SAD Stress and the Strains of Winter Holiday Season: Getting Through It with Sanity Intact
Currently there is some debate in medical circles as to whether seasonal affective disorder (SAD) truly exists. Yet people who feel more than usually discouraged, devitalized, and depressed in the winter still struggle to feel "normal" in these months.
SAD is bound to be one of several winter stressors affecting relationships and personal satisfaction. Financial and time pressures to get the perfect gift for too many people are compounded by navigating extra traffic and crowds, if you don't shop online. Then there's the guilt-inducing wish to avoid hosting and attending the many family and business get-togethers that seem required when Halloween rolls into Thanksgiving which becomes Christmas and New Year's.
If you tend to dread the long and overly commercialized holiday season, made even more tense and painful this year when factoring in the election and inauguration that bookend the season, you aren't alone. Let's take a look at how these strains might affect you.
Common Signs of the Seasonal Blahs
more impatience and frustration
having high anxiety about the unknown future
feeling guilty about not meeting expectations
feeling chronically tired
wanting to hibernate the winter away
being irritated by others' cheerfulness
higher tendency to be argumentative
preferring to avoid holiday festivities
experiencing emotional let down
waning sex drive
increased carb cravings and weight gain
more desire for escapist activities and substances
Some people who experience several of the signs above might benefit from clinical treatment for depression or bipolar disorder. And many can lower their stress level with a combination of approaches to good relationship maintenance and self-care listed below.
At the most basic level, relationship maintenance is a way of being extra mindful of how we interact with each other so that the relationship itself stays healthy during stressful times. Just like it is beneficial to give your valued electronics a bit of cleaning and recharging every day so that they function optimally, the same or better level of attention is useful for keeping our most significant relationships in good shape. This includes:
remembering to say please and thank you
asking each other how the day went, and really listening
empathizing with your partner's hurts and frustrations
practicing active listening, paraphrasing what you thought you heard
requesting conversation or alone time when needed
anticipating simple needs and fulfilling them
giving gratitude for the little things done for you
fixing and eating meals together
having electronics-free time every day
having date nights or kid-free time every week
And a radical suggestion might be to dare to take a vacation over the holidays with just your spouse, or partner and kids, and skip the family festivities if that's a huge source of stress for one or both of you. You really are allowed to reduce holiday stress and increase winter fun, if you can do so without guilt.
Self-Care for Holiday Stress
Don't forget to include yourself in your winter / holiday stress reduction measures. One of the biggest stressors for women in particular is the feeling of having to take care of everyone else first, and never having enough time to effectively unwind and replenish mind, body, and spirit.
But self-care is an essential component of good mental and physical health, and without tending to self-care, you really can't enjoy yourself or your friends and family. So here are some suggestions to incorporate into your everyday routine:
Increase exposure to daylight or full spectrum light
increase sleep time, maybe use melatonin to promote sounder sleep
reduce white foods and sugars in your diet
eat more whole and raw foods
insist on the alone time you need to recharge your social batteries
keep strong boundaries -- don't over extend and don't let yourself be imposed on
do most of your shopping online
practice saying no thanks, not this year
meditate or exercise daily
only answer phone calls with recognizable caller ID
hire some housekeeping help
do something extra special just for you
The main key to surviving the holidays and the winter SAD season with your sanity intact is to resist old habits that drain your energy. That often means avoiding the people and situations that stress you out. And it's a change to give yourself permission to do something different that promotes loving relationships, healthy boundaries, and sincere gratitude.