- Stay healthy by eating well and keeping up with your regular exercise program.
- Plan ahead to avoid feeling overwhelmed by the hectic holiday rush.
- Learn to balance family obligations, house guests and travel.
- Set realistic goals about what you can and cannot do; learn how to say “no.”
- Make a list and prioritize responsibilities and commitments.
- Schedule time for you.
- Don’t go overboard with food and alcohol; these will only make you feel worse.
- Avoid dwelling in the past. If you are overcome with unpleasant thoughts, go for a walk or meet up with an old friend. Stay busy and positive.
- Get plenty of rest.
- Surround yourself with friends and family and talk openly about how you feel. They can be a tremendous support, and you’d be surprised how many may also feel sad and stressed at times.
- If you are lonely, try volunteering at a local soup kitchen or senior center to help others less fortunate than you.
The winter months can be anxiety-ridden, especially as the holiday season approaches. But if the winter blues continue, you may be suffering from a depression-related disorder. Read on to learn more about common mental health issues during the winter months and know when to get help.
Seasonal Mood Changes
Have you ever noticed that on gray, dreary days you might not have the energy or zest for life you usually do? For some reason, you find yourself struggling to get through what seems to be an endless “to do” list. Well, you’re not alone. Changes in the environment can affect people’s moods and behaviors. For some people, the shorter, darker days of winter may trigger feelings of irritability, sadness, anxiety, increased appetite (especially cravings for sweets and starches), excessive sleep and weight gain. If you or someone else notices these symptoms, they may be more than the winter blahs. It could be Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
SAD is a cyclical mood disorder that occurs at the same time each year. In fact, a diagnosis of SAD is usually made if someone has been depressed in the winter and recovered in the spring or summer for at least two years in a row. SAD is thought to be caused by reduced daylight, but researchers are also looking into the role played by disturbances in the body’s natural biological clock, as well as levels of melatonin and serotonin. Those with SAD can benefit from additional exposure to the sun. Light therapy (also called phototherapy) is effective and uses a lamp 10 to 20 times brighter than standard indoor lights, usually in the morning. Tanning beds should not be used to treat SAD. Psychotherapy and antidepressant medications may also be recommended. SAD is more common in women and those in northern geographic regions.
Here are some tips to help you cope:
- Exercise regularly. Not only will physical activity keep you fit, it also boosts your body’s natural mood-enhancing chemicals, called endorphins, and reduces stress hormones.
- Eat a healthful diet and don’t overindulge.
- Spend time outside during the sunlit hours. You may want to schedule a regular day to walk with a friend, weather permitting.
- Increase the amount of light in your home and office.
- Find ways to relax and manage stress.
- Plan a trip to a sunny locale. It will give you something to look forward to.
Holiday Stressors and Depression
With the winter season comes the hustle and bustle of the holidays. The period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s can be particularly difficult for some people. Whether it’s due to the death of a loved one, a troubled relationship or a divorce, the holidays can remind us about what we’ve lost. Add to this competing family and work obligations and holiday festivities at every turn, and it can be a stressful time.
While it’s normal to feel somewhat sad or anxious, if you continue to feel this way for several weeks at a time, you may be depressed. Common signs of depression include:
- Sustained sadness, anxiety, irritability or boredom
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities that were once enjoyed
- Noticeable changes in eating and sleeping habits
- Withdrawal from family, friends and social activities
- Difficulty thinking, concentrating or remembering and an inability to complete schoolwork
- Feelings of guilt, hopelessness or emptiness
- Physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach upsets or pain that doesn’t respond to treatment
If you or a loved one notice signs of depression, talk openly about them and seek treatment. Contact your primary care doctor to make an appointment for an evaluation.
© 2013. National Women's Health Resource Center, Inc. All rights reserved. All content provided in this guide is for information purposes only. Any information herein relating to specific medical conditions, preventive care and/or healthy lifestyles does not suggest individual diagnosis or treatment and is not a substitute for medical attention.Back to Winter Wellness Guide Home Page
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