Festive Stress and Winter Blues

December 3, 2019 2:19 pm Published by
Loneliness Mental Health First Aid Oxford

Tis The Season To be Jolly, isn’t it!?

We are now building up to the Festive season, a time of festivities, celebration, families coming together with love and laughter, a time when there is a sense of peace around the world and “goodwill to all men”. Enjoying the lights and decorations on trees, houses and in towns, seeing excitement build in the faces of children young and old.

There has long been a debate of whether society has forgotten the true meaning of Christmas, where it has become commercialised, all about the size, cost, number and quality of gifts given, rather than the true meaning at the very heart of what Christmas is meant to symbolise. Whether you are Religious and celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ or, like me, see it as a time to promote peace, provide forgiveness and for families to forget their squabbles and come together to celebrate their love for one another.

Christmas is certainly a joyous time, whatever your reason for getting excited and joining in with the festivities, there is no disguising the fact that it promotes a powerful sense of positivity and can unite people of all faiths, beliefs, culture and social background, to the point whereby it empowers individuals to stop fighting their wars, if but for a short time.

That being said, the Festive season can also bring increased levels of Stress and Anxiety, which could lead to Depression in some, due to reasons such as;

·        The ‘To Do’ list – There are more jobs on the list, in addition to your every-day tasks

·        Comparisons – To friends and family and the seemingly “perfect” lives of others on social media

·        Finances – Costs of presents, food, social drinks, travelling to visit others

·        Christmas shopping – Enough said!

·        Family – Visiting family members we don’t get on with, having them for the day or stay over

·        Reflection – As New Year approaches, the ‘Should of, Could of, Would of’ thinking begins

·        Isolation – Not just about being physically alone, but also, not feeling connected to those around you

·        What’s Missing – Criticising your life, relationships, money, house, career, could life be better?

These are the more “typical” Festive Stressors that the majority of society experience in some form over the Festive period, with some of the Stressors being accepted as a “given” at this time of year. However, unfortunately for many, there can be a much darker side to this time of year, when Festive Stress begins to impact negatively on key components of your life, such as relationships, finances, career and your overall wellbeing, with no interventions, self-care or self-help, then it can lead to Depression.

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Tips for coping with Festive Stress

Some measures you can take to cope with Festive Stress include:

• Make plans in advance, so you know how and with whom your holidays will be spent. Uncertainty and putting off decision-making add enormous stress.

• Shop early and allow time to wrap and mail packages to avoid the shopping crunch.

• Ask for help from your family and children. Women tend to think they have to do everything, when a team effort can be more fun.

• Don’t buy things you can’t afford. Shame prevents people from being open about gift-giving when they can’t afford it. Instead of struggling to buy a gift, let your loved ones know how much you care and would like to, but can’t afford it. That intimate moment will relieve your stress and nourish you both.

• Don’t allow perfectionism to wear you down. Remember it’s being together and goodwill that matters.

• Make time to rest and rejuvenate even amidst the pressure of getting things done. This will give you more energy.

• Spend time alone to reflect and grieve, if necessary. Pushing down feelings leads to depression. Let yourself feel. Then do something nice for yourself and socialize.

• Don’t isolate. Reach out to others who also may be lonely. If you don’t have someone to be with, volunteer to help those in need. It can be very uplifting and gratifying.

The signs of depression are feelings of sadness, worthlessness or guilt, crying, loss of interest in usual activities, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability, social withdrawal, and changes in sleep, weight, or appetite. If these symptoms are severe or continue for more than two weeks, it may be due to more than the Festive season. Seek professional help.

What are the Winter Blues?

Christmas time is also a bad time of the year for those who struggle with the Winter Blues, which if left, ignored or feelings are suppressed for long periods of time, can lead to SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder.

The Winter Blues are very common, with many of us experiencing a mood shift during the colder, darker days of winter. Although you may find yourself feeling more lethargic, gloomy and down than usual, the Winter Blues generally doesn’t impede your ability to enjoy life and make the most of Christmas.

As we talked about with Festive Stress, should your Winter Blues begin to impact negatively on key components of your life, such as relationships, finances, career and your overall wellbeing, with no interventions, self-care or self-help, then you may be experiencing SAD. SAD is a recurrent type of Depression associated with the change in seasons. SAD is more complicated than feeling low, lethargic and not wanting to go out in the cold. It’s more than feeling like Scrooge over Christmas and it’s more than longing for those first days of spring. Basically, it’s much more than the Winter Blues and it can be extremely debilitating.

What Can You Do?

1.     Recognise the symptoms;

The most common symptoms of the Winter Blues are general sadness and a lack of energy. Other symptoms include the following:

• Difficulty sleeping

• Feeling less social than usual

• Difficulty taking initiative

The hallmarks of SAD are sleeping too much and overeating. Other common SAD symptoms include:

• Mood that is down or depressed most of the day, nearly every day

• Loss of interest in activities you typically enjoy

• Withdrawing and isolating yourself from friends and family

• Struggling to focus and perform at work or home

• Feeling constantly fatigued and lethargic

• Feeling hopeless about the future

• Having suicidal thoughts

2.     Don’t ignore the symptoms

If you’re experiencing depressive symptoms, even mild ones associated with the winter blues, it is important to talk to your GP or help lines such as the Samaritans. The most telling question you need to think about is: “Do your symptoms interfere with your function at home, work and/or relationships?” If they do, it’s time to take action.

3.     Find a Coping Strategy that works for you

While symptoms of the winter blues and, to some extent, symptoms of SAD may dissipate in the spring, you shouldn’t suffer silently, says Tibbs.

The good news about both the winter blues and SAD is there are a number of evidence-based treatments that can be quite effective in alleviating your symptoms:

• Sunlight: It’s important to get outside whenever the sun is out during these darker days. Exposing yourself to natural light will help boost serotonin production and your overall mood.

• Light therapy: As the current standard of care for SAD, light therapy replicates natural light with light boxes, which use white fluorescent bulbs to mimic sunlight.

• Exercise: Research consistently shows a strong exercise-mental health connection, particularly for those with depression and anxiety. Exercise can increase serotonin and endorphins, which both affect mood.

• Cognitive Behavioural Therapy(CBT): A recent study suggests that CBT can actually be a more effective long-term treatment for SAD than light therapy and is clinically proven to be extremely beneficial for all types of depression.

4.     Embrace a healthy lifestyle

Maintaining a regular schedule during the winter months can help keep your hormones in balance and regulate your mood, whether you suffer with the winter blues or SAD. Follow these tips to help manage your winter mood:

• Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day to help normalize your circadian rhythms.

• Structure eating patterns by eating three meals a day, around the same time every day.

• Avoid the common urge in the winter to overindulge in simple carbohydrates, such as starchy or sweet foods; eat a balanced diet of proteins, fruits and vegetables, and whole grains.

• Make (and keep) plans with friends and families to help you stay connected to your loved ones.

Take time for yourself and engage in activities you enjoy. Think of our 3Self Strategy: Self-Awareness, Self-Care and Self-Help

Do Not Forget….

Whilst this might all seem dark, gloomy and maybe a little worrying, there are several key things that I would REALLY like for you to take away from this;

·        We ALL have Mental Health and experiencing any low moods, feeling lethargic, emotional, varying levels of Stress, the Winter Blues, SAD or Depression, is totally normal and ANY of us can succumb to it, so some are not weaker than others!

·        Be it Festive Stress, Winter Blues, SAD, Depression and/or Anxiety, there are many tools, techniques and coping strategies that you can implement that will empower you to manage your own symptoms and lives. Some suggested support organisations are listed below.

·        Recognising symptoms in others, identifying a change in mood within yourself and generally early interventions is the key to reducing the impact any of the above will have, though the only person who can do anything about it, is the individual themselves, they have to take the first step.

·        Even IF you experience poor Mental Health, Festive Stress or Winter Blues, for those who have SAD, Depression and/or Anxiety, it does NOT mean you cannot enjoy Christmas time and live a full and enjoyable life. It simply means you need to learn how to better manage things, learn more about yourself, identify coping strategies, have routines, tools and techniques which will empower you to LIVE life and enjoy it.

Lastly, and most importantly, whatever your reason for celebrating this Festive season, enjoy Christmas and live in the moment, try not to worry about past or future as you cannot do anything about it, so enjoy the here and now. Check in on ageing neighbours, friends and family you won’t be seeing over the Festive period, don’t believe social media, but drop them a message or give them a call, ask how they are really doing, it can make a huge difference.

The Samaritans helpline – 116 123 OR VISIT is open 24/7 over Christmas, as is Combat Stress – 0800 138 1619 OR VISIT, should you or anyone you know need someone to talk to in confidence.

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