in activities you usually enjoy
- Changes in weight
- Difficulty concentrating or “fogginess”
- Thoughts of death or suicide (please get help now if you’re considering suicide – the National Suicide Hotline is available 24 hours a day 1-800-273-8255)
However, if you’re just feeling a serious case of the winter blues, consider starting a mental health treatment program.
2. You Can Save on Mental Health Treatment Now
From a financial standpoint, the winter months are an excellent time to focus on mental health:
- Use your mental health insurance benefits (that you’ve been paying for all year long) before they reset for the new year.
- If you’ve paid up your deductibles for the year, treatment might be more affordable now.
- Use up Flexible Spending Account (FSA) funds. They may not carry-over into the new year. They can help you pay for prescriptions and other health related consumables like light therapy boxes, known to help treat SAD.
3. Develop Healthy Coping Strategies You Can Use Right Now, When they Matter Most
We’ve already mentioned how difficult this time of year can be. Between work and family commitments, soaring bills, and endless opportunities to party, having some good coping techniques in your arsenal can be a game changer!
- By getting the help you need right now, you can develop good coping strategies and put them to work right away.
If you put off dealing with mental health issues this year, you will only experience them again next year. Obviously, you won’t be interested in help during the easy-living months of summer, so your mental health may get put on the back burner. By tackling your issues NOW you’ll be able to put new coping tools to use, and hopefully suffer less from now on!
4. Make Family Mental Health a Priority
Winter is a time for family. Since you’ll be spending more time indoors, make communication about mental health a priority in your home.
- You’ll feel better about your actions if you can explain them to your children and significant other.
- Set the stage for ongoing education and awareness among your family members.
- Stop the cycles of hereditary alcoholism and substance abuse with candid conversations about your treatment.
5. Be Aware that Holidays are Especially Dangerous for Individuals Who Are Isolated
We think this Healthline article says it well: “Some people may have a small social circle or a lack opportunities for socialization. People who have feelings of disconnectedness often avoid social interactions at holiday time. Unfortunately, withdrawing often makes the feelings of loneliness and symptoms of depression worse.”
These folks see other people spending time with their families and may ask themselves:
- “Why is everyone else so much happier than I am?”
- “Why aren’t I loved as much?”
- “Who is left in the world that matters to me?”
If you suspect someone you know is suffering from winter depression related to isolation, sometimes the best thing you can do is just be there for them. Ask them out for a morning coffee or invite them over for a relaxed brunch. You don’t need to immerse yourself in this person’s life. But the offer of a little social interaction may lift their spirits greatly!
Here at Discovery, our focus is on mental health recovery and substance abuse recovery. The winter months can be a challenging time for anyone. You are not alone. Call us today for a free consultation: 888-604-3551, or fill out a contact form at the bottom of this page.