The fall and winter months mean the start of ski season, holiday planning, and sweater weather. And while sweater weather is arguably a time to celebrate from a sartorial point of view, some people are not that excited about other parts of the season.
Whether it’s the stress of the holidays, the cooler temperatures, the shorter daylight hours, or the constant drumming of negative stories in the news, it’s not surprising or unusual for people to feel down, says Billie Ratliff, director of behavioral health for UCHealth Memorial Hospital.
“People can be prone to seasonal mood changes as we head into the fall and holiday season,” says Ratliff. “We see a lot of situational issues come up with holidays, thinking about getting together with families for the holidays that they may not get along well.”
Fortunately, there are tips to cheer up, so you don’t have to be a Grinch until spring. With cooler temperatures and shorter days, staying inside in your heated home may seem like the path of least resistance. But doing just that may cause or exacerbate depressive feelings.
“We know that when you’re frequently isolated inside watching TV or just sitting around a lot, your brain is more likely to become more depressed. One way to increase serotonin, a chemical that helps regulate mood production in your brain, is getting outside, exercising, being in nature, and being around other people,” says Meredith Shefferman, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist at the UCHealth Integrative Medicine Center. Furthermore, low levels of serotonin have been linked to depression.
To get out of a funk, regardless of the stressor or reason causing it, you may have to push yourself to do things you don’t want to do, namely go outside or socialize. The primary way to turn a frown upside down is to go against your instincts to hunker down, isolate and forgo exercise or fresh air. Feeling blue? Here are tips to cheer up and lift your spirits.
Revive with exercise
“Some people want to binge on Netflix when the weather turns, but it’s important to exercise and get outside,” says Ratliff. The important thing is to choose an activity or exercise that you like, and don’t dread doing. Hate running? So do lots of people. It’s not necessary to jog or run your way into a good mood. Walking, yoga, dancing, or just using a treadmill at a pace you’re comfortable with while listening to your favorite playlist or a good book on tape will do the trick.
Spend time with friends
When it’s cold and dark, people tend to isolate themselves. It takes effort to make plans. “When we see patients who are feeling down this time of year, we encourage them to do the opposite of what their down mood is telling them,” says Shefferman. It’s important to stay connected with friends because socializing helps boost your mood and lowers your risk of depression.
“Remembering the good things that are happening in your life and not just the bad can help you put things in perspective,” says Ratliff. She suggests making a list of things you’re grateful for to help you focus on the positive and not the negative.
Find your happy place
Sometimes it’s hard to break out of a misery cycle. You’re down, so you stay home and isolate, which makes you more down. Ratliff says not to sit and dwell but to try to engage yourself in activities that make you happy.
“Push yourself to do something fun to break the pattern,” she says. “Sometimes, these things are simple, but when you’re in a bad place, you feel fatigued and can’t muster the energy to even go to a movie.” That’s where staying connected can help, she says. A friend who can help push you to do something fun or get you out of a funk is just a phone call away.
Limit alcohol consumption
Alcohol is a natural go-to security blanket when we feel stressed or anxious. And even though it may lift our spirits in the near-term, alcohol is a depressant. “Alcohol definitely exacerbates down moods,” says Shefferman. “It depresses the nervous system.”
When should you seek help?
It’s important to note that the tips to cheer up above serve as advice for people who are stressed, overloaded and feeling down, temporarily. If you feel depressed for most of the day, every day, for at least two weeks, you may be experiencing clinical depression and should seek a formal diagnosis.
Although Colorado is famous for its sunny weather, surprisingly, it has one of the highest rates of depression and suicide in the country. It’s important to know the signs of depression so that you can help yourself or a loved one seek the help of a behavioral health specialist.
- Loss of interest in activities you used to find enjoyable
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Lack of energy
- Impaired concentration
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Feelings of hopelessness
“Often, it’s a loved one who realizes you’re not yourself lately,” says Ratliff. She says the first place you should start if you or a loved one shows signs of depression is your primary care physician. Your PCP can assess if additional treatment is recommended.
It’s also important to be on the lookout for signs Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) this time of year. SAD is a type of depression that comes at the same time and ends the same time every year, usually fall to spring or early summer. SAD symptoms are similar to depression except for the seasonal component. Treatment recommendations may vary.
UCHealth is committed to treating the whole person. Recently, in one of the region’s largest and most comprehensive investments into behavioral health, UCHealth, based on the Anschutz Medical Campus, is dedicating at least $100 million over the next five years to address behavioral health needs for patients across Colorado.
The investment will improve access to care through three key initiatives:
- Integrating behavioral health with primary care: Teams of licensed clinical social workers and psychologists will work hand-in-hand with primary care physicians to provide immediate resources to the largest number of patients in need.
- Tele-behavioral health consultation services: When patients and providers in emergency departments, primary care clinics or inpatient hospitals need consultations with a psychiatrist, UCHealth’s Virtual Health Center will provide the video connection.
- A new inpatient behavioral health unit: The expansion of University of Colorado Hospital will enable a new inpatient behavioral health unit, likely opening in late 2023, to expand the services already available in other UCHealth locations.