Judging by popular movies and television sitcoms, December should be a merry time of year, filled with festivities and family get-togethers. Even when that family is somewhat dysfunctional, quirks and conflicts only serve to bring everyone closer together and everything works out before the end credits roll.
Real life is rarely like that. Sadly, for some, December is a dreary time of year. Perhaps they’ve drifted away from their family or are separated by long distances. Perhaps they find it difficult to form close friendships and have no one with whom to share the holidays. Even if they have family and friends, they may be facing stress and anxiety about paying for the holidays and all the gifts they want to give.
Even those for whom the season holds no religious significance may find this time of year difficult. The days are short and what sunlight we have is often filtered through thick clouds.
While everyone feels blue occasionally, particularly at this time of year, understand that there’s a difference between feeling blue and suffering from depression. Depression is a serious mental health issue and if you’re afflicted with it, you should seek professional help.
What can you do to cope with December blues?
Depending on the causes of your separation from family and friends, you may have to simply find acceptance and move on. But if it is safe to reconnect, do so. No, not just email or text; pick up the phone and actually talk with them. Don’t feel you need to clear the air by rehashing old conflicts. Just say hello, let them know you miss them, and ask them how they’re doing. Even if it doesn’t lead to the classic family get-together, at least you know you’ve done your best.
Exercise is a great mood stabilizer. When you exercise, your body produces endorphins, a class of hormones that trigger positive feelings. Short periods of vigorous cardio exercise is best – if your health allows it – but even a brisk 30-minute walk a day will help. Weather permitting, walk outside for some fresh air and natural light. (To be safe, consult your doctor before starting any exercise program.)
Eat healthy foods. Much of our mental health depends on our physical health, which in turn depends on what we eat. Eat – but don’t overeat – balanced meals and avoid junk foods and fad diets.
Help others. It’s a fact of life that we feel better about ourselves when we show kindness to others. This could include volunteering at your local food bank or homeless shelter, but it could also be as simple as doing a favour for a neighbour in need.
Recognize the signs. Since relatively minor issues can deteriorate into major ones, it’s important to recognize when “the blues” are developing into full-blown depression. Depression – like any mental health condition – can affect anyone any time, including the people you work with. Our 3-hour workshop What Supervisors and Managers Need to Know helps you to learn not only how to effectively recognize mental health related concerns – including depression – but also how to implement a practical process for supporting all employees in the workplace. Our more comprehensive 2-day Mental Health First Aid Workshop equips you with mental health crisis first aid procedures, resources, and appropriate treatments.
December doesn’t have to be a depressing time of year. If you’re feeling low, practice some self-care. Talk to a friend. Engage in some physical activity. Help others. Get professional help if necessary. And remember, before the month is out, the days start getting longer (at least for those of us in the northern hemisphere) and spring is just around the corner.
Seasonal Affective Disorder – SAD – can hit a person at any time of year, but it’s most common in winter. SAD can cause such complaints as low energy and fatigue, trouble concentrating, a unusual desire for solitude, increased appetite, and weight gain as one tries to counter negative emotions with comfort food.
If you think you may be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder, consult your doctor. After an affirmative diagnosis, you may be prescribed anti-depressants, psychotherapy, or light therapy.
In light therapy, specially designed lamps deliver low-UV bright light that simulates sunlight without damaging your eyes. It’s believed that the light entering your eyes sends a message to your brain, triggering the release of a neurotransmitter called serotonin that, among many other functions, helps to improve mood and reduce anxiety and depression