Holiday Blues or Seasonal Depression? A Quick Guide to Understanding the Difference, and Some Tips for Making The Season a Little Brighter
The holidays hit differently every year. Expectations change, along with family dynamics, and some years bring difficult lessons. As we move into the second post-Covid holiday season, it’s important to take a moment to slow down and reflect on the past year. Travel restrictions, partial closings, and rising numbers of infection only add to the stress of the holidays, and maybe your plans have changed, maybe your finances are strained, or maybe you simply aren’t feeling the holiday spirit.
As well, the desire to have a “perfect” holiday, and to do things that we should do, rather than what we would like to do, can also take a toll on our energy and mood. The end of the year means making time to celebrate with family and friends, but by taking a moment to pause and reflect, we can also use the holidays as an opportunity for creating a new space to improve our mental health.
Living in Prague means that the sun sets at around 4 p.m. every day between November and January. The loss of light can have real effects on your psychological well-being. If you tend to feel persistently down every year around this time, then you may have more than just winter blues. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) affects around 4-9% of the general population, and its symptoms can be similar to depression. If you experience an increase in appetite, a decrease in energy, changes in your sleep patterns, difficulty concentrating, and feeling low, agitated, or anxious for many days, then you may be suffering from SAD. If you are no longer able to motivate yourself to do the things you usually enjoy, please consider seeking professional help. If you are not experiencing severe symptoms, but simply feel a little blue this time of year, here are a few tips that may help you find relief.
This Christmas, consider purchasing a UV lamp for yourself, for a loved one, or even for your plants. There are many inexpensive options on the market, and research shows that exposure to bright light for 20-30 minutes a day, especially in the mornings, can give a boost to your brain and even reduce feelings of depression and anxiety.
Low levels of Vitamin D have been linked to Seasonal Affective Disorder. Exposure to sunlight produces vitamin D in your body, where it is stored and released. Taking supplements can compensate for the lack of winter sun, and can improve your muscles, bone strength, and immunity.
Make a new tradition for yourself.
Making cookies and watching class holiday films was something I did every year with my grandmother before she passed away. The first year after she was gone, my friends invited me over to make cookies with them, but I refused to take part. I thought it wouldn’t be the same, and that I simply couldn’t replace the times and memories of the past. That Christmas came and went, and I realized that certain things were never going to stay the same, but doing old things in new ways felt so much better than trying to forget. I make cookies with my friends every year now. I think my grandmother would approve.
Be true to your values.
If all of the shopping and consumerism associated with the holidays gets you down, then don’t feel forced to participate. Buy gifts because you want to, not because you feel obligated. Spending time with people that you care about is more important than presents.
If you are away from family and loved ones during the holidays, try to find new and different activities to keep yourself from feeling isolated. I’m not a FB proponent, but there are many specialized groups and events listed there, where you can find interesting activities, like-minded people, and volunteer opportunities.
When it comes to your holiday diet, you don’t have to be all or nothing. Aim for moderation. Stick to your exercise routine. Get plenty of rest, and eat some veggies in between the Christmas cookies!
The time just after the holidays can be difficult as well. The lights and decorations come down, the New Year arrives, and everything can feel a little…flat. As we head into 2022, honor yourself and your feelings by being mindful, taking care of yourself, and trying to cultivate gratitude whenever possible.
Magnusson, A., ＆Boivin, D. (2003). Seasonal Affective Disorder: An Overview. Chronobiology International, 20(2), 189–207. doi:10.1081/CBI-120019310
Terman, M. (2007). Evolving applications of light therapy. Sleep Medicine, 11(6), 0–507. doi:10.1016/j.smrv.2007.06.003