The Holidays are Over, So Now What? Ways to Overcome the Winter Blues

The winter months don’t have to be a temporary sentence to stay indoors until the spring flowers bloom. There are some sneaky ways to circumnavigate the cold-weather doldrums.

In addition to the impending winter season, the letdown following festive, end-of-the-year holiday activities in combination with settling back into the reality of work, routines or school can pose mental health struggles.

These common winter blues can be attributed to a variety of triggers.

What is SAD?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons, according to the Mayo Clinic. SAD usually begins and ends at about the same time each year and is most noted during the winter months.

Eric Kelly, MSW, LCSW, a Monarch behavioral therapist who provides therapy at the Cary and Fuquay-Varina behavioral health offices, urges those adversely affected by winter’s limited sunlight and colder temperatures to take heart.

Making a concerted effort to get out during sunlight hours and socializing are good ways to guard against feeling down during the winter months. “Get out and about, and exercise. Enjoying the sunlight and talking to people is a great way to stay connected. Hibernation is known to exacerbate SAD,” Kelly notes.

During the winter months and colder temperatures, it is natural to gravitate toward staying indoors but Kelly urges creativity when incorporating physical activities. “Ways to implement activity include changing up routines with exercise, reaching out to family and friends or even taking your pet for a walk. This makes you more involved in what is going around you,” he notes. “The less isolated you are, the better.”

Decreased sunlight can make it difficult for those with severe depression. Studies show that light therapy has been known to help when the gray days seem to be more plentiful, Kelly notes.

He also recommends to the people he counsels to integrate relaxation approaches such as guided imagery, meditation or techniques like yoga or tai chi. “These are easy to learn and creative ways to cope with SAD,” he recommends.

Post-Holiday Letdown
The holidays, with the good intentions of family time, celebrations and festivities, can act as a trigger or exacerbate mental health struggles. “The holidays for the people that we serve with severe symptomologies can be a fun, temporary escape. When it is over, they are forced to face reality,” notes Kelly.

Kelly explains that seeing certain family members after many years or having conversations during the holidays focusing on past or current family experiences, can be known to spur unpleasant memories. “Reminders of childhood memories often spark or trigger a response,” says Kelly. “Those elements are more likely to happen around the holidays because of more family gatherings and discussions about past events or reliving memories.”

Eat Your Way to Good Health
Kelly suggests not to discount the importance and impact of proper nutrition on guarding against and combatting the winter blues.

“Proper eating habits are important, especially during the winter,” says Kelly. “Try to refrain from poor habits like smoking and alcohol. Be mindful of healthy eating and incorporating healthy snacks. It is a good idea to be particularly mindful of those choices when spending more time inside.”

Reach Out for Additional Support
If you are unable to beat the winter blues on your own, seeking counseling or professional help are ways to receive support during trying times.

“Researching information and talking to your doctor are ways to cope,” Kelly says, noting that physicians or mental health providers have ways to accurately decipher and assess what is happening and advise proper care so that the winter months can be enjoyable.