Emily Arnold from the Conway Clinic offers some practical advice on how to recognize the signs of the Winter Blues (sometimes called S.A.D) and manage those long, cold, winter days.
Many people are saying, “I love this time of year!” while others are dreading Thanksgiving and Christmas as well as the cold, wintry months with short days and long, dark hours. The holidays and winter months can be difficult for those with addiction or mental health issues. Many people are triggered during this time of year. From stressful situations with family or finance encounters to being exposed to substances like opiates or alcohol at parties, or even the cold weather keeping you indoors can lead to an increase in feelings of anxiety, depression, or increased substance use. Many people get what is called “Seasonal Affect Disorder” which is usually said to occur in late fall throughout the winter months and usually dissipates in the spring and summer months. It is a subtype of major depression and the specific causes remain unknown. It is a decrease in serotonin, which is a chemical in the brain that affects our mood. Serotonin levels also decrease with reduction in Vitamin D and sunlight, triggering depression.
What can a person do who is affected by this? Well, we all know the word, HEALTHY. Living a healthy lifestyle can help alleviate seasonal affective symptoms as well as have us in the right direction instead of steering us down the wrong path. When people get depressed, some turn to drinking or illicit substances but in reality, they are only a temporary fix. We all know these combined can lead us to jail or deceased if we aren’t careful. Always remember, a calm mind brings inner strength and self-confidence, so that’s very important for good health both mentally and physically. Well, you are probably wondering, how do I know I have symptoms? These are all questions we want to know the answers to and we do know, we sometimes just live busy lives and don’t “have time” to actually take care of ourselves when needed.
What do the symptoms of depression or anxiety look or feel like?
- The feeling of being overwhelmed
- Loss of appetite or increased appetite (everyone is different)
- Lack of motivation
- Lack of desire in life
- Increased sleep patterns or decreased sleep (depending on the individual)
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Increased number of headaches
- Inability to stay focused or concentrate
- Increased days of missing work or being late
- Feeling low more days out of the week than not
- Increased crying episodes
- Thoughts of self-harm or suicide
- Feeling hopeless and worthless
- Easily agitated or irritable
How do I know if my depression has affected my substance use to get out of control?
- Have you lost interest in things you used to enjoy doing?
- Are you able to maintain a job?
- Are you capable of paying your bills?
- Are you experiencing health problems because of you substance use?
- Do you have any withdrawal symptoms? ( vomiting, shakes, diarrhea, and nausea)
What are the best ways to cope with these challenges during the holidays as well as during the winter blues? There are several options which weren’t developed overnight just like addiction and mental health symptoms weren’t. Every individual is different as well as their coping skills. We all have different methods of self-improvement. Here are a few tips to help assist/ guide you through the winter blues and/or Holidays:
- Get plenty of rest. Most people need at least 8 hours of sleep.
- Exercise is important. A 15-20 minute two-three times a week is good just to help get you up and moving and mind and mood to feeling better. Endorphins are released in the brain when exercise occurs.
- Set Boundaries. Know when to say “No.” Don’t feel like you are super woman or super man and can help everyone all the time. Take time to relax.
- Talk to your loved ones or be around positive people. Most loved ones don’t know you are suffering and if they do, they are not sure where to turn for help. It can be scary to them due to not knowing your reaction, so take this time and talk with them and give them reassurance that you are doing well or that you just want to be there for them.
- Find time for mindfulness. Meditating is important. There is a three-minute breathing exercise, let go of all thoughts in your head, relax, and let go of tasks you are to be doing or things that need to be done.
- Be Patient.
- Seek outside help. It is important to talk to someone about your problems. I know the stigma is out there, but even as a professional, we all need to seek professional help at times. It is important to balance out treatment and break the stigma that is looming around us.
If you or a loved one are suffering from substance abuse, or have a co-occurring disorder, be proactive and seek help to assist you in alleviating and managing symptoms before they worsen.
About the author: Emily Arnold has her Master’s degree in Psychology and is a National Board Certified Counselor. She currently is employed at The Conway Clinic as a counselor. For more information on how we can help you with opiate addiction, please call 731-695-2532 or 731-693-2013.