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Winter Blues or Seasonal Affective Disorder: When To Seek Help

Winter Blues or Seasonal Affective Disorder: When To Seek Help

For many of us, winter brings what is sometimes called the “winter blues” or “cabin fever”.  Most of us in Northern Michigan are familiar with these feelings. Lack of sunlight and being cooped up in our homes for months can cause low energy, frustration and the longing for warm summer weather. The promise of spring keeps us going but certainly not without some discomfort as we wait oh so patiently for sunshine.

But for many people winter can cause suffering in the form of depression known as Seasonal Affective Disorder. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of Major Depression that occurs in a seasonal pattern, often with onset of depressive episodes that begin in fall or winter and usually subside in the spring.

Symptoms of SAD may include feelings of deep sadness and depression, having low energy or feeling sluggish, becoming easily agitated, loss of interest in activities that you may have once looked forward to, trouble sleeping or concentrating, changes in weight or appetite, having frequent thoughts of hopelessness or thoughts of self-harm.

When symptoms are minimal there are steps that can be taken to combat these feelings.

Refocusing your diet and exercise routine can help reduce symptoms. In the winter months we tend to be more laxed in our approach to exercise and food. Refocusing how you are fueling your body may help to reducing low energy and sluggishness. As well, exercising releases “feel-good” endorphins that can boost your mood and attitude.

Scheduling time to get outside or planning events to look forward can also help. Fresh air can increase energy levels, while increasing concentration and brain functioning. Planning family events or time out with friends can provide distraction from the cold weather, while giving you much needed social interaction that can be lacking when the snow is keeps us stuck at home.

But when these techniques are not working and you find continued feelings of hopeless, have ongoing feelings of depression, are withdrawing yourself socially, experiencing problems at work, if you are abusing substances or are having thoughts of suicide, then it may be time to seek professional help. Talk to your doctor about your options such as medication or light therapy, see a mental health profession to talk through your feelings and address your mental health needs, and if immediate help is needed go to your local emergency room or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

Grief During the Holidays

Grief During the Holidays

The holiday season is considered ‘the most wonderful time of the year’. But for those who have lost loved ones, it can be the most difficult time of the year. The approaching holidays can feel discouraging and often come with a complicated mix of sadness, sorrow, anger and pain as we miss the ones we have lost.

Grief during this time of year can also lend itself to feeling as if we must experience the holidays in a ‘normal’ way. Others often have expectations for us that can feel unmanageable and impossible to meet. Anticipating traditions that once brought delight can feel scary or painful.

What can we do if we are experiencing grief during the holidays?

Find a way to honor those that cannot be with you. A special ornament, a favorite dish at the dinner table, set aside time to share memories together, sing or play a special song, donate to a charity in their name, light a candle, volunteer your time in the community in their honor or create new traditions.

Help those who might also be grieving or need extra help during the holidays. Helping others and giving back can bring joy. It can be a new way to honor those lost and help someone who may be feeling the same difficulty during the season. Adopt a family to purchase gifts for, donate to an organization, volunteer your time, visit a nursing home, give to a local shelter or reconnect with those you have lost touch with.

Don’t feel guilty if it all feels like too much. It’s okay to not send out holiday cards if it is too difficult. It’s okay to say no to another holiday event. It is okay to not want to participate in everything. Allow yourself the space to be alone, make time for yourself, practice self-care and honor your own feelings. As well, don’t feel guilty if you are happy during the holidays. Feeling joy does not lessen how much you miss the person you have lost.

Ask for help. Identify the supportive people in your life that can offer a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on. Don’t be afraid to ask someone to bring a dish, or two, or three when putting together a holiday spread feels like too much. Seek out those that would be willing to help you decorate when it all feels a bit daunting. Ask a friend to go shopping with you, meet for coffee or visit your loved one’s memorial with you. Oftentimes those around you want to help but just don’t know how. If you reach out, they often find great joy in being there for you.

Acknowledge that the holiday season will be different. When we enter the holidays expecting to feel the same amount of happiness we always have, we will experience even deeper sadness when feelings of grief come. Give yourself the permission to experience grief rather than feeling as if you must be happy to make the holiday ‘normal’. It is okay to feel the pain of your loss. The more we try to be strong and protect ourselves from the pain, the more it seems to grow. Allow yourself to feel the pain. Your pain is the result of love, and love should be honored and acknowledged.