Many are aware of the “seasonal mood changes”, the condition that seems to be following the calendar. This is especially true for individuals in recovery experiencing the “winter blues”. If you are one of those people, this is the time to tune up your inner strength and re-supply your recovery coping skills “toolbox”.
The “winter blues,” also known as Season Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that usually begins in late fall or early winter and fades as the weather improves. Individuals who experience SAD may feel depressed, irritable, lethargic, and have trouble waking up in the morning—especially when it’s still dark out.
For those in addiction recovery who are at risk of experiencing SAD, this time of the year can be particularly challenging which brings for many, the fear of relapse. Understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder and planning ahead can help you or your loved one through the fall and winter without derailing recovery.
Reviewing the different skills and techniques learned over the years, and re-igniting the focus and motivation needed to maintain sobriety are a few of the things you can do so that your mood will not fall with the thermometer. The following small lifestyle changes can help boost your spirits and keep you on your recovery track.
Make a schedule. When you don’t have a plan in place, it’s easy to give in to sluggishness and spend your day unproductive. Account for as many hours as you can with appointments, 12-step meetings and social obligations.
Don’t stop exercising even if the weather is cool and perhaps outside your comfort zone. Don’t let that become an excuse. A few extra layers and a like-minded friend can go a long way to put things back in order. When the weather is too harsh that going out isn’t an option, practicing your yoga and meditation is a great way to lift your spirits from the very comforts of your home.
Dress up and go out. Going out will have a great impact on changing your mood and attitude. No matter the plan, outdoor activities certainly keep the brain engaged, even when those activities are simply visiting friends and family.
Plan holiday activities or events. Many find refuge in keeping busy by planning for events that make those they care for happy.
Change the appearance of your home to give the house some holiday spirit! A colorful home and environment is a good reminder of the values we hold close to our hearts this time of the year: Friendship, love, gratitude, and altruism are all worth celebrating.
Light therapy. Many SAD sufferers have found success in improving their moods with the use of light as a form of therapy. They use a lightbox that emits a bright, intense light that simulates sunshine, boosting the feel-good chemicals in the brain that can affect mood and energy. Find out if that is something that could be helpful to you.
Medication. If all the methods of coping with SAD fail to work for you, then you may want to speak to your doctor about medications. As much as we all want to stay away from medications, obviously there are times that medications prescribed by a professional who is well aware of your medical history can be helpful.
If you find yourself struggling, it’s important to reach out and get counseling. Remember, you managed to beat addiction, and you can beat the “winter blues” as well. Don’t forget to look back and reflect on your achievements and accomplishments in your recovery. That is your ultimate motivation to finish the year clean, sober, and proud.
Dr. Balta is the Medical Director at FCR for more than 10 years. Dr. Balta is Board Certified in Psychiatry and Addiction Medicine, Certified Psychoanalyst. As well, as having Psychiatric Training at The Albert Einstein School of Medicine Psychiatric Residency Program In New York City and Psychoanalytic Training at The William Alanson White Institute in New York City. While working in New York City, gained funding Grants for the treatment of Substance Abuse Disorders from SAMHSA , HRSA and the City of New York.