What do the lonely do at Christmas?


tree dreamIf you are old enough to remember the group, The Emotions, then you also know that the title of this post was the title of a song performed by them. I loved this group of women singers, grew up with their songs playing on the radio, and when feeling nostalgic, I find their music online or in my personal collection and play it ad nauseum. So appropriate is that song to this time of year-the holiday season.

This year, in particular, I found that song appropriate to my situation, to the point of never before acknowledging those holidays along the years that I have spent alone. As a loner for the most part, it is during the holidays that those without family, friends or acquaintances tend to feel their situations deeply. It is said that during the winter months, when days are shorter, in terms of sunlight, people become susceptible to Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD.

SAD was first described as a syndrome involving depressive episodes that recur and remit annually in certain seasons. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders includes a seasonal pattern specifier that can be applied to recurrent major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder in cases where the major depressive episodes recur in a particular season and fully remit or change to mania or hypomania at a characteristic time of year.

An estimated 10 to 20 percent of recurrent depression cases follow a seasonal pattern. Although a summer pattern of recurrence is possible, the predominant pattern involves fall/winter depression with spring/summer remission. Young adults and women are most likely to experience SAD with the reported gender difference ranging from 2:1 to 9:1. SAD also has been identified in children and adolescents. Not limited to the mood disorders, seasonal patterns have been identified in bulimia nervosa, anxiety disorders, and other psychiatric conditions.

SAD is a psychological disorder or mental health condition in which a generalized depression or depressive state characterizes a person’s mood. People with SAD may be more likely to have blood relatives with SAD or another form of depression. Having major depression or bipolar disorder may worsen the symptoms. SAD is sometimes known as “winter depression” because the symptoms are more apparent and tend to be more severe during the winter. The symptoms often begin in the autumn as the days start getting shorter.

Although there is no specific diagnostic test for the illness, it is understood that since it is a form of depression, the symptoms of the condition include tiredness, fatigue, sadness or a sense of general discontent, crying spells, irritability, apathy, trouble concentrating, body aches, loss of sex drive, poor sleep, ….  Some people can be affected in reverse and experience depression during the summer months, but this is very rare. The nature and severity of SAD varies from person to person.

DANCINGTreatment includes light therapy (phototherapy), talk therapy, and medications.  Practicing self care helps. Aerobic activity for 20-30 minutes 5 days a week will help to improve cardiovascular health. It can be as effective as medication. Regular exercise is a powerful way to fight seasonal depression, especially if you’re able to exercise outside in natural daylight.

 

Although the connection between exercise and depression is still debatable, there’s evidence physical activity— especially aerobic exercise — not only boosts your brain’s levels of serotonin but also keeps those levels elevated for hours after your workout, according to a paper from Princeton University.

The most widely used and extensively investigated treatment for SAD is light therapy (i.e., daily exposure to a box containing fluorescent lamps during the symptomatic months). Certain activities, such as reading, are not prohibited as long as the user can maintain the appropriate position and distance from the unit. Available guidelines recommend administering light therapy under the supervision of a qualified professional.  In clinical settings, the specific light therapy prescription is often tailored to the individual’s sleep-wake patterns, side effects, and preferences. Side effects to light therapy are generally mild and ameliorated by dose manipulations, but can include headache, eyestrain, and psychomotor agitation.

What can you do to fight and/or cope with SAD?

  • Get a light box. If your outdoor hours are limited during the winter months, a light box might be a worthwhile investment. …
  • Keep exercising. …
  • Add a vitamin D supplement.
  • Get outside. …
  • Talk it out. …
  • Eat a healthy diet. …
  • Reach out for help.

The most important thing one can do in the presence of signs and symptoms of seasonal affective disorder is to seek help and advice by consulting with a mental health professional. Start with your family physician. If you’re feeling a little depressed, then stay busy, call a friend, take a walk, or go out into the sunlight. Believe that it is only temporary, and that you can change your situation. AND, remember that just because you are alone, you don’t have to feel lonely. Some people would ‘kill’to have precious alone time. For now, know that if ever you feel overwhelmed by depressive symptoms, you don’t have to go through it alone and you are not alone. Seek help, ask for help, and get help. Reach out…even at Christmas! I did!

phone call

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