Despite the excitement that comes with the winter months and associated holiday season, it’s normal for individuals to feel a bit down. The cold and darkness have a lot to do with the change in mood that many people feel. And while some may shrug it off as the “winter blues” or “seasonal funk,” there is more to it than that.
What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
A type of depression, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) typically comes and goes based on the different seasons. The condition often peaks in the dark, cold months of autumn and winter and then subsides in the warmer, brighter months of spring and summer. Regardless, it is a misconception that SAD is a “lighter” version of major depression. Rather this condition is a more specific kind or type of major depression. The symptoms of seasonal affective disorder are simply experienced at a particular time of year – with the changing of the seasons – and then subside or go into remission.
The specific cause of SAD is yet unknown. However, research indicates that several factors may contribute to this type of depression. The change in hours of sunlight during the winter months interrupts the natural circadian rhythm, which, in turn, reduces levels of serotonin and melatonin in the body. These chemicals are responsible for regulating mood and sleep respectively and are major contributors to depression.
In most cases of SAD, symptoms start out mild and become more severe with the progression of the season. The most common symptoms include:
• A pervasive feeling of depression most days of the week
• A lack of interest in once enjoyable activities
• A general feeling of low energy or fatigue
• A reoccurring trouble sleeping
• Otherwise unexplained changes in weight or appetite
• A change in ability to concentrate
• A unspecified feeling of hopelessness, worthlessness, or guilt
While it is less common, some individuals may experience the opposite pattern of the condition and have symptoms that peak in spring or summer. Regardless, the symptoms are typically the same, as is the progression of symptoms.
Who Is At Risk for SAD?
SAD can affect anyone; however, several factors have been found to increase one’s risk of the condition. The condition is typically diagnosed more frequently in women than men as well as younger adults versus older adults. Additionally, individuals are at an increased risk for the disorder if they:
• Have a family history of the SAD or another type of depression
• Have been diagnosed mental health condition, such as major depression
• Live far from the equator where the differences between winter and summer are even greater
What Are the Best Ways to Manage Seasonal Affective Disorder?
SAD can have a major impact on one’s productivity and day-to-day lifestyle, so it’s important for individuals to find effective ways to manage their condition:
1. Seek light.
As an obvious contributor to SAD, light is also an effective therapy for treating the condition. Because natural light is in such short supply during the winter months, though, a light box may be a necessary management tool. To get the most benefit, individuals should look for a light box that generates at least 10,000 lux of white or blue light.
2. Take vitamin D.
Most individuals get significantly less sunlight during winter, which also affects the amount of vitamin D produced in the body. Getting enough of this important nutrient can also help manage depression. Several foods are naturally rich in vitamin D; however, it is best for individuals struggling with the disorder to take a dietary supplement through the winter months.
3. Get active.
Maintaining a regimen of low-intensity exercise, even as little as 1 hour each week, can offset the fatigue and lethargy that are hallmark symptoms of SAD. Exercise not only boosts endorphins – the feel good chemicals in the body – but it also helps regulate the circadian rhythm and can support better day-night cycles in individuals struggling with SAD.
4. Seek help.
Often individuals struggling with SAD and other forms of depression are tempted to withdraw and avoid seeking personal interaction of any kind. One of the best things individuals struggling with seasonal affective disorder can do, though, is keep in touch with trusted family members and friends and seek help when they need it. This help may also include care from a certified professional who can help establish an effective plan for managing the disorder.
While it is normal to experience an ebb and flow of feelings, especially during the winter months, if it affects one’s ability to live life and maintain a normal routine, it’s a problem. At this point seeking care from a reliable mental health professional can make all the difference.
Body image can be defined as “the way that someone perceives his or her body and assumes perceive him or her.” For many, this discernment is how they define themselves. If the perception is positive, one is said to have a positive body image; however, if it is negative, the individual likely struggles with negative body image. Unfortunately, the majority of women and even a high percentage of men struggle with poor body image at some point in their lives.
If an individual with negative body image seeks out constructive coping mechanisms to deal with the issue, then he or she may be able to overcome it. More often, though, the individual falls into negative thought and behavior patterns that lead to self-deprecation and issues, such as an eating disorder. In fact, some statistics show that as many as 30 million people will suffer from some form of an eating disorder during their lifetimes.
What Is Body Image?
Perceptions of self begin forming at a very young age. Even as early as toddlerhood, boys and girls begin learning a sense of self and may even define themselves based on labels they have heard used – pretty, chubby, short, tall, small…
Body image and the associated perceptions are typically based on the individual’s perception of his or her overall attractiveness, health, acceptability, and functionality. Over time, these ideas are solidified with feedback from other peers, friends, family members, caregivers, teachers, coaches, etc.
What Causes Negative Body Image?
The media is one of the most significant contributors to negative body image. Television, magazines, movies, and social media presents individuals who are thin, attractive, and intelligent as the most acceptable, desirable, and valuable. And many young people begin to judge their own bodies in relation to those they see on screens and in print.
Not only that, but negative experiences associated with one’s body can lead to an individual developing a negative perception of him or herself. For example, an athlete who is negatively critiqued by her coach in regards to the size or shape of her body may develop a negative sense of self-worth.
Poor body image can be exacerbated by certain personality traits, such as perfectionism and self-criticism. Constant self-scrutiny and/or comparison to others can further ingrain the idea of being inadequate or unfit in one’s mind.
What Is the Impact of Poor Body Image?
Body image is linked to self-esteem. As such, poor body image often manifests as low self-esteem and contributes to dangerous behaviors, such as promiscuity, substance abuse, eating disorders, and even suicidal thoughts. If left untreated, these issues can be life altering and even life threatening.
What Are Effective Ways to Deal with Distorted Body Image?
Overcoming distorted body image is a difficult and deeply personal journey. Because of the nature of the issue, however, many individuals require intentional treatment and support to recover and regain a more positive sense of self.
One of the first steps toward dealing with distorted body image is learning to recognize and acknowledge that one’s thoughts and feelings toward his or her body aren’t necessarily reality. Cognitive behavioral therapy is one approach that can help individuals work through this process and learn to utilize more positive and rational self-talk.
Reinforcing a positive body image is also important. To do this, an individual needs to learn to identify his or her triggers for negative self-talk and poor body image and find ways to recognize his or her strengths – physical, emotional, and otherwise. Group therapy or counseling may be helpful in this pursuit as both serve to support self-exploration and healing.
Additionally, self-care can help individuals regain a more positive sense of self. Such habits as exercise, gratitude, affirmations, and nutrition helps the individual focus on taking care of him or herself as a whole, replacing value on who he or she is as a person rather than just a perception. This approach is an investment in one’s self that emphasizes feeling as good as possibly – physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Poor body image is an issue that plagues the majority of people today. Although it often starts as a negative thought, it can develop into a lifelong battle and lead to issues of negative self-talk, low self-esteem, and even self-mutilation. Fortunately, there are effective ways for individuals to overcome poor body image; however, more awareness and support is needed for individual’s dealing with the issue to feel comfortable speaking up and asking for help.
The topic of suicide has been in news of late, because of the recent deaths of noted celebrities Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. But suicide rates had been increasing way before their deaths. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that suicides have increased by more than 30% in less than two decades and that suicide is now the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.
Dr. Anne Schuchat, who is the CDC's principal deputy director, believes that the problem of suicide relates not just to how mental health professionals treat the problem. More to the point, she says that mental health institutions alone cannot solve the problem.
Why Mental Health Professionals Cannot Stop All Suicides
According to the CDC, in 2016 around 45,000 Americans committed suicide. At the same time, in about half of these cases the victim was not suffering from any mental health issue that anyone was aware of. This means that mental health professionals could not have helped these people. Another problem is that it is often difficult to detect when someone is suffering from mental illness.
Sometimes medical professionals fail to diagnose depression and other mental illnesses. Other times such diagnoses never occur because the sufferers keep the symptoms to themselves out of fear of being stigmatized. Loved ones often fail to see symptoms for the very same reason.
This means that, to decrease suicide rates, it is up to society as a whole to change. It must do this by creating an environment where people want to seek help and will not feel stigmatized by doing so. If people see depression and other mental health issues as real diseases they will be more likely to treat them like they would treat other diseases.
Why Middle-Age People Are Especially Susceptible to Suicide
Both Spade and Bourdain were part of an age group that is especially susceptible to suicide: those who are middle aged. According to Schuchat, not only do people in this age range have the highest rates of suicide, but they also are suffering the greatest increases in suicide rates.
Schuchat further says that middle-aged people also have more drug overdoses than people in other age groups. She says that people in this age group likely have these problems in higher numbers because economic problems can affect them disproportionately. This means that there needs to be an outreach specifically to people in this age group.
How the Mental Health Profession Can Improve the Prevention of Suicides
While suicides should not be considered purely a problem with mental health institutions, that does not mean that they cannot improve as well. There needs to be more intervention at the early stages of mental illness instead of just when someone reaches a critical stage.
There also needs to be more community support programs that provide direct help in both schools and workplaces. Countries that have extensive community programs, such as the United Kingdom, have been shown to reduce suicide rates, even if they do not reduce the occurrences of mental illness.
It's an unfortunate fact that the major family-oriented holidays occur during the darkest winter months. The minimal natural light and cold temperatures tend to intensify feelings that are associated with depression and sadness. Low natural light and harsh environmental conditions are a fact of life. These are things that make dealing with especially difficult around the holidays.
Grief is defined as the personal actualization of loss. The emptiness that is caused by the loss of a loved one, or a radical shift in life events is hard enough to comprehend without added environmental factors. One of the primary notions that CBT and counseling instills is the importance of realizing that loss can be combated during any seasonal condition.
Suffering from the feelings of loss is an extraordinarily personal activity. The conundrum of losing a loved one creates the need to hide away. Certain involuntary actions make a person adopt a reclusive lifestyle. It is absolutely imperative that someone dealing with the loss of a loved one should seek opportunities to interact with others. This is particularly troublesome during the holidays. All traditional events are centered on public interactivity. Loneliness, and the feeling of loss, compel a person to withdraw. Even if no meaningful connections are made during the holidays, participating in lively events is powerful in countering negative feelings.
Radical Environmental Changes
It is proven that people suffering from conditions like the loss of loved ones experience physical changes. One of these is the release of the stress hormone Cortisol. This hormone contributes to negative metabolic functions like weight gain, plus extends periods of mental cloudiness. People dealing with troubles during the holidays can fight physiological responses with good lighting. A home decorated in high intensity LED lighting not only provides a fun display for viewers, but gives beneficial light for people struggling with hormonal imbalances due to prolonged depression.
Become the Life of the Holiday Festivities
The feelings associated with grief are powerful. They compel a person to focus on the most horrible aspects of an event, or personal story. It is important to remember that lost loved ones ultimately would want their survivors to experience the best in life. Try honoring the unspoken wishes of a late loved ones by getting involved in holiday events and activities.
Volunteer for community holiday celebrations. Make it a point to donate to holiday charities. Open your home to a network of people who are involved in creating interesting holiday functions. If the loss of something, or someone is particularly tough during this season, allowing yourself to reconnect with people is a powerful tool in curbing negative thoughts associated with previous setbacks. Opening oneself to the positivity and celebration of others during the holidays is a simple and effective coping mechanism.
One of the most difficult jobs of a counselor is educating individuals about the intimate elements of dealing with grief. Every person has a unique response to the loss of something important. These responses tend to emerge during holiday seasons that center on interpersonal relations. After dealing with a period of negative feelings, it is difficult for a person to rejoin family and friends in a holiday celebration. A counselor can illustrate why seasonal social activity is important for regaining a hold on life after loss.
Many simple and complex actions can be taken to provide a person suffering from loss with the tools needed to rebuild a foothold on living well. The holiday season is a difficult time to start these actions, but it is also a time where therapeutic actions work the best. If a person works with a certified counselor to understand the many facets of their sadness, worry, and despair, they can learn to use the holiday season as the perfect time to achieve an emotional turnaround.
Practical things like attending social events and installing adequate lighting in the home help with curbing symptoms of sadness. Consistent professional counseling however, is the key overcoming the curse of being grieved. Don't let another holiday season go by without seeking professional counseling to address tough life issues.