Although the holidays are typically associated with feelings of joy and thankfulness, it is imperative that people should not automatically assume these emotions are commonly shared. Three percent of all individuals are impacted by seasonal affective disorder (SAD) during the holidays – a statistic many people are unaware of. The media promotes an unrealistic expectation that everybody should be happy during this time, but this is not the case for many people for a variety of reasons, such as the loss of loved ones, bad memories of previous holidays, financial hardship, loneliness, untreated mental illness, poor health, etc. The idealistic image that the media frequently portrays often generates feelings of depression.
People can successfully manage their emotions during this tumultuous time by evaluating what the holidays mean to them and how they want to celebrate, if at all. Establishing why the holidays are special to each of us and letting go of impractical conventions will provide the needed freedom to experience the holidays in a way that is uniquely meaningful to us as individuals. We should be more empowered to create tranquility in our lives by taking charge of our feelings. We have the ability to actively choose serenity through these five simple actions:
Take the time to recognize your negative emotions, reflect on them, and eventually let them go. The sooner we detect these feelings, the better we are equipped to manage them. We often distract ourselves from these feelings by binge-watching television, scrolling through social media, exercising, excessively eating, drinking, or using drugs. Simply acknowledging our feelings allows us to move on instead of delaying acceptance and possibly escalating any potential consequences.
Focus on deep breathing and your senses in a particular moment. For instance, think about what makes you feel calm and remind yourself that this is a safe space and no harm will come of you in that particular instance. Concentrating on the present moment while practicing deep breathing and positive thinking will dispel negative thoughts and emotions.
If you engage in spiritual practices, it can also help to turn over the things outside of your control to your higher power. Limit your exposure to any potential sources of negativity (i.e., the news, social media, negative people).
Express gratitude by writing down three to five things you are appreciative of on a daily basis. This effortless action will steer your life toward the things that bring you joy. In fact, numerous studies suggest finding something to be grateful for every day improves mood.
Be mindful of your intake of alcohol/tobacco, and other drugs that weaken your immune system. Excessive substance use regularly creates distance and discord in your relationship with yourself and others, resulting in feelings of loneliness and isolation.
If seasonal depression occurs, it is crucial not to over-identify with your symptoms – this can send you down a rabbit hole of self-pity and misery. Do not forget that we are not our thoughts, feelings, or behaviors. We are an observer who notices our emotions and chooses how to respond.
Reminding yourself that the cause of your feelings stems from external influences like the time of year and being compassionate and patient with yourself will create lasting change. Seasonal depression is almost like having a “mental health cold.” When we have a cold, we are aware of our temporary symptoms and try to take better care of ourselves. We should adopt a similar attitude towards seasonal depression.
If you have been affected by SAD in the past or anticipate it may be a struggle for you this coming holiday season, now is the time to develop your self-care plan. A good work-life balance, a healthy lifestyle, and a mutually beneficial connection to at least one person are the foundation for good mental health and will help manage the seasonal blues. If you are grappling with work stress and find it challenging to implement healthier behaviors, wellness coaching will help you get started or get back on track. Many insurance plans offer these services to you at no cost.
If you are currently struggling with the motivation to make meaningful lifestyle changes and have struggled with seasonal depression, now is the time to find a therapist. The drastic increase in demand for therapists has generated a delay in treatment, so it is better to find a trusted mental health specialist before a negative situation arises. Mental health services are included in medical insurance coverage, so call your benefits department today to find in-network therapists.
People struggling with SAD should not feel alone or invalidated as a result of the unfeasible model popular media has routinely painted. The steps outlined above provide a framework for a much-needed stress relief strategy during such an emotionally frenzied time.
Stephanie Straeter is a behavioral health and wellness program developer.
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