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Feeling SAD during the Winter Months: What You Can Do

Cardinal Innovations Healthcare — December 21, 2018 — 3 min read
December 21 is the winter solstice, marking the start of winter and the shortest day of 2018 with the least amount of sunlight. With that, comes an increased chance of experiencing a serious mood change. Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a type of depression triggered when there is less natural sunlight. Our clinicians have come up with a list of activities below that can help protect your mental health during winter.

Not everyone has the same SAD symptoms. Some common ones, according to MentalHealth.gov, include:
  • Sad, anxious or “empty” feelings
  • Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions
  • Difficulty sleeping or oversleeping
  • Changes in weight
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
Treatment
SAD can be treated with light therapy, but sometimes people also need antidepressants and therapy. Our clinicians suggest the following activities that have been proven to help reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness that can come with the darker, colder months in winter.

Britney Phifer, Utilization Management Clinical Manager at Cardinal Innovations and a licensed therapist, said intentionally seeking interaction with others is crucial this time of year to protect one’s mental health.

“We really want to drive home the importance of interacting with other people,” Phifer said. “Like the way physical activity is good for your body, social activity is good for your brain. Multiple studies show it leads to better cognitive function in addition to improving mental health overall.”

Here are some tips to help protect your mental health this winter:

Care for your overall health. Physical activity reduces depression and anxiety. Adequate nutrition is also important to maintaining your mental health during the winter months.

Tips: If getting adequate nutrition is difficult, look into Meals on Wheels, a program which can deliver hot meals to you. Try to find a safe, warm and accessible place to exercise such as an indoor track or pool, a gym or even a mall where you can walk for exercise. Some community centers or community colleges may offer exercise classes.

Find a social activity that creates a community. Multiple studies conclude that a social support network and social interaction reduce negative mental health symptoms.

Tip: Head to the local community center for social interaction. Look for meet-up groups, book clubs, interest groups or groups online.

Interact with a pet. Pet owners get more physical exercise and have lower triglyceride levels than their non-pet-owning counterparts.

Tip: If it’s not possible to own a pet, consider finding a volunteer opportunity with a local animal shelter or Humane Society where you can interact with the animals or temporarily foster a pet until it can be placed in its permanent home.

Volunteer. People who spent time volunteering experienced a greater psychological well-being, according to one study.

Tips: Consider finding a way to share your talents through teaching and tutoring, mentoring, childcare and in other ways. You can often identify volunteer opportunities using the internet, local library, community center or through a church or religious center.

Protect each other. Be a community ambassador in the fight against isolation and loneliness by keeping an eye out for neighbors who do not leave their homes and have infrequent visitors.

“We want to empower people to watch for isolation and loneliness,” Phifer said. “They can be on the lookout for others who might be experiencing these symptoms.”

As a final reminder, individuals who find themselves or a loved one in need of immediate mental health support are encouraged to call our 24/7 Access and Crisis Line at 1-800-939-5911.
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