Getting Through the Holidays and the Dark Days of Winter

 

This time of year brings joy and excitement, and also some extra stress both because of the holidays and the short number of daylight hours. Here are some things to keep in mind as we approach Christmas and the shortest day of the year (December 21st).

It’s easy to list the reasons why we love the holidays, but it is also important to acknowledge the reasons why they can be very stressful as well. Remember: stress is stressful whether related to positive or negative events. First, the holidays tend to mean more time with family and often old patterns resurface. During holiday visits, it is not uncommon to feel stuck in unpleasant interactions with extended family members. The financial burden of the holidays is also a source of stress, but this is likely the same for everyone in your life. This may be a good year to make holiday plans that emphasize being together as opposed to gift giving. Finally, maintaining a balanced diet in the midst of holiday parties and lavish meals is also difficult, but taking care of your physical health goes a long to maintaining good mental health.

Another important issue to pay attention to this time of year is Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. The symptoms include the following: You might notice that every year, at the same time of year, often late fall, early winter, you find yourself slowing down, feeling sad, depressed, sleeping more than usual, eating more than usual, particularly craving carbohydrates, poor concentration, decreased libido, social isolation, and feelings of hopelessness. Women are much more likely to experience SAD, and this may be linked to the fact that women are at least twice as likely to suffer from depression in general. The lack of light seems to be the primary factor contributing to SAD, which includes the change in circadian rhythms, or the body’s internal clock that regulates the sleep/wake cycle.

Studies have shown that physical exercise can help to improve your mood in many cases. In addition, remaining socially active will reduce the social isolation aspect of the disorder. Exposure to light is a key factor in treating SAD, and being in the light on your own will help. These interventions may be not enough, however, and seeing a professional is often an important part of the treatment of SAD. A doctor might prescribe light treatment, which means exposure to a light box. Medication might also be necessary until the seasons change again. It is important to take this condition seriously: the symptoms of SAD will go away eventually, but the reality is that it is dark and cold for about one third of the year, and that is a long to be feeling depressed.

Finally, people who take care of others tend to do a bad job of taking take of themselves. We put a lot of time and energy into making sure everyone around us is taken care of at the expense of our own well-being. We all deserve to take the time and energy to maintain good physical and mental health. This not only means being at our best for serving the children, but demonstrates good role modeling for them as well. We hope this time of year is filled with happiness for you and your family, and happy holidays!

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