Written by Bonnie McLaughlin for IVitamin
Why feeling low during the holidays is common and how to combat it
The holidays, for all of their glitter and goodness, bring with them a host of pressures. There are tons of expectations and that’s not even getting into the juggling act that is dealing with family in larger quantities than normal. The thing is, this idea that the holidays are one big festive party is pretty misleading. In fact, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is very common, affecting over 3 million people each year in the US alone. And while it is characterized as short-term and usually resolvable within a few months, the weight that it presents during one of the busiest seasons of the year is not to be ignored. SAD symptoms include fatigue, depression, hopelessness, and social withdrawal, all debilitating when we are all expected to be extra social and overly positive in the season of cheer and giving.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, “Seasonal Affective Disorder has been linked to a biochemical imbalance in the brain prompted by shorter daylight hours and less sunlight in winter. As seasons change, people experience a shift in their biological internal clock or circadian rhythm that can cause them to be out of step with their daily schedule.” They note that additional symptoms include loss of appetite, overwhelming feelings of sadness, sleeping too much, trouble concentrating, and even thoughts of suicide. All of these symptoms can be incredibly disruptive to your day-to-day life so if you are experiencing any combination of them please know that:
- You are not alone.
- This can be treated a multitude of ways.
Also, if you are currently or have had thoughts of suicide please reach out to someone. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255, they are available 24 hours a day, and they can help.
Now, it is very important to talk to a medical professional before you start any healthcare plan because there is always the risk of misdiagnosis. Now, if you’ve already been diagnosed and are looking for some options or you are just feeling a little low and would love some ideas for a little boost, we are going to explain some of the more popular treatments below.
Option 1: Talk Therapy (Cognitive Behavior Therapy)
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy that is effective for SAD. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIH) states that CBT relies on basic techniques such as “identifying negative thoughts and replacing them with more positive ones along with a technique called behavioral activation. Behavioral activation seeks to help the person identify activities that are engaging and pleasurable, whether indoors or outdoors, to improve coping with winter.” In addition, therapy can teach you healthy ways to cope with SAD and give you techniques to manage stress.
In this day and age, the options for therapy have grown exponentially due to technology. Websites like betterhelp.com and talkspace.com offer licensed counselors (this is super important, always make sure you are talking to someone licensed in their state for your own protection) at your convenience, be it via messaging, phone calls, or even Skype. Even better, you won’t need a referral from you general practitioner to access their services and you can cancel or request a new therapist/counselor at any time.
For tips on choosing online therapy please check out this article by the American Psychological Association: https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/online-therapy.
Option 2: Medication
Your doctor may propose a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRIs) to treat your SAD. As with any other medication, there may be side effects and you may need to try multiple different medications before finding the one that improves your symptoms without causing problematic side effects. Antidepressants tend to take a few weeks to show any benefits so finding the correct one for you may take some time. It is also important to note that most SSRIs have been shown in studies to be useful for the short-term so be mindful of any doctor prescribing you one for years on end.
Also, research shows that folic acid deficiencies can make it difficult for your body to respond well to antidepressants so a nutrient test might be required before beginning any SSRI prescription. In addition, some nutrient deficiencies can aggravate your system, so a micronutrient test can be used to measure the function of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other essential micronutrients to ensure that a deficiency isn’t exacerbating your symptoms.
Interested in a nutrient test? IVitamin offers a full micronutrient test in their Austin Clinic. For more information or to book a test, click here.
Option 3: Light Therapy or Phototherapy
When I was considering a graduate program in Washington one of the issues I read about the most was depression due to the lack of sunlight. Advice columns repeatedly encouraged people moving to the state for the first time to invest in a light box that emits very bright light (and filters out harmful ultraviolet or UV rays). According to the American Psychiatric Association, increased exposure to sunlight can help improve the symptoms of SAD but if you live in a climate that stays cloudy during the winter months, a light therapy box can help. The APA suggest about 20 minutes or more a day first thing in the morning during the winter months. They claim that most people see improvements from light therapy within one to two weeks of beginning regular treatment, which is very promising!
Interested in purchasing a light therapy box? Click here for a super helpful guide by the Mayo Clinic.
Option 4: Exercise & Healthy Eating
As with general depression, many doctors (and studies) assert that regular exercise can improve some patients’ feelings of depression, especially seasonal affective disorder. In addition, eating healthy and ensuring that your body gets the most nutrient-rich food has also been shown as a way to combat the symptoms of depression, both seasonal and general. Getting outdoors, working out with friends, even just taking a walk in your neighborhood can improve your mood and while we fully understand that the struggle may be overcoming your low-energy and feelings of hopelessness, doctors suggest starting with just a few minutes a day and working up from there. According to the Harvard Medical School, the real value is in low-intensity exercise that is sustained over time. They state that “that kind of activity spurs the release of proteins called neurotrophic or growth factors, which cause nerve cells to grow and make new connections. The improvement of brain function makes you feel better.”
To get your few minutes in, set your phone, FitBit, or Apple watch to alert you every few hours to move. Even if you just get up and walk a lap around your work building or the neighborhood, every little bit helps!
Option 5: Mind-Body Connection
And finally, the Mayo Clinic encourages practicing mind-body techniques to increase your awareness and decrease your stress level. Things such as yoga, tai chi, meditation, guided imagery, or music and art therapy are all listed on their website as ways to address the tension or strain you may currently be experiencing. Any process that allows you to concentrate on your body and your breathing in a safe space can have amazing benefits to those dealing with SAD.
Apps such as #Mindful or Headspace or my personal favorite, Calm, all can be downloaded for free and then expanded for a small subscription fee. Some of them allow you to set reminders for meditation and will send you mindfulness reminders throughout the day, which are a wonderful thing to sporadically receive.
Also, a simple google search will find you a panoply of free guided meditations and even yoga classes that you can do in your own home. Taking care of yourself shouldn’t have to cost much!
Interested in more information on Seasonal Affective Disorder? Check out the links below!
We want to wish everyone a healthy holiday season and a blessed new year! Stay tuned for more health and wellness blogs from IVitamin and please stop by our Austin clinic for the best IV drips and boosts in town!
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