For many people, the last few months of the year are something to look forward to. Baseball fans get the playoffs and the World Series. Football fans can get their fill of professional and collegiate competition. Pumpkin spice is suddenly in everything imaginable. And a variety of holidays—Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and more—give many people a great deal of joy this time of year. But for those struggling with a mental health disorder, a substance use disorder, or both, the final months of the year can offer up some additional challenges. As a result, many people feel more dread than joy as the calendar pages turn.
Let’s take a look at a few of the challenges—and ways to address them as well.
Less Light Can Lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder
Of all the mental health disorders we can think of, seasonal affective disorder is perhaps the most cleverly named. Its three-letter abbreviation—SAD—is a perfect description of the primary symptom of the disorder.
Seasonal affective disorder is associated with the fact that the days are shorter, and the nights are longer in the final months of the year. Sunlight provides vitamin D, a nutrient with a range of benefits—including helping to regulate mood and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. In the waning months of the year, many of us spend far less time in the sun because we are at work or school during the limited hours when the sun is out.
What can you do to ward off SAD during times when there is less natural light available? There are a few options, which include eating foods rich in vitamin D (including salmon, shrimp, mushrooms, and various fortified foods and beverages like yogurt and milk), taking supplements, and making use of a light box to simulate the effects of sunlight.
The Holidays Are Not So Happy for Everyone with Mental Health and Substance Use
In our collective idealized fantasies about life, holidays are universally beloved. We love the spookiness and sugary goodness of Halloween, we are eager to express our thankfulness (and eat turkey) at Thanksgiving, and we simply can’t wait for Christmas with its vibrant combination of religious solemnity and rampant commercialism that results in a frenzy of unwrapping gifts.
Of course, that vision doesn’t even grapple with the many people who don’t celebrate those particular holidays for various reasons. But it also fails to grapple with the fact that many people struggle with the pressure to be social and happy at a time when they may not feel like being either of those things.
When it comes to the holidays and your mental health (and sobriety if that is in play), it is perfectly appropriate to set boundaries. For example, you should not feel obligated to host (or even attend) a big family gathering if you know that will be difficult for you. If you do choose to attend, thinking in advance about how you will exit the event if the need arises is a good idea.
While it will likely be difficult to avoid all of the holiday hoopla, setting boundaries and making plans with which you are comfortable is a great way to ensure the season doesn’t overwhelm you.
The Season is Suffused with Sugar
Halloween candy. Thanksgiving pies. Christmas cookies. It can seem like sugar is the official food of fall. Heck, those pumpkin spice lattes have plenty of sugar, too—more than plenty, really.
Of course, no one thinks of sugar as a health food, but especially this time of year, we can be pretty good at not thinking about the impact of the sweet stuff on our physical and mental health—and the ways in which it can jeopardize sobriety as well by reminding the brain of how it felt when drugs or alcohol were being consumed.
Our advice is fairly simple: Keep an eye on your sugar intake throughout the fall. It is okay to have some candy, a piece of pie, a couple of cookies, or a pumpkin spice latte (though not all at the same time). Just be mindful about your choices so that something sweet doesn’t lead to decidedly sour results.
Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall – We Are Here to Help with Mental Health and Substance Use
No matter the season, Peak View Behavioral Health in Colorado Springs is ready and able to help you address mental health disorders, substance use disorders, or both. Make this the season of better mental health and sobriety.