Coping Through the Winter Blues
By Amber Walter
Edmond Family Counseling
Isn’t it interesting how different people are? Different likes, dislikes, opinions, wants, needs, tastes, personalities…the list goes on. Something as natural and predictable as the seasons changing can trigger different reactions in people. With winter comes colder weather, shorter days, time off from school and sometimes work, and, of course, the holidays. Some people find joy in the characteristics of winter – the sun rising earlier, snuggling up by the fireplace with some hot cocoa, Christmas lights, gift giving, time with family. For others, some of these same aspects that come along with the holiday season can increase feelings of sadness, loneliness, and stress. Having empathy and being understanding with ourselves and others is especially important around the holidays.
In the counseling world, we know that “winter blues” isn’t just a made up expression. We know it as Seasonal Affective Disorder. Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a disorder with symptoms similar to depression – lack of motivation, decreased energy, feeling sad, changes in appetite and/or sleep patterns. These symptoms typically occur around the fall and winter months due to decreased sunlight and shorter daylight hours, which can affect the biological internal clock and lead people to fall out of line with their daily schedule. This doesn’t necessarily mean every person who dislikes the fact that the sun goes down earlier in the winter should be diagnosed with SAD, but it does prove that the winter shift can affect us more than we think.
In addition to having less daylight to soak up in the evening hours, winter brings with it some of the most celebrated holidays in the country. Of course, the holly jolly of it all sounds great in theory, but increased time with extended family members, budgeting and shopping for gifts, having little ones home from school, work deadlines, and falling out of your normal routine can sometimes increase feelings of stress and anxiety. For those who are away from or have lost loved ones, the holidays can bring up feelings of loneliness and sadness. So, how can people cope with negative emotions when the world around us is showing off its pretty lights and decorations with words like “joy” and “peace” even though those may be the last things people feel? A good place to start is to acknowledge your emotions and consider what may be triggering you. If you have noticed a shorter fuse lately, or a lack of motivation, or a constant tightness in your chest, you may be stressed out, anxious, overwhelmed, or just plain sad. Recognize your emotions and try to get to the bottom of what might be causing these emotions.
Once people have a better understanding of what triggers their emotions, they can begin to work on healthy coping skills in order to help regulate negative emotions that are related to the trigger. For example, if you are feeling stressed out by work or family members, practice some breathing exercises, go for a walk, listen to music, read a book, just take a break for a few minutes to get your mind off of whatever it is that’s triggering you. Additionally, trying to incorporate and stick to healthy habits is especially important around the holiday season. It can be easy to go overboard on sugary treats and alcohol around the holidays, but your mind and body will function and feel better with healthy food, movement, plenty of water, and a good amount of sleep. Being honest and vulnerable with yourself and others is another positive way to deal with overwhelming emotions. Talk to someone you trust about how you are feeling, write it down, cry it out, or all of the above. When expressing emotions, people typically find that just getting it off their chests can help them feel better, and often times find that they aren’t the only ones feeling that way. Another difficult but sometimes necessary strategy that can be helpful in times of increased stress and anxiety is setting boundaries. Know your limits, say no when you need to, don’t stretch yourself too thin, and remember that you cannot please everyone.
Perhaps most importantly, try to remember what it is that you can control. You can’t control the amount of daylight, or the weather, or what your crazy family might do or say, but you can control your reaction to these things. Accept what you can’t change, and decide how you can successfully handle it. Consider which coping skills work for you, and incorporate more of those strategies. Be kind to yourself and others. We know that everyone experiences the seasons and holidays differently. We also know that they will keep coming, and we can be a little better prepared when they do.
(Edmond Family Counseling is a non-profit organization. We may be reached at 405-341-3554 to schedule an appointment with one of our licensed professional counselors. Donations may be made to Edmond Family Counseling, 1251 N. Broadway, Edmond, OK 73034 or online @www.edmondfamily.org by clicking the yellow DONATE button.)
(Amber Walter, MS, is a Staff Therapist and LPC Candidate at Edmond Family Counseling).