Its Not Always the Most Wonderful Time of the Year
When temperatures dip, and the sun sets early, the cold and dark can get people down. Add the stress, the strained feelings of obligation or the loneliness that some people experience with the holidays, and the winter blues can slump into depression.
Many people get hit by the winter blues, but how do you know when what you are feeling is more than a temporary mood swing?
What are the winter blues?
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), as many as two in three people say they are affected by “the blues” during winter months. “Winter blues” is a general term, not a medical diagnosis. It is the stress, unrealistic expectations, family or social pressures or loneliness during the holidays that can bring anxiety or depression. Sometimes the lull after the holidays can also get people down.
If you feel like you are in a seasonal funk, there are ways to shake it.
- Keep your normal routine as much as you can.
- Stick to a sleep schedule. Go to sleep at the same time each night and wake up at the same time every morning.
- Even a short walk each day can help your mood.
- Set manageable goals for holiday cooking, shopping, entertaining, going to parties or sending holiday cards.
- Set a budget for buying gifts and for other holiday activities. Do not overspend.
- Eat and drink in moderation. Avoid alcohol when you are feeling down or stressed.
The winter blues should only last for a short while. Be patient with yourself and try some of these tips to make it through this temporary slump.
However, if you find your anxiety or sadness keeps you from enjoying life, affects how you interact with your friends and family or lasts more than two weeks, you may be experiencing something more than the winter blues.
What is seasonal affective disorder?
Seasonal depression, or seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is a type of depression related to changes in seasons. Unlike the winter blues, SAD is a clinical diagnosis.
Women are more likely than men to experience SAD. Also, SAD is more common in colder places, farther away from the equator, like Montana. You are also more susceptible to SAD if you or someone in your family has been diagnosed with depression.
When people experience SAD in the winter, symptoms can include
- feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day;
- feeling very tired or having low energy;
- sleeping more than usual or having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep;
- feeling anxious or worried most of the time;
- changes in how or what you eat;
- weight gain;
- no longer enjoying activities you used to enjoy.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, or if you have thoughts of suicide, make an appointment with your doctor. He or she will ask a series of questions to determine the best course of action to help you better manage what you are feeling. Treatment options could include light therapy, therapy sessions with a psychiatrist or psychologist, medications or other coping techniques.
If you need to talk with someone right away, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has a free, confidential helpline. Call 1-800-662-HELP (4357) any time, day or night, 365 days a year.
To find someone closer to home, you can visit www.findtreatment.samhsa.gov. Enter your ZIP code to anonymously and confidentially talk to a professional health care provider in or near your community.
Developed by Mountain-Pacific Quality Health, the Medicare Quality Innovation Network-Quality Improvement Organization (QIN-QIO) for Montana, Wyoming, Alaska, Hawaii and the U.S. Pacific Territories of Guam and American Samoa and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, under contract with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Contents presented do not necessarily reflect CMS policy. 12SOW-MPQHF-MT-CC-19-01
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