Dec. 21, 2015
While many people associate Christmas with joy and happiness, for others who are coping with loneliness, anxiety and in some cases depression, the holiday season can be an extremely difficult time of year.
The winter months can bring on the holiday blues especially for individuals who are dealing with a season of firsts and loss. Anything from the death of a loved one, a divorce or separation, or any major unexpected life change, can make the holidays hard to bare. Stresses related to the pressures of cultural traditions can be difficult to ignore. Society places high expectations on spending time with family, cooking extravagant meals and buying impressive gifts. While easy for some, this isn’t as achievable for others and can leave them feeling overwhelmed and anxious. Daily tasks can become specifically challenging for those whose functional levels are lower making it hard to complete additional holiday activities.
In addition to the stressful elements of the holidays, between 15-20 per cent of the population suffers from a mild winter form of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is a specific syndrome that is caused by a seasonal change and shorter days. Competing with the body’s natural instinct to hibernate, individuals with SAD suffer from low energy, indifference, apathy, increased need for sleep and cravings for high caloric and starchy meals.
“SAD is a serious longstanding condition which may steal three to four months of life every year in those affected,” says Dr. Iouri Rybak, psychiatrist in the Treatment and Rehabilitation Program at St. Joseph’s Parkwood Institute. “Due to its nature, the illness interferes with jobs, relationships and parenting. The positive news is that it can be effectively treated and even prevented. If you feel as though your life is significantly affected by depression in the late fall and winter, you should make an appointment to see a physician.”
While challenging, there are simple and more natural remedies to help ease the symptoms for those suffering with SAD, including steps that can be taken to keep mood and motivation levels elevated throughout this time of the year.
One remedy is bright light therapy. Bright light therapy lamps are available for purchase at local pharmacies and light stores. To use light therapy effectively, the lamp instructions should be followed closely, the most common recommendation is 30 minute light exposure as early as possible in the morning. The projected light from the special bulb mimics the healthy spectrum of natural rays of the sun, helping to elevate mood.
Another way to avoid the winter blues includes simply turning on the lights, even during the day. Taking advantage of the morning light can sometimes trick your brain into feeling the spring more light in the environment the better.
“And don’t forget about exercise,” adds Dr. Rybak. “Physical activity is known to be a strong antidepressant.”