Keeping your cheer this holiday season

by Rhonda Hunnicutt, RN, Wesley NurseSue

…. A time to weep and a time to laugh… Ecclesiastes 3:4

It's hard to believe that December is already here! For many, it's a season of joy, of love, and celebration of Christ's birth. For others, the holiday season, not just Christmas, is a dark time spent alone reflecting on the loss of loved ones, a time of loneliness, and despair. A condition known appropriately as S.A.D., can exacerbate those feelings in some people. S.A.D. , or Seasonal Affective Disorder, is a mood disorder prevalent in winter months, due to shortened days and decreased sunlight. Though more common in northern climates, it is no less serious among those who suffer from S.A.D. in the south. Most people are somewhat familiar with symptoms of depression- symptoms of S.A.D. are much the same. To name just a few: decreased energy and interest in favorite activities; difficulty concentrating or remembering things; irritability; sadness; feelings of guilt or hopelessness; sleeping too much or too little; thoughts of death.

The good news is, that as days lengthen and sunlight increases again, S.A.D. symptoms usually abate on their own. And there is treatment. However, no one should have to suffer through a season with this depressive mood disorder needlessly. For some people, relief comes as simply as first recognizing the feelings and symptoms at the onset, opening the shades to let in more natural sunlight, or even better, getting outdoors to combine sunlight and activity/exercise. Exercise doubles the benefit because as activity or exercise decreases stress, it also releases endorphins that boost mood and coping ability. Other ways of coping with symptoms are deep breathing, prayer, and laughter…difficult to think of doing at this time, but so important to remember to do.

Of course, this article is not meant to diagnose or treat any mood disorders, rather, to raise awareness. If you are experiencing these symptoms more severely, and are not able to alleviate with simple measures, you should seek help from your health care provider who can properly diagnose and treat your symptoms.

The take away message that I want to leave you with is that you are not alone! Visit with your pastor or other trusted members of the church, your health care provider… surround yourself with positive people who don't encourage negative self-talk or feelings. Have lunch with a friend. Take walks with a buddy. Focus on the blessings you have in your life. Volunteer your services to others as a means of bringing clarity and purpose to your life. Anyone of us has the potential to fall victim to S.A.D. or other depressive disorders- recognition, action, and treatment are key to overcoming. And as quickly as December came, the longer, darker days of winter will be gone again. Until next time, be well, and be blessed.

Rhonda Hunnicutt, RN, is a Wesley Nurse with Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas, Inc. Methodist Healthcare Ministres' Wesley Nurse program is a faith-based, holistic health and wellness program committed to serving the least served through education, health promotion and collaboration with individual and community in achieving improved wellness through self-empowerment.