November and December are typically months where words such as “joy, celebration and happiness” become commonplace and a general sense of positivity is in the air.
But what if you’re finding yourself feeling anything but happy and joyful? What if, in fact, you actually feel detached from all the celebrating around you and your thoughts drift into the negative, in a way that seems harder to control?
For most of my life, this was a time when I tended to be most reflective and unlike my usual self; in fact, I would always notice my friends asking me if I was okay or if something was wrong on a frequent basis, starting around Thanksgiving. I couldn’t figure out what it was.
I had a loving husband and a happy life, but those things couldn’t prevent me from a destructive cycle of binge eating and having extreme lows in energy where I couldn’t stay awake past 9 pm and would sleep past my alarm on most mornings, not wanting to get out of bed. It wasn’t until a few years back that I learned I was suffering from seasonal depression.
According to Michael Kerr:
“The stress and anxiety of the holiday season—especially during the months of November and December (and, to a lesser extent, just before Valentine’s Day)—may cause even those who are usually content to experience loneliness and a lack of fulfillment.”
If this is sounds all too familiar, here are some additional symptoms of depression* to be aware of, as we enter the thick of the holiday season:
- Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. A bleak outlook—nothing will ever get better and there’s nothing you can do to improve your situation.
- Loss of interest in daily activities. No interest in former hobbies, pastimes, social activities, or sex. You’ve lost your ability to feel joy and pleasure.
- Appetite or weight changes. Significant weight loss or weight gain—a change of more than 5% of body weight in a month.
- Sleep changes. Either insomnia, especially waking in the early hours of the morning, or oversleeping (also known as hypersomnia).
- Anger or irritability. Feeling agitated, restless, or even violent. Your tolerance level is low, your temper short, and everything and everyone gets on your nerves.
- Loss of energy. Feeling fatigued, sluggish, and physically drained. Your whole body may feel heavy, and even small tasks are exhausting or take longer to complete.
- Self-loathing. Strong feelings of worthlessness or guilt. You harshly criticize yourself for perceived faults and mistakes.
Identifying the problem is the first step. I used to have a very narrow image of what a depressed person looked like and would easily dismiss it as being the cause of what I was going through.
But seeing the list of symptoms and realizing that the majority of them applied to me was a reality check for me. Depression can affect anyone and it is important to identify it early on before it manifests into something more serious.
Over the years, I’ve developed my own set of methods for beating seasonal depression. Not every method works all the time and there are no automatic fixes, but they do make a difference.
Planning: This isn’t going to be an immediate fix but part of what can help snap yourself out of your immediate funk is to plan for things you want to accomplish/do/buy 4 weeks or 2 months from now. Visualize your future, a happier self doing the things that will make you happy. When I say “visualize”, I mean that you should close your eyes, see yourself sitting on the beach or watching that movie you’ve been anticipating, and then write those events into your calendar for 2016. Do this and you’ll find yourself visualizing and actualizing yourself into a happier state.
Laughter: When was the last time you felt anything but happiness while laughing? Laughter is the ultimate state of impenetrable joy. Now, I’m not suggesting that you simply force yourself to crack a smile and a chuckle, but it will go a long way to spend a few minutes when you’re not feeling yourself and watch a video of funny cats or a mindless comedy to bring you out of your negative state.
Gratitude: This is open-ended and can be used on any scale: whether you’re grateful that you live in a country where you have clean and plentiful water, or if you’re grateful, like I am, for women like Amy Schumer and Melissa McCarthy, it doesn’t have to be complicated. Gratitude can be felt for anything that has ever brought and continues to bring joy to your life.
If you’re finding it hard to find joy at the moment, think back to a time when you did and try to bring back the feelings you had then. I like to think about the time in fourth grade when my crush and I talked over the phone for a couple of hours – it has never failed to bring a smile to my face. We all have moments that have touched our hearts, so use those moments to your advantage.
Dieting: I used to have a complicated relationship with food, especially during the holidays and never had much luck with diets. If you’re finding that food is a particular pain point for you these months, Golda Poretsky (author of Stop Dieting Now!) recommends the following approach:
“I think it’s important to take the focus off of food if worrying about food is stressing you out. If you find yourself stressing out about how much you ate, what you ate, or what you’re going to eat, do your best to shift your focus to what you like about the holidays.
Focus on seeing your favorite relatives that you don’t usually get to see, the pleasure of having some time off from work, or whatever else you like about the holidays. Focusing on pleasure is the key to relaxing and enjoying yourself during the holidays. In fact, if you find that you can, try focusing on enjoying food rather than stressing out about it. Try enjoying every bite. It will help you feel less stressed and happier.”
These are some things that have always helped me during these months, and I hope they will help you as well.
I’d love to hear from you on how you’re feeling during the holidays and any effective methods you’re willing to share to help others to beat the holiday blues – I will feature the top 5 tips on a future post. Just email me at [email protected].
Wishing you all a safe and healthy holiday season!