By this time, most people are already well into the “Holiday Spirit”. Unfortunately, for many, that means being overcommitted, over taxed, over spent and often frustrated with commitments or behaviors of friends, colleagues or other family members. Somehow this season of “joy and peace”, celebrating the coming of the Savior, is anything but that for many. There are many articles written about how to avoid holiday stress, but my suggestion is to see it as a gift.
I have been a therapist for many years and have taught numerous “Stress Management” Seminars. What I have learned is that distress and symptoms are positive, a gift if you may. Seminar leader, Gary Thomas, in his book Sacred Marriage, raises the question “what if Marriage was not intended to make people happy but to make them holy”. The same principle applies to the symptoms of distress—they point to area’s in which we may need to consider change.
- Over-spending- perhaps it is time to review spending habits
- Alcohol consumption- consider moderation, or even quitting
- Over commitment- time management
- Guilt or shame- grace to self and others
- Relationships—reconciliation, or perhaps a change in plans, or associations
- Over-eating- a healthy diet plan
- Lack of sleep- a plan for self-care
- Sadness or grief- the need for expression and support
The list goes on and on, but to be certain, each symptom has a cause and points to a remedy which results in good self-care and stress management techniques. We tend to look at symptoms as being negative and increasing our distress, but they point to the need for solutions. What if I were to ignore a pain in my side that was pointing to an appendicitis? Are stress symptoms any different? The tendency is to overlook, or deny them, which only makes them worse and increases the probability that they will continue, or intensify. Stress is characterized by a “fight, flight or freeze” response, but is intended to initiate us to action for our health.
There are some problems that have been persistent and resist individual attempts to change them. They may have become such a pattern that they resist correction by all of your “resolutions.” Rather than give up, seek out support from a trusted friend, mentor, pastor, or counselor. As a counselor and professional therapist, I am only too much aware that people often seek out help “too little, or too late.”
This holiday season, look on your symptoms as a “gift” that point the way to healing and peace– the indicators of good New Year’s resolutions to grow and change!
Lee Webster is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has over 40 years of counseling experience. He is also the founder and clinical director of the Center for Human Development. To learn more about Lee click here.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a mental health condition associated with depression during the fall and winter seasons of the year. The U.S. National Library of Medicine notes that “some people experience a serious mood change when the seasons change. They may sleep too much, have little energy, and may also feel depressed. Though symptoms can be severe, they usually clear up.”
SAD was formally described and named in 1984 by Norman E. Rosenthal and colleagues at the National Institute of Mental Health. Dr. Rosenthal a psychiatrist, author, and scientist is credited with identifying SAD, as well as, the use of light therapy for its treatment. Although experts were initially skeptical, this condition is now recognized as a common disorder. SAD’s prevalence in the U.S. ranges from 1.4% in Florida to 9.9% in Alaska.
SAD can often begin as mild depression and may progress to a more severe condition. As the days begin to shorten and available sunlight becomes scarce, some people themselves (or others) may see changes in their mood: they become irritable, possess low energy, are hypersensitive to criticism, and see changes in their appetite (craving for foods high in carbohydrates). Comparisons of people suffering from SAD to those of a bear preparing for hibernation have been made.
Light therapy is one way to treat SAD by exposure to artificial light. During light therapy, you sit or work near a device called a light therapy box. This box gives off bright light that mimics natural outdoor light. Light therapy is thought to cause a chemical change in the brain that lifts one’s mood and eases the symptoms of SAD.
In addition to light therapy, it is important to be sure that your levels of vitamin D are sufficient. People in Northern Climates simply do not get enough sunlight which supplies this vitamin. Vitamin D levels can be checked by your physician using a simple blood test.
Exercise and diet may also help relieve or reduce the symptoms of SAD.
Finally, remember that not all winter depression is related to SAD. If the above recommendations do not work, seek out a professional counselor.
As with most health issues it is important to seek help early because symptoms may start to develop as early as September. The sooner the SAD problem is addressed, the better. Winter can be a wonderful season and it provides for some very special activities that can be enjoyed by you and your family. It doesn’t have to be a SAD time..
Symptoms specific to winter onset of SAD may include:
Tiredness or low energy
Problems getting along with other people
Hypersensitivity to rejection
Heavy “leaden” feeling in the arms and legs
Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
Dave Tice is a licensed professional counselor at the Center with over 6 years of counseling experience. To learn more about Dave, or to set up an appointment click here.