Beating the Winter Blues
North Texans may not experience long, dark winters like residents in other parts of the country, but we’re still capable of experiencing what’s commonly known as the winter blues. As the days get shorter and temperatures start to drop, symptoms ranging from mild depression to full-blown seasonal affective disorder may occur.
While seasonal affective disorder is a mental health issue that should be addressed by a health care professional, the approach of the holiday season may cause periodic feelings of the winter blues for some people. The holidays bring visions of cheer for many, but for others, the end of the year feels anything but merry.
Debra Iversen, director of behavioral health at Texas Health Seay Behavioral Health Center, said she looks for four tell-tale signs that the holiday winter blues are creeping in.
“If you don’t enjoy the little things about the season you once cherished, attempt to avoid seasonal get-togethers, have problems thinking clearly or experience changes in your sleeping or eating patterns, it could signal a problem,” she explained. “While there is no single remedy to decrease pressure and stress, the best way to reduce burnout is to practice self-care. If you can find ways to value your body, mind and soul, you’ll be better equipped to meet the needs of your family and friends.”
The holidays can put immense pressure on a person’s time, finances and emotions. Overpacked schedules, worries about family gatherings and pressure to “keep up with the Joneses” in gift-giving can lead to unnecessary stress during a time of year that we once viewed as magical.
When deciding what’s important during the holiday rush, Iversen advised being clear with your priorities before the madness begins.
“Think about who and what enriches your life, and then give your time and attention to those people, places and events,” she said. “Give yourself permission to pass on all the extra things you don’t really want to do and say no to anything that drains you or leads to later resentment. Stay realistic and pace yourself, allowing for a buffer zone in your time, energy and emotions.”
In tackling potential overspending and the pitfalls of a blown holiday budget, Iversen recommended finding a spending system that works for you and making choices you can feel good about during and after the holidays. She also suggested moving the focus from how much you can give to what you can give.
“Whether it’s time, money, love, or a little kindness and attention, do something for someone else and give,” she said. “Giving is good for you and reminds you that you do have things to give, and not just things you can buy at a store.”
Before the winter blues throw you into a depression, stop and evaluate what you’re feeling and why you’re feeling that way.
“Getting upset is stressful, so think about whether it’s worth it by stopping and talking things over in a calmer, quieter moment,” Iversen advised. “Scenarios that cause us to get upset are usually nuisances, which are repetitive or annoying behaviors. Getting stressed over these things isn’t going to change them because it sets you up for a vicious cycle.”
If you do start feeling the creep of the winter blues, increase your self-care by giving yourself a generous daily dose of sleep, exercise, fresh food and plenty of water. Allow for 15 minutes of solitude or quiet time anytime you can. Additionally, if you’re feeling stressed and uncomfortable, acknowledge and accept it. Being honest with yourself helps move you out of defensive mode and allows you to evaluate whether there’s anything you should do or stop doing.
When your to-do list grows longer than a 5-year old’s letter to Santa, Iversen advised to delegate — and then delegate some more.
“Delegate tasks to anyone who crosses your mind or path, including your children, which helps nurture responsible, independent human beings,” she said. “Delegate tasks to your spouse and close family members. Every family member should have a simple job whether it’s housekeeping, laundry or babysitting.
“Remember that delegating doesn’t mean you failed or couldn’t handle the holidays alone. It means you are smart by staying sane and healthy.”
Iversen offered the following tips to help keep the winter blues at bay and make the holidays more pleasant:
- Ask someone else in your family to host and prepare a holiday meal.
- Take a little extra time to care for yourself. Eat right, get plenty of sleep, read a good book, watch a funny movie or get a massage.
- Exercise (as little as 20 minutes a day) to enhance your feeling of well-being.
- Make plans to spend time with people you enjoy.
- Dismiss the expectation to be everything to everybody. Establish realistic expectations for yourself.
- Ask for help and companionship when you want it or need it.
- Use moderation in all things. Don’t agree to do more than you can.
- Purchase a special holiday gift for yourself — you’re worth it.
- Allow yourself time to grieve if necessary during this time. Many people remember losses over the holidays.
- If things aren’t going well at home, give yourself permission to run an errand or have some time to yourself. It will help you gain perspective.
- Limit the amount of television you watch, as it can leave you feeling lethargic.
“Think of this time of the year as an opportunity to connect with others and find something about the holidays that energizes you,” Iversen said. “Joy and laughter have an immediate and revitalizing effect, so don’t forget to laugh, play and have some fun. Create special moments and memories with family and friends and start to notice and honor those things in your life.”
Read our article, “Beat the Holiday Blues” to learn more about how to conquer the winter blues.
“If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or other mental health issues, visit Texas Health Behavioral Health or call the help line at 682-236-6023, which is available 24/7.”