SAD

How to Minimize Stress and Master the Holidays

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By Natalie Stamper, Psy.D

It goes without saying that the holidays are a busy time. In addition to typical daily life, there’s partying, traveling, spending, socializing, and the list goes on. Many would say the chaos of it all is worth it, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find ways to minimize the stress and relax. Whether it means reducing or increasing one’s social interactions, there are ways to feel fulfilled rather than drained by the time New Year’s comes around.

Firstly, what exactly are your sources of holiday stress? One source may be simpler than you’d think: doing too much. Yes, it’s obvious, but let me explain. Naturally, when met with a rather exciting or interesting activity, we often opt to participate in it. While doing good and fun things are, well, good and fun, having too many good things going on can lead to stress and a lack of time to decompress.

Another stressor may be the overwhelming obligations and the temptation to overindulge, such as excessive eating, drinking, and spending. Too much of any of these things could lead to debt, weight gain, or embarrassing memories.

Furthermore, balancing alone time with together time becomes significantly more difficult for many during the holidays. Family time is a wonderful thing, but being around others for too long without proper rest takes some of the enjoyment out of being with loved ones.

On the other side are those who are not with family during the holidays. While many are getting together with those they love, some might become more aware of their loneliness and feel left out.

During this time of year, symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) may occur. While it can come on subtly with the season’s transition from fall to winter, more time spent indoors because of colder weather brings out this form of depression, invoking seemingly sudden bursts of unhappiness and/or stress.

Despite these concerns, there are still ways to be on top of one’s mental health during this time of year. Here are some useful tricks for mastering the holidays, stress-free:

Keep a Journal

Keep a journal, or at least write things down, an age-old trick to maintain healthy stress levels. Keeping track of finances, plans, and obligations is a surefire way to stop stress dead in its tracks.

Remain Disciplined

Remaining disciplined is key to mastering holiday overindulgence. Remind yourself not to have eggnog and cookies with every meal. This saves us from guilty feelings later on. There is nothing wrong with saying “no” to tentative plans or an extra drink. Staying fit and leaving space for alone time is worth it in the long run.

Balance is Key

Being burnt out halfway through December sucks, even if it means sacrificing potential plans with friends and family. They can wait for another day. No one is fun to be around when they are tired or stressed. Besides, spending a day during the holidays to curl up with a warm blanket and a book is a fun idea in itself.


References

Scott, Elizabeth. “How to Manage the Inevitable Holiday Season Stress.” Verywell Mind, Verywell Mind, 24 June 2019, www.verywellmind.com/understanding-and-managing-holiday-stress-3145230.

“6 Tips for Managing Holiday Stress.” Healthline, Healthline, www.healthline.com/health/holiday-stress#tips.

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Summertime Sadness: Managing Reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder

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By Alicia Cox, MA, AMFT

In the winter months, it is common for people to experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD). The disorder will come and go with the winter season, but can cause a lot of suffering and discomfort during those months. People can also experience SAD in the summer. It is not as common as winter SAD, but can be just as difficult to manage.

Symptoms of SAD include feeling depressed most of the day and almost every day, loss of interest in things you used to enjoy, low energy, sleep disruption, noticeable changes in appetite or weight, feeling agitated, difficulty concentrating, feeling hopeless or worthless, and frequent thoughts of suicide. These symptoms can be brought on because of the limited daylight available during these months. This can affect one’s natural sleep cycle and the chemistry in their brain. People usually stay inside more during these months because of harsher, cold weather, and can feel more isolated.

People can also experience similar symptoms in the summer. Summer SAD includes many of the same symptoms people experience in the winter months, such as sleep disruption, noticeable changes in appetite or weight, and increased anxiety. In some of the areas of the country that experience intense heat in the summer months, such as Sacramento, the onset of summer SAD can lead to staying indoors and keeping blinds closed to keep the heat out. Since it is so hot throughout the day, the ability to exercise outside is also affected, which can cause an increase in SAD symptoms, as well as symptoms related to anxiety, ADHD, and depression.

Here are some ways to manage SAD in the summer:

Talk to your mental health professional about the symptoms you are experiencing to see if it fits the description for a diagnosis of SAD. Your therapist can also help you work on some relaxation techniques that may help calm your mind from increased anxiety resulting from SAD.

You can also try exercising indoors at a gym or in your home with assistance of one of the many free smartphone and computer apps that coach you through workouts. It’s important to get at least 20-30 minutes of activity per day for better physical and mental health.

A person’s sleep cycle is also greatly affected by changes in the seasons. Make sure to stay away from substances, such as caffeine and alcohol, as they can disrupt sleep. Cut off use of these substances at least three hours before you plan to go to bed.

Finally, if you are experiencing symptoms related to changes in appetite and weight gain, practicing mindfulness when eating may be helpful. Mindful eating can help a person slow down and focus in the moment on the experience of eating food. Use your five senses as a guide when using this practice. This exercise will allow you to slow down and connect with your food so you are not eating mindlessly and possibly overeating. Also, try to follow the Dietary Guidelines for Americans when choosing your meals, which can be found at: https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/


References

Lewis, J. G. (2015 January 14) Reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder: SAD in the Summer. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/brain-babble/201501/reverse-seasonal-affective-disorder-sad-in-the-summer

Mayo Clinic Staff. (25 October 2017). Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20364651

Robinson, L. Segal, J. & Smith, M. (March 2018). The Mental Health Benefits of Exercise, HelpGuide.org. Retrieved from https://www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-living/the-mental-health-benefits-of-exercise.htm

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