It happens around the same time every year for me. Shortly after Halloween ends, stores replace their spooky decorations with cornucopias and turkeys in anticipation of Thanksgiving.
Some people completely bypass Turkey Day and have already put up their Christmas trees and decorations for what we call “the most wonderful time of the year”. For some, the holiday season may be filled with joy and excitement, but for others, including myself, it can be filled with anxiety and depression. What is it about this time of year that makes us so down?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is classified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) as a type of depression that exists during certain times of the year and is completely absent during others. It’s presence is between 1% to 10% of the population and is typically more present in women. I’m one of the lucky guys who wrestles with this monster. I can’t speak for everyone who experiences SAD but I can give you a little insight into what goes on in my mind during these “trying times”.
Let’s start with the obvious, IT’S COLD!
It seems like just yesterday I was wearing shorts and a tank top. With the way the temperature changes in New Orleans, it’s quite possible that I was. I was never one to enjoy the colder months. I would almost describe the cold as both physically and emotionally painful.
I first noticed my disdain for the cold when I went to college in Ohio. The winter was excruciatingly cold and filled with snow! As a native New Orleanian, I thought it would be fun to experience snow in the northern part of the country. I was sadly mistaken. It snowed for months. Not only was I dealing with the cold, but also the lack of sun. There were grey skies day after day. It had gotten to the point that I would look out of my window in the morning, and if didn’t see the sun or if I saw snow, I would stay in bed and miss class. My GPA suffered tremendously my first year of college.
Secondly, it’s the holidays. As mentioned, it all goes downhill for me after Halloween. The upcoming holidays–Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, & Valentine’s Day–can all be summed up by one word to me, “sappy”. They are not what they used to be for me.
Thanksgiving becomes a burden. Anxiety fills my head every year knowing that I will have to be around my family as “the gay one”. I have to sit and pretend to be thankful for some of them that I don’t particularly care for. Right after that is Christmas, which is expensive! New Year’s pushes me to look at how I didn’t complete my previous year’s resolutions and I lie to myself by believing that I’m going to complete them for the next year, and Valentine’s Day is just the epitome of “sappy”.
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of good things about these holidays, but in a state of depression, they’re overshadowed by the bad. Even Mardi Gras, my favorite holiday, is less exciting if it falls in a cold February.
So how do we handle it? Do we just wait around in misery until the spring equinox? According to therapists, there are several small things that we can do to battle these seasonal blues.
Changing the lighting in your house is a great start. Brighter bulbs can help us to fight through these dark times. Adding additional plants to a room can also bring a sense of springtime joy in the middle of fall and winter.
Getting a calendar can also be of some use. Mark some important things in the upcoming year, including the first day of spring. This will give you something to look forward to through the months. Meditation also helps. Challenging your mind to find peace can be a great source of strength during these months.
Remember that this is temporary. We have survived many cold months and we can do it again. If you try some of these things and are still struggling, look into making an appointment with your therapist. Some cognitive behavioral therapy might be just the boost you need to hang in there.
In the words of John Steinbeck, “What good is the warmth of summer without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.” I may be in a coat and scarf now, but the sweetness of spring is only four months away.