Health and wellness touch everyone’s life differently. This is one person’s story.
I’ve built a successful blog and an entire online network around how holistic faith can complement mental health — but I’ve never been immune to my own challenges. In fact, last year was one of my roughest holiday seasons ever.
The weight of various losses in my life began to weigh on me, and during an episode of anxiety, I found myself seeking help. I ended up withdrawing from social media through the new year in an effort to re-center my thoughts and re-anchor my spirit. I also united with a mentor, who reminded me of who I was, and helped get my vision back on track.
But even though I was proactive in my recovery, I was still challenged by my thoughts every day. And I know that I’m not alone.
Going toe to toe with anxiety or depression on any day of the year is difficult enough. Pile on the spirited air of holiday cheer, and what should be a time of merriment and magic, for many, only creates deeper emotional dissonance.
And it’s that dissonance that make you aware that your mental state and emotions are measurably out of touch with the world around you. Especially when you’re experiencing deep loss, the lows of mental illness, or distance from loved ones, the winter season takes a highlighter to underlying sorrows.
Is it sorrow or seasonal depression?
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also known as seasonal depression, is a type of major depressive disorder tied to the changes in season and neurochemical imbalances in the brain. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, between 4 and 6 percent of people in the United States experience SAD. As much as 20 percent may have a mild form. SAD is more common among women and young adults.
However, it’s important to understand that there’s an identifiable difference between seasonal depression and what I would term “situational sadness.”
Situational sadness is natural and momentary sorrow tied to a situation of change or loss in life. For example, it’s natural to mourn the memory of a loved one who is lost to you during the celebration of the holidays. It’s natural to feel a loss when you’re away from your community of family and friends. It’s natural to feel the pangs of a breakup, job change, or the weight of major transitions that have shifted the usual dynamic of your holidays.
On the contrary, identifying seasonal depression would start with being able to recognize a pattern of depression that onsets during the same time of year. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, some of these signs and symptoms include:
- feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
- feeling hopeless or worthless
- losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
- experiencing fatigue and sleep problems
- experiencing changes in your appetite or weight
- having difficulty concentrating
- having frequent thoughts of death or suicide
- social withdrawal
Here are some steps that may help you manage situational sadness or grief this holiday season.
Step 1: Allow yourself to be vulnerable
If you’re struggling this season, the first thing I suggest is this: Acknowledge it.
I wish I were able to blink my eyes and be able to help others to get to the other side of the mourning process. However, I know that humility grows from this very vulnerability. It’s where compassion is fostered and an uncommon strength arises that makes us better human beings, if we allow it to shape us accordingly. There are things that we can only acquire in broken places.
One promise that always anchors me in my hardest hours, and which has always come true, derives from my faith: “And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore you, secure you, strengthen you, and establish you.” (1 Peter 5:10).
Whatever form your spirituality takes, acknowledge your struggles. Know they can eventually become strengths.
Step 2: Prepare yourself for winter
If you’re aware that the winter season is rough for you, then look out for yourself by having an action plan prepared ahead of time. Get in the habit of being proactive, instead of reactive, about your mental health.
1. Create a self-care plan
Come up with a list of activities you can do, or people you can call in advance to help lessen the blow of hard days.
2. Invest in a light box
Light therapy has been known to help offset the side effects of lacking sunlight during the winter, especially in cases of SAD.
3. Read something inspirational every day
If you’re spiritual, Advent devotionals can help keep your focus on the reason for the season. It can be hard to be consistent in spiritual growth when feeling emotionally trapped, but apps like YouVersion can help, and they even send reminders.
And if you aren’t spiritual, there are plenty of other apps out there offering daily motivational quotes, videos, and tips to help you be your best self.
4. Get your body moving
The mind-body connection is stronger than most people realize. Not only does exercise encourage proactive behavior, but it’s been shown to release endorphins in the brain, which can give your mood a boost. Exercise can also help you sleep better, aid concentration, and up your confidence.
5. Create a morning routine
Whether it’s waking up to your favorite playlist or setting aside time for a moment of stillness and prayer, creating a morning routine that sets you up for the day ahead — both physically and mentally — can help act as an anchor to positively starting your day.
6. Go on a social media sabbatical
Instead of focusing on everyone else, use this time to get realigned with your priorities, work on personal development, and practice being present. Your future self will thank you.
7. Journal your experience
Not only does journaling help you keep track of your mood and what may be contributing to it, it can also be an encouraging reminder that you have the ability to get through some of your worst days. Never underestimate the therapeutic effect of writing through your thoughts.
Step 3: Move forward
It’s so easy to get caught up in all the cultural ideas that surround the holidays: the consumerism, the well-organized get-togethers, the winter romance. But if you’re experiencing anxiety, depression, or any other diagnosis, it can be helpful — especially if you celebrate Christmas — to remind yourself what this holiday is about.
Instead of pressuring yourself with the standard of the season, sit with your soul and give it the care it needs. Take a deep breath. Give yourself permission to do this.
Finally, while perhaps this isn’t how you pictured the holidays, that only means one thing: You are human. Give yourself the grace to process where you are. Prioritize the support and personal changes you need to get yourself to a better place.
Take it from someone who’s been there.
Brittney Moses is passionate about seeing this generation live on purpose. The Los Angeles native is currently a clinical psychology major advancing into the fields of therapy and mental health, but her favorite part of life is being called “Mommy” to her sweet son, Austin. Brittney’s mission exists around encouraging genuine faith and mental wellness for healthy everyday living. Connect with her on her website.