The Holiday Blues
Feeling emotionally depleted in the wintertime is actually quite common. Signs and symptoms can range from a having difficulty concentrating on tasks at work, school and home to feeling excessively tired all the time to experiencing a complete lack of interest in things that originally were sources of joy. Rest assured that there are a number of very common reasons for the bout of the “holiday blues” you may be feeling. However, don’t discount or minimize your feelings if they begin to magnify. It’s important to note that anyone can swing from sadness to depression to desperation quickly — particularly if his or her personal history involves a family history of substance abuse, emotional trauma or violence.
Identifying the causes
Add the challenges of maintaining sobriety during a constant flood of invitations from family and friends to the mix of normal holiday sadness, and the chance of jeopardizing your recovery is magnified. All around us at the holidays are constant reminders of how wonderful we are expected to feel. The need for a trauma-informed approach – in regards both to others and to our own selves — is critical according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA). Here are some common causes to keep in mind:
Lack of healthy exposure to sunlight
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is quite prevalent in the winter months, particularly in areas that are more northerly located. As the temperatures drop and the days grow shorter, the onset of deeper moodiness may be triggered. Symptoms may include overeating and excessive sleeping leading to uncharacteristic weight gain. Women may be two to three times more susceptible than men to SAD. Symptoms may progress to include anxiety and social withdrawal and may last all the way to spring unless addressed. Getting as much exposure as possible to natural light each day can help as can replacing your regular light bulbs temporarily with broad spectrum bulbs or purchasing a light therapy apparatus (although these can be pricey). Attending to a regular sleep schedule, getting exercise, and consulting a therapist if symptoms persist are also all very important.
Presence of holiday-based sensory stimuli
Certain smells, sounds and sights could be reminders of happy – or very sad — holiday gatherings from years past. Be aware that a certain amount of melancholy is perfectly normal at this time of year and sensory stimuli can magnify these feelings, lighting up memory centers in the brain. Sadness is a powerful emotion and deserves attention. Let yourself look at old photos if you have them available, cry if you need to do so, and make some phone calls if possible to reconnect with loved ones who are far away. Exchange stories about the happy times or journal about your feelings if the people you miss are no longer accessible, but try not to dwell too much on memories from the past.
Dangers of family and societal pressures
The pressure to accept every invitation or meet the expectations of others for gift giving or hosting an event can be very stressful. People in recovery who are either out of a traditional home environment or who find themselves in a transitional living situation, may not have a place of their own to decorate or in which to prepare favorite holiday foods. This fact may cause even more unhappiness and longing with so much seasonal attention on shopping for gifts. The shame and loss that results from a lack of financial abundance to do everything they way you’d like can be devastating.
Lack of good self-care
Not getting enough exercise during the holiday season, missing your regular sleep schedule and indulging in too many rich, sweet foods can take a toll on your physical and mental health. No one knows what your body needs to stay healthy better than you. Make sure to take the time each day meditation and reflection.
Keep in close contact with your sober friends and mentors; you are not alone and should feel comfortable asking for help if needed. Remember to take time each day for your mindfulness practice. Meditation, reflection, yoga, breathing techniques – or your version of mindfulness – all help us to pause, recenter and reconnect.
Please take the time to stay connected! Visit our Alumni page for more info.
Wishing you a peaceful holiday full of love.