By Breanna White, LSW
Winter is here and with it comes some possible changes in one’s outlook. With short days, frosty weather, and slushy roads, we can see an uptick in feelings of the blahs and bit of anxiety. But the good news is there are some things we can do to affect our outlook.
First, it’s always good to remember that there’s nothing shameful about recognizing that we may be feeling depressed or anxious. Everyone has ups and downs, especially in the slump after the holidays.
Second, the shorter days and reduced sunlight have been linked to a kind of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Feelings associated with SAD tend to be more severe than a typical case of the “winter blues.”
People with SAD symptoms may often experience low levels of energy, be more withdrawn socially than usual, and weight gain. Sometimes SAD symptoms include a higher-than-normal craving for sweets, cakes and cookies. People with SAD also sometimes have difficulty in concentrating or sleeping.
The causes of SAD are generally thought to be related to shorter days disrupting one’s “internal clock,” or circadian rhythm. That can cause changes in how your body produces important hormones like serotonin or melatonin, which can disrupt typical sleeping patterns and lower personal energy levels.
The good news is that your medical provider can often successfully treat SAD symptoms with light therapy or by talk therapy (cognitive behavioral therapy) with a professional mental health provider. Light therapy typically includes sitting in front of a special bright light for 30 minutes that helps “reset” your “internal clock.” Talk therapy can help minimize self-defeating thoughts by reframing perspectives.
Other therapies and means to assist are also available. If you are feeling “blah” or a little depressed, consider having lunch with friends, or finding a means to walk for 30 minutes or more. It may take some effort to move off of center, but it can be rewarding. SAD symptoms can (and sometimes do) go away by themselves, but that can take up to five months.
If you are experiencing higher levels of anxiety or depression, including thinking about harming yourself or even ending your life, that goes beyond SAD symptoms. If these intense feelings are occurring, now is the time to get professional help. Some may harbor some lingering stigma about their mental health or admitting that they’re depressed or anxious, but that is unnecessary, especially in this day and age.
The irony is that holidays can increase feelings of hopelessness or depression, especially following separation or death of a loved one, or other related issues. If you or someone you know are experiencing this, professional help can provide relief and hope.
Sometimes we can see this at work or in groups, where our friends or co-workers may inexplicably exhibit unusual tiredness, personality changes, uncommon conflict, loss of interest or other unusual changes in mood. If you see this, it may be an opportunity to gently open a conversational door. Your human resources professional or provider can provide guidance. If you think this describes you, contact your provider for help.
Whether mild or severe, feelings of anxiousness or the blahs can be dealt with – don’t suffer needlessly – take charge of your mental health!
A Licensed Social Worker (LSW), Breanna White serves as a clinical therapist on SICHC’s behavioral health team. She works to help provide comprehensive healthcare through mental health services for residents of the region.