We often hear that suicide rates increase during the holiday season, but for many symptoms of depression and anxiety also worsen during winter months. Each year, roughly 5% of the U.S. population experiences seasonal depressive disorder, with the onset being between the ages of 18-30. Millennials are more depressed and anxious than previous generations partially due to the lack of resiliency skills, the impact of always being “plugged in,” and the self-imposed push to be the best. Combined with the usual stressors of college it can create a high-risk environment for many students.
While the holidays are often linked to the worsening of symptoms, the change in season along with the vacation days tend to be contributors as well. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression brought on by decreasing daylight with the shorter days of winter. Even without a diagnosis of SAD, individuals may still be impacted by a worsening of their ongoing depression or may experience the less severe “winter blues.” The added free time, change in daily structure, increased family contact, and all the well-known stressors of the holidays can also worsen a student’s depression and anxiety.
While free time is welcomed by most, everyone does not cope as well with a lack of structure. A depressed student may isolate, focus on lost loved ones, dwell in negative self-reflection, ruminate over finances or worry about acting happy around the holiday cheer. The holidays can also include negative family relations, excessive social obligations, an abundance of unhealthy food, and increased alcohol consumption, leading to sleep disruption, weight gain, and body aches.
How can I be kind to myself during the holidays?
Be kind to yourself and counteract your triggers and vulnerabilities by incorporating some of these tips into your holiday management plan.
- Plan Your Days: After a day or two of sleeping in and resting, get back to a consistent schedule filled with a balance of what you need to do and what you want to do.
- Practice Harm Reduction: Go ahead and have some sweets, partake in the eggnog and party, but set a limit for yourself. Eat one cookie instead of two; limit your alcohol and drink a glass of water in between drinks.
- Get Your Sunshine: Spend time in the daylight every day. Your body needs vitamin D, and the full-spectrum light will help beat the “winter blues.”
- Move It: Whether it is yoga, a walk, or some time at the gym, give your body the attention it needs. Get your heart pumping for 30 minutes, and you will be rewarded with a mood enhancement, not unlike the effect of an anti-depressant medication, plus it reduces anxiety and improves sleep.
- Set Limits: Pick and choose who, what, where and when. Reduce holiday obligations, and go to events you find enjoyable or leave early from ones that are not. With planning, it is possible to make choices and say no.
- Unplug the Holidays: Ever repeating seasonal music, holiday-themed commercials, and countless holiday TV shows or movies are always part of the season. Give your mind a break and unplug from the noise and focus on your mental health.
- Do Something Different: Volunteer at a soup kitchen, try a new activity, join a group of carolers. Anything that pulls you out of the same pattern or out of your head can make a difference in how you feel.
- Spend Time with Contributors: Whether staying on campus or returning home during the holidays, reach out and spend time with those who contribute to your life happiness and well-being.
- Me Time: College can be tough, and you may lose sight of what your body and mind need. For some, a fireplace and a good book recharge them, for others, it may be a pedicure or watching your favorite television show. Think about what gift can you give to yourself.
- Face the Loss: During the holidays, we do a mental inventory of who is no longer with us. Include them in your holiday by fixing their best dish, sharing great stories about them or creating a ritual to honor them.
- Be Mindful: Throughout the day return to the here and now. Pay attention to the present moment and how it feels without judgement.
- Try Pet Therapy: Who doesn’t feel better after hanging with a dog, cat or perhaps a horse? Look for opportunities to spend time with animals. Borrow a dog to go for a walk or run together. Visit a petting zoo.
- Less is More: Keep your expectations in balance, don’t strive to do too much. Look for happiness in what you can do and keep your expectations realistic.
- Look for the Good: Notice what is enjoyable and pleasant in your experiences. Remind yourself about the positives of the day and about yourself.
Pasadena Villa offers multiple levels of care that provide evidence-based treatment interventions that can help you recover from your anxiety or depression.