Alone, navigating through the emotional undulations of everyday life can feel overwhelming after quitting the use of drugs and alcohol.
Adding to that, the distress of winter blues can feel debilitating and, in its worst-case scenario, can lead to unnecessary relapse.
The winter blues, also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of reoccurring, full-blown depression brought on by dwindling sunlight and cold weather. According to an article in Psychology Today, SAD mostly affects people during the fall and winter months and has been studied since the 1980s.
The difference between winter blues and SAD is that SAD is full-blown depression, while the winter blues consists of general drops in mood during the cold weather months. Unlike regular kinds of depression, both SAD and the winter blues are cyclical, occurring at the same time each year.
Common symptoms of SAD include:
- Feelings of extreme hopelessness, depression, sadness
- Changes in eating and sleeping patterns
- Withdrawing from social activities and/or hobbies
- Inability to tolerate stress
- Difficulty focusing or procrastination
- Cravings for sugar and carbohydrates
If these feelings persist year-round, or are coupled with other symptoms, you may be experiencing a different form of depression.
While doctors aren’t exactly sure as to the cause of SAD, it is theorized that the drop in UV rays and the natural increase of melatonin in the body can be part of the issue. Melatonin is a natural chemical that increases feelings of sleepiness, which can worsen SAD symptoms.
Some risk factors can cause people to develop SAD, such as the loss of someone, or a triggering traumatic event. The chaos of holidays and stress of family can cause SAD as well. There has also been research that suggests that people with mental illness in the family can be genetically predisposed to contracting SAD.
As with other mental illnesses, chronic treatment of the winter blues or SAD with drugs and/or alcohol can increase the severity and also leave you feeling more hopeless without the usual tool to self-soothe.
In any event, what can you do to feel better?
Like other forms of depression, cognitive behavioral psychotherapy and antidepressants can be used to treat the winter blues, as well as different forms of bright light therapy. Research has shown that light therapy can be used for non-seasonal depression as well. For this treatment, you usually sit beside the light box for fifteen to thirty minutes a day, which has been shown to reduce symptoms.
These bright light therapy boxes can be found online and are specially designed to aid depression. However, light boxes can be expensive and are not as easily accessible for everyone. Before reaching into your pocketbook or obtaining a prescription for antidepressants, try these noninvasive, free alternatives to boosting your mood.
Tidy up your nutrition.
This is probably one of the easiest things to let slide, especially during the winter when cookies and candy seem to be consistently within arm’s reach. Try to limit sugary, processed foods as much as possible. A sugar high may have you feeling good momentarily, but will knock your blood sugar out of whack. Once the sugar high wears out, your blood sugar will drop and increase lethargic feelings and irritability.
Aim to balance your nutrition by eating lots of leafy green vegetables and lean protein and making sure not to skip meals. Consider adding a vitamin D supplement to your diet for an extra boost. Simply said, you are what you eat, so the saying goes. If you eat junk, you’ll feel like junk.
Create a gratitude journal.
At first this may seem insignificant, but attitude has an immediate effect on your emotional well-being. When you focus your mind on things that make you grateful, you will naturally shift your attention to more uplifting thoughts. Just the act of smiling can trick your mind into feeling happier.
This can be a tough one, especially if you live in an area where winter months are riddled with snow and icy winds. But there are plenty of exercises you can do in the comfort of your house, such as exercise videos or even just a few sets of classic jumping jacks and pushups. Any way to get the blood flowing will increase the production of feel-good chemicals in the brain like serotonin and dopamine.
Consider a class in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).
The MBSR program includes activities that use the body to elevate the mind. These practices center around the idea that mind and body are interconnected in significant ways. Some of these practices include:
- Creative arts therapies
- Tai Chi
- Guided deep relaxation therapies
- Breathing exercises
Listen to music that makes you feel good.
One of the most immediate ways to alter your mood is to listen to music. You can probably remember a time you put on a song to elevate your mood or to even trigger sadness. Music therapy has been used as a medicinal alternative for a wide range of health problems from autism to healing from a surgery.
Just remember that music can also have a negative effect and increase sadness. Choose music that is lighter and is not tied to painful memories.
Finally, find a support group or seek medical attention if the blues becomes something more severe and threaten your recovery. Remember, you don’t have to battle the blues alone.