Coping with the Holidays and Winter Blues

“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!” That may be true for many people, but for some, the holidays and winter can be difficult. People struggling with mental health and addiction symptoms often feel triggered during this time of year. From stressful family encounters to exposure to substances like alcohol at parties, or even cold weather keeping you indoors, all of these can lead to an increase in feelings of depression and anxiety or increased substance use.

What does depression or anxiety even look like?

Often times, people don’t know exactly what anxiety and depression look like, and everyone experiences symptoms differently.

Anxiety symptoms may include:

  • nervous feelings you can’t shake
  • thoughts that go circle in your head
  • inability to concentrate
  • sleeping too little or too much
  • feelings of panic
  • shortness of breath
  • feelings of being overwhelmed
  • gastrointestinal issues
  • headaches

Depression symptoms can include:

  • having trouble getting out of bed
  • feeling low more days out of the week than not
  • crying episodes
  • feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness
  • lack of motivation
  • inability to concentrate
  • sleeping too much or too little
  • loss of appetite
  • thoughts of self-harm or suicide

How do I know if my substance use has gotten out of control?

If your substance use is negatively affecting your life in any of the following ways, it might be time to reach out for help:

1. It’s causing you problems in your relationships with others, specifically loved ones.

2. It’s causing you problems at work. You have been late or missed any days within the last month because of substance use. You are in danger of losing your job because of your substance use.

3. You are driving while under the influence.

4. You have lost interest in things you used to like doing because of your substance use.

5. You are experiencing any health problems because of your substance use.

6. You have to use your substance at any point during the day, just to “get through/cope with the day.

7. You experience any kind of withdrawal symptoms (nausea, shaking, anxiety, vomiting) when you are not using.

8. You are binging on your substance during the weekend. For alcohol use, this includes: consuming five or more drinks on a single occasion for men or four or more drinks on an occasion for women.

How can I cope? What can I do?

There are options. Healthy coping skills aren’t developed overnight, just as mental health and addiction symptoms aren’t either. It takes time, practice, and patience. Everyone’s coping skills look different, but here are a few options if the holiday or winter seasons have you feeling overwhelmed:

  1. Exercise. It can be tough to want to exercise when busy with holiday functions or with the lack of sunshine. Even a 15-minute walk three times a week is a step in the right direction.
  2. Find time for meditation/mindfulness/gratitude exercises. This can seem like a daunting task during the season of “go go go.” Even 5-10 minutes of meditation/mindfulness/gratitude or 20 seconds of deep breathing can do wonders if you give yourself the time. Plenty of mobile apps can get you started. (“Calm” or “Gratitude 365” are options.)
  3. Set boundaries. “No” is a complete sentence. Recognize when you are stretching yourself too thin. If certain family members or friends are triggers for you, it’s okay to allow yourself not to engage with those individuals if it means protecting your well-being.
  4. Talk to your loved ones. Often, loved ones either don’t know or have no idea where to start to help. It can feel scary to take this step, but often times loved ones just want to help.
  5. Seek outside help. Therapy can seem intimidating if you have never been. As a mental health professional, even I see a therapist twice a month. It’s important to normalize seeking out treatment and to break the stigma around mental health and substance abuse issues. 

If you are currently experiencing thoughts of harming yourself or others, immediately seek help by calling 911, going to your nearest emergency room, or dialing 1.800.273.8255.

Jennifer Weaver has a Master’s degree In Counseling and is a National Board-Certified Counselor. She is the Director of Intensive Outpatient Services at Foundations Memphis IOP (Intensive Outpatient Program), a multidisciplinary approach program that helps treat individuals struggling with mental health and substance abuse issues. To make an appointment for a clinical assessment with her, call 901.722.3975.

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