Your friends are busy hall decking, tree trimming, gift giving and merrymaking, but you can’t seem to find the holiday spirit. Is it just the winter blahs or something more serious? The truth is, you may be one of millions of Americans suffering from the sometimes debilitating effects of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or social anxiety disorder.
It’s normal to occasionally feel sad or anxious, but these feelings are usually short-lived and pass fairly quickly. Seasonal affective disorder and social anxiety interfere with daily life and cause pain for both you and those who care about you. While your best option for success is to consult a health care professional, these strategies may help alleviate the symptoms of SAD:
- Light therapy. Since lack of sunlight is the main cause of SAD, using a light therapy box can provide relief. Light therapy boxes are available at many drug and big box stores and are typically used for about 30 minutes each morning.
- Healthy eating. Eating healthy foods at regular mealtimes can help control mood swings and the weight gain that is common in people with SAD.
- As with other forms of depression, physical activity is beneficial for those with SAD. If the weather makes it impossible to get outside, choose a workout spot near a window.
- Sleeping at the right times and in the right amount can make a difference. People with SAD often have trouble sleeping at night and getting up in the morning. Stick to a regular schedule so you’re exposed to light at consistent and predictable times.
- This seems obvious, but those with SAD may feel like doing anything but going outside. Bundle up if it’s cold, and try to take a noontime stroll when the sun is brightest. When indoors, keep your blinds open as much as possible.
- A winter vacation might be just the thing to lift your spirits, but only if it’s to a warmer, sunnier location.
Fall and winter can also be very difficult for someone with social anxiety as they attempt to navigate parties, family gatherings and increased social obligations. Social anxiety is more than just shyness or occasional nerves; it involves an intense fear of embarrassment that results in sufferers going to great lengths to avoid situations that might trigger it.
As with SAD, professional treatment is recommended, but here are four things that you can do on your own to help you feel less anxious:
- Challenge negative thoughts. Untrue beliefs and negative thoughts are hallmarks of social anxiety and can overwhelm sufferers. Identify the automatic negative thought in any situation and challenge it by asking if it’s an absolute truth or only a potential or imagined outcome.
- Learn to control your breath. Anxiety causes your breathing to accelerate, which compounds the physical symptoms of anxiety, including dizziness, faintness, increased heart rate and muscle tension. Practice relaxation breathing techniques so you’ll be prepared to combat this stress response.
- Face your fears. Social anxiety is a vicious cycle that is amplified by avoidance. Start small by joining one friend on an outing, then work your way up to joining a group of like-minded people who share an interest or hobby. You can also benefit from classes that build social and communication skills and assertiveness.
- Adopt healthy habits. Lifestyle changes alone aren’t enough to overcome social anxiety, but they can certainly help. Exercising, eating right, getting enough sleep, avoiding caffeine and other stimulants, and limiting alcohol are good practices for social anxiety sufferers.
If you believe that you may be suffering from SAD or social anxiety, please don’t hesitate to ask for help. If you don’t have a regular doctor or it’s past office hours or a weekend, Medical City Healthcare has 17 emergency locations open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with average wait times posted online, including Green Oaks Psychiatric Hospital. Visit FastERTX.com to find the Medical City Healthcare ER nearest you.
10 Tips for Reducing Holiday Stress
Watch Dr. Radhika Vayani, DO, internal medicine specialist on the medical staff at Medical Center Alliance offer 10 Tips for Reducing Holiday Stress.
This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.