‘Tis the Season for Seasonal Affective Disorder

I love the anticipation of Christmas time. I’m the type of person who starts listening to Christmas music on November 1. My Christmas tree is up in my apartment the day after Thanksgiving. And as a Christian, Christmas also holds a special element of hope in the celebration of Christ’s birth. 

And then, there’s my least favorite day of the year — December 26.

Surrounded by groggy family members who have all been exhausted by cooking and shopping and wrapping and planning the Christmas season, the thrill of Christmas recedes into the back of my mind until next November. No gifts or food or party can mask the fact that it’s just another gray, cold day in December. I find myself disillusioned by dark, cold days until March when winter abruptly lifts from Texas with a week of gloriously blazing 90-degree weather.

Seasonal affective disorder is depression brought on by changes in the seasons. Most commonly, it occurs in the fall and winter time when exposed to less sunlight from shorter days and staying indoors to avoid the cold. Changes in seratonin and melatonin cause feelings of sadness and hopelessness, low energy, changes in appetite and difficulty concentrating.

I think I hate December 26 so much because it means I have nothing to mask the sadness of winter with anymore. After the hope of Christmas has subsided, I have to face that my mind isn’t really doing that great. I feel withdrawn and worthless. I’m exhausted despite sleeping for 9 or 10 hours during the night. Some gifts and some cliché songs can only help so much.

However, in the last few years I’ve found there are some things that do help.

Talking to someone
Depression in any form thrives off of isolation. Telling trusted loved ones when I’m feeling down helps me to feel less alone, even if my problems (real or perceived) don’t necessarily go away.

Walking outside
Exposing myself to sunlight during the winter drastically improves my mood and inspires feelings of hope. Some studies even show light therapy as an affective treatment for SAD. Plus, the added of element of walking gives my brain a warm hug of happy chemicals I need during the winter.

Taking care of myself
Like I talked about in my last post, self-care is giving yourself something you’d want to treat a friend to. Cleaning my apartment, styling my hair, cooking a nice meal or making the time for meditation and prayer are a few examples of things I turn to when I need a pick-me-up.

Accepting my feelings
I can often be self-critical for falling into the “trap” of SAD each year. Just when I’m feeling good after a long, warm summer, the first cold front hits and I’m back to moping around the house in my slipper socks. But the way I feel is not my fault, and I cannot hope to take action to combat those negative feelings until I accept their presence. Maybe I can’t stop those feelings from coming, but I can learn to validate and release them in a healthy way. I’m still learning to do that but accepting my feelings is the first step.

This Christmas, I’ll enjoy the family time, shopping and food. And I’ll probably be a bit melancholy when December 26 rolls around. But I’ll choose to get out of bed, put some real clothes on, walk in the sunshine and inch my way through the coming season.

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