Category: Depression

It’s the Most Loneliest Time of the Year

Written by Yoni Sobin

This time yearly, society blasts us with holiday music, jingles, lights, and festivities as individuals of all backgrounds celebrate holidays both secular and religious. We’re told this is a time for family, coming together, and celebration. We’re supposed to feel happy, joyful, and full of light. For many, this is their reaction to the holiday season. People talk about gathering for family dinners, “going home for the holidays,” and Aunt Mildred’s comments that elicit humorous glances among siblings.

For others, however, the holidays embody a more uncomfortable and emotion – loneliness. Not everyone has strong family ties, family that lives nearby. Not everyone can afford buying gifts without financial strain and not everyone is reminded of pleasant holiday memories. For some, family causes much distress, especially when we are around them for extended periods of time.

To make matters worse, moods often shift as the weather gets colder and many individuals experience a variation of Major Depressive Disorder with a seasonal fluctuation pattern. Cold makes people less likely to leave their homes, and also makes people less likely to exercise, which would improve depression. Individuals may also socialize less with friends and family, adding to one’s loneliness.

Loneliness is not inconsequential. It can lead to depression, reduced quality of life, (ironically) social isolation, and even increased mortality risk! By nature, humans are social beings, and we yearn for connection. Socially isolated individuals are therefore at a higher risk for suicide, especially individuals of geriatric age.

Thus, as we hunker down for the cold months ahead, it’s important to keep regular social connections. We need to push ourselves extra to get through the rough patch of the year called winter. Rather than choosing to isolate, to disengage in the comfort of our warm, toasty homes, let’s make an extra effort to remain connected. Pick a night in the future and invite people over for a game night. Create a “social checklist” for yourself, and each day tick something off that list. Even the smallest of gestures can improve one’s quality of life, such as smiling at someone on the subway during your ride each day to work, wishing the person behind the check-out counter a “Happy Holidays”, or saying “Shabbat Shalom” someone at your local synagogue. You can also check out www.meetup.com, a website to facilitate social interaction based on shared interests. Enjoy reading? There a group for that. Knitting? There’s a group for that too. Comic books? Yup. They’ve got that. Scrabble, Cards Against Humanity, Republican, Democrat, Christian, Jewish, Muslim. You name it, there’s a group of like-minded people out there. Other opportunities might present themselves in the form of adult education classes to learn about painting or writing or something else. All of these basic social activities not only promote interaction and reduce loneliness, but they help us to hone skills and we feel accomplished and more confident. Parent/toddler groups can also provide social opportunities for single or stay-at-home parents. Getting a massage or a visit to the doctor’s office can relieve some loneliness by providing interactions which, though in some ways superficial, allow for opportunities to meet others. Even the internet can help reduce loneliness and boredom. How else would you have found this blog post?

On a community level, we can also reach out to those individuals to increase the chances to socializing with peers. If you know someone who you suspect might be struggling with loneliness, invite them over to your apartment or house for a warm cup of tea, coffee, or cocoa. Be active rather than passive, and don’t expect those who may be struggling with season depression to ask for help. Ask your friends and neighbors how they are doing, building your own social connections further.

For some individuals though, loneliness and sadness have become so much the norm that it’s a struggle to do these things on their own. In such cases, asking for help from a professional is the best way to help yourself. Particularly if you struggle with thoughts related to harming yourself or worse – while these thoughts are normal, especially if you feel alone, it’s a sign that it’s time to ask for help.

Three Strategies to Break Free from the Winter Doldrums

Written by Dovid Green

Now that the cold days of winter are (hopefully) behind us, the days are getting longer and the warmth and fun of sun-filled days are ahead. Yet, even though we leave our heavy coats behind, we sometimes have trouble shaking off our own cobwebs and getting out of that winter funk. To help reach all our goals, here are some basic tips to get out of those ruts and start enjoying the spring! Some of these have been adapted from Gary Emery’s book on overcoming depression.

Ask “What?” not “Why?” – Often when we feel overwhelmed we end up asking big ‘why’ questions. “Why am I unhappy?” “Why does this happen to me?” or maybe even “Why can’t I just get over this?” As meaningful as those questions can be, they tend to leave us with more questions than answers. Instead of trying to address the “why’s” try trading them in for “whats.” “Why is this happening to me?” turns into “What made me upset?” and “Why can’t I just get past this?” can shift to “What new thing can I learn from this situation?” What questions give us a better foothold and an opportunity to have more concrete answers.

Be Active Vs. Reactive – A lot of people say they get a feeling of being overwhelmed when they are down, which in turn can make it difficult to accomplish their goals. Often times being overwhelmed can almost feel like the world is moving so fast around us, and we are just barely keeping up. This happens when we shift into a reactive place – waiting for a friend to call to be social, or waiting for the weather to change to go outside and get some fresh air. Being reactive takes our choices out of the equation, can make us feel down and overwhelmed! To get out of the funk, make some choices. They don’t even have to be major ones; pick a new slice of pizza you wanted to try, or take a new route home on your walk. Those little acts remind us we can make choices, and staying active helps keep us feeling like we have some control.

Pick a Slogan – Have you ever noticed how those great slogans like “Just do it” just stick in our heads? That’s because the idea is short, and we don’t have to think too hard to remember why we should buy those sneakers, or drink that soda. Often when we’re feeling down we think of really important, but often really complicated reasons for getting out of bed and completing our tasks. “I want to do this because if I could only finish this work, I would be able to get started on that other job, and if I finish that, I would start feeling better…” That’s a pretty hard thought to follow when we have so many other things on our minds! So, try whittling down those feelings into a short slogan – something a few words long, so whenever we hit a little bump we can have an easy reminder. “I want a new job,” or “I want to feel accomplished” are short and to the point.

These are just a few ways to break out of the winter doldrums and push ourselves to reach those spring and summer accomplishments.

Using Awe to Get Through the Winter

Written by Hadar Naftalovich

It can be hard to stay cheerful when one leaves for work before the sun is up, and gets home after it has already set. The lack of sunlight can certainly affect mood and the added stresses of the holiday preparations can make it seem like there is little time to relax. A psychological perspective on one of the major tenets of the winter holiday season may just be what you need to get through this winter.

Continue Reading