Have you ever noticed that your mood changes during the fall and winter months? Are holidays a trigger for you since you have been in recovery? If these statements are true, you are not alone.

Feeling sad during the fall and winter could be a sign of the “holiday blues” or you could be suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

For a long time, the “holiday blues” was associated with feelings of sadness, depression and anxiety during the fall and winter months. These “blues” are closely associated with the emotions that some experience due to family dynamics, loneliness or negative self-reflection during this time of year.

These days it seems like the very beginning of October signals the start of the holiday season. People get excited for Halloween, Thanksgiving, the December holidays (Christmas, Hanukkah, etc.), New Year’s Eve and the New Year. There are constant celebrations. However, if you notice that you’re always sad during this time, it may not just be the holiday blues you are experiencing.

Some people experience serious mood swings. The decrease in sunlight could cause severe mood swings during the fall and winter. People affected by sunlight are experiencing SAD.

While both the “holiday blues” and SAD may initially present with the same symptoms, the severity and treatments for each will differ. 

The “holiday blues” is not recognized as a medical condition; the symptoms are relatively mild and pass soon after the holiday season ends. If you feel you are experiencing symptoms of the holiday blues, but your symptoms persist well after the holidays, you should speak with a health care professional.

SAD is a form of major depressive disorder (MDD) and those affected experience major depression during the fall and winter months. In addition to depression and sadness, symptoms of SAD include:

  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Irritability
  • Changes in weight (gain or loss)
  • Loss of interest in activities

If you feel that you may be experiencing SAD and need help, please get in touch with your medical professionals, who will be able to provide you with treatment. There are various medical treatments for SAD that could include:

  • Light therapy: This is the most common treatment for SAD. Light therapy helps to replace the sunlight and vitamin D your body misses during the fall and winter months.
  • Medication: Medically prescribed anti-depressants are used to stabilize serotonin levels.
  • Increasing vitamin D intake: Low levels of vitamin D are often associated with depression. If you are affected by SAD, you can help combat some of the depression by increasing your intake of vitamin D prior to the fall and winter months.

Are the holidays triggering for you? Do you need extra support during this time to remain sober?

If celebrating Thanksgiving with family or friends will cause you to feel sad, depressed or anxious, here are a few tips you may find helpful:

  • Attend a meeting: Attend peer support groups as often as needed during the holidays. You are not alone in managing your sobriety and connecting with others who know exactly what you are experiencing could greatly support your recovery.
  • Practice gratitude: To celebrate the day of giving thanks, write down all of the things you are thankful for. Take the time to sit and review it to see all the ways you are loved and supported.
  • Host your own dinner: If being social and celebrating with others will entice you to use drugs or alcohol, remove the temptation by hosting a Thanksgiving or Friendsgiving celebration at your home. Being in your own space will let you control the environment and avoid known temptations.
  • Have an alternative plan: If you decide to attend a social gathering, always have a plan ready if you need to make a quick getaway to escape possible triggers.

There are many holidays and celebrations in December that recognize different spiritual or cultural beliefs, making it hard for many in recovery to maintain their sobriety and still participate in the festivities. While the above Thanksgiving suggestions can help manage sobriety for any occasion, here are more tips that might help you refrain from consuming drugs and alcohol during December:

  • Prioritize yourself: Celebrate the holidays by participating in your favorite activities or hobbies.
  • Start planning now: Be proactive and talk with your treatment team, peer group or medical professionals. Create a holiday recovery plan with activities and goals that will keep you focused on your sobriety.
  • Acknowledge your feelings: Be honest with yourself and how you’re feeling. Use healthy coping mechanisms to identify and process those feelings to keep moving forward.

Feeling sadness, depression and anxiety during the fall and winter months is not uncommon. Some people are anxious and depressed during these months because they are triggered by all of the celebrations. Others may feel sad or depressed because of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Those in recovery need to be aware of their moods and triggers during this time of year. With all of the celebrations, it can be difficult for those in recovery to manage their sobriety. If holiday celebrations may trigger you or someone you know, be honest with yourself about your feelings and use healthy coping mechanisms to process them. If your feelings of depression and anxiety persist and become more severe, it is time to seek help. Here at PaRC, we will provide you with tips to help you enjoy the holidays and maintain your sobriety. We are here to help. Call us today at (713) 939-7272.

  • Start a new tradition: If being social and gathering for a party or celebration is triggering, plan a new activity. Take the time for partying and replace it with sober activities in your city or even self-care.