Dr. Elspeth Bell Writes on Depression
Depressive symptoms often worsen during the winter, particularly around the holidays. What is often touted as the “hap-happiest time of the year” is, for many people, a stressful, isolating, and depressing time of the year. Here are some examples of how depression can hit with the holidays and some strategies for managing it.
You feel overwhelmed as your calendar gets filled up with commitments and obligations. Set limits as to what you will agree to do. Some people will only participate in one activity each weekend, setting aside the rest of their time for personal projects and relaxation. With families, it can be a good idea to restrict weekday commitments as well. Ask each person what holiday activity they consider to be most important. Make the space in the calendar for those priorities and then let other activities fit in around them where they can. The holidays aren’t about doing everything; they’re about enjoying the things that you choose to do.
You’re exhausted just looking at your “To Do” list. How does it keep growing with errands, last minute gifts, and overlooked details? Be realistic about what you can do and how much time or energy it will take to do each thing. There’s no rule that says you have to do everything or that everything has to be done right now. Delegate to others wherever possible.
Despite all your efforts, once-cleared spaces are now re-cluttered in the blink of an eye-junk mail increases 10-fold with the boom of catalogs and winter coats take up much more room than fall jackets.With busier schedules it’s even more tempting to put off those mundane tasks and chores; but with busier schedules it’s even more important to stay on top of these things. Because there’s so much more mail coming in each day, be sure to deal with it right away. Put coats and jackets away so they’re not filling up chairs and banisters.
Heck, there may even be a TREE inside your house! (Not to mention all the other holiday tchotchkes and tidbits that can get spread around.) Limit the decorations that you set-up in your space. The emphasis should be more on accenting your environment, not taking it over.
Winter Depression and Shortened Exposure to Daylight
A decreased exposure to sunlight has been correlated with an increase in depressive symptoms and a worsening of cognitive functioning. Exposure to sunlight, either outside or via a light box, can help boost your brain’s production of serotonin and melatonin. Both of these neurochemicals are shown to affect mood and cognitive functioning.
When to Seek Help
Most people report feeling down or blue from time to time. These situations become concerning when the feelings are more intense, last for an extended period of time, or interfere with your ability to do the things that are important in your life. If you feel overwhelmed by your sadness or find that you’ve lost your energy to do things, there are resources available in your community. Please contact
a primary care physician,
a therapist (Psychologist, Social Worker, or Counselor),
– Elspeth Bell, Ph.D.
(Our thanks to Dr. Elspbeth Bell for writing this timely article. Dr. Bell’s office is located in Columbia, Maryland. You can reach her at 410-480-8052 or at www.elspethbellphd.com)