So, we’re still in a pandemic, we’re still struggling to recover from hurricanes, and now we’re also dealing with less sunlight and cold temperatures??? Welcome to January, everyone!
You’ve probably heard of Seasonal Affect Disorder (or SAD). It’s the form of depression that has a seasonal pattern, typically showing up during the fall and winter when there is less sunlight during our waking hours and it is colder. (I’m still lobbying that we stick with daylight saving time all year long). Fortunately for us in Southwest Louisiana, we typically don’t get really cold until January/February, so our winter depression season is shorter. This is the time of year I begin to see clients who I believe are suffering from either the “winter blues” or SAD. Winter blues are a milder form of SAD, and there are many people who feel the “heaviness” of this time of year while still functioning.
SAD’s signs and symptoms include feeling depressed most of the day every day, having low energy and feeling tired, loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities, irritability, and isolation. SAD sufferers also tend to gain weight and their circadian rhythms get off track as the body tries to deal with decreases in serotonin, melatonin, and vitamin D. It typically begins to loosen its grip as the days grow longer and the temperatures begin to warm up.
But this year is very different for people who struggle with SAD or even the winter blues. We have already been isolating and living with fear for many months. Job loss, lack of routine, illness, and the political climate was already severely affecting us and then we had the hurricanes hit. Many holiday celebrations were canceled, and lots of people spent those special days alone or in very small groups. So many people were already struggling with anxiety and depression heading into January. Because of our circumstances, people who have never had the winter blues or SAD very well may experience it this year.
So, what can we do to help ourselves through this long winter? Here are my suggestions:
Light it up! Maximize the light of day all around you. Open all those blinds and curtains. Get outside during the day so you experience the light firsthand. You might want to try light therapy, or phototherapy. I know several people who sit in front of a light box for 30 minutes in the morning and report it helps them feel better.
Go for a walk. Exercise is key for dealing with both anxiety and depression. Exercising outside, in the daylight, is very helpful (as indicated in #1) for your mood as well. So, lace up those tennies and go for a walk, jog, or bike ride!
Do something every day you enjoy. It doesn’t matter what it is. All that matters is that you have something to look forward to every day. Read a book, talk to a friend, listen to favorite music, tinker with a car. Doing something you like daily gives you a much-needed break from the doldrums. It won’t make you “happy”, but you will likely feel better.
Stay social. Your inclination may be to withdraw and isolate. Fight it. You need to reach out to your friends and family and stay connected. Many people isolated when the pandemic started and figured out this is not a good idea. We are social creatures, and one of the ways we stay sane is by spending time with people we love and feel love from.
Get some support. If you’ve never tried counseling, now is a great time. You don’t even need to leave your house! I’ve had several new clients tell me they tried counseling because it was so easy to take the first step. They like being in their own environment to start what can be a scary process. Your counselor will help you determine the level of support you need. It may be reading self-help books, downloading an app for depression or anxiety, attending a virtual self-help group, or maybe medication is the best course of action. Don’t suffer alone. Help is available.
I feel like I have been saying and hearing the same phrase over and over – “We are going to make it through this.” It’s been referring to the pandemic or hurricanes in the past. Now it is referring to the next couple of months. Keep looking for the light – it is coming back!