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The Other Type Of SAD Disorder You Rarely Hear About
Have you ever noticed how, at certain times of the year, for no particular reason you can figure out, you feel sad or depressed? Perhaps you feel anxious the week or so before Christmas, even though nothing bad has happened and your in-laws are not coming this year. Perhaps you feel blue when fall finally turns to winter, which just happens to be when your best friend passed away or when your parents announced that they were divorcing. What we are trying to say is that there are particular months, times of the year, seasons or holidays that carry emotional ties that we are often not even aware of.
Every single one of us has emotional ties to certain times that are irreversibly tied to our past. Your mind is trying to make sense of your experiences, organizing them, without your being aware of it. This is your subconscious making a note to itself, so to speak, based on certain factors from the past.
Sometimes these connections are obvious. Have you ever felt sad and couldn’t figure out why, then suddenly realized that yesterday was the anniversary of your favorite dog’s death? Other times, these connections are not obvious to us, only in our vague awareness that we don’t feel “right.” Our memories and emotions can bleed across time and across our brains from the past into the present.
This phenomenon is known by scientists and goes by several names such as “the birthday blues,” “the holiday effect,” or even “anniversary reactions.” The impact is especially strong for those who have lost a child and for older persons who have lost a long-time spouse. One Swedish study out in early 2015 found that mothers who lost a child had a 46 percent increased risk of drying during the anniversary week of their child’s death. Another study out of Rutgers University found that older adults who were widowed experienced increased psychological distress during the holidays, the month of their late spouse’s birthday, and during the month of June, when many graduations, weddings, and wedding anniversaries occur. One clinical psychologist, Ann Spector, states that when you lose someone, you never really “get over it.” There is always a type of hole in your emotional fabric that never closes.
Becoming more aware of this phenomenon and understanding why you might feel depressed during certain days or times of the year can help you to take steps to do something about it. First, try to figure out why you might be feeling depressed or anxious at certain times. Sometimes you don’t know the answer right away, sometimes you need to think about it for a while but it should come to you eventually.
Once you know what you are dealing with, it can actually help to talk to your subconscious. Many scientists believe that our subconscious is listening to what we say all the time and believes everything that we say. This is why therapists suggest positive self-talk. Tell yourself that what you are feeling belongs in the past and is not a part of your present. This doesn’t mean that you “forget” what has happened; you are simply acknowledging that it did happen, but that it has no real place in your present world.
It can also help to talk to family members or friends and tell stories about positive things that occurred around this time. You can also try replacing old memories with new ones. For example, if hearing country music makes you sad because your father adored country music, but he has since passed on, try turning it on only when you are doing something you really enjoy, such as cooking or playing with your children. This can turn sad memories into happy ones as you start to remember that country music song as the time when your kids dressed you up as Lady Gaga.
In the future, be aware that a relapse can occur and you should take steps to nip these negative feelings in the bud. Try to figure out what it means to be extra nice to yourself and take those steps should these feelings arise again in the future. This might mean taking a long soak in a hot tub, or watching funny movies with your significant other while eating take-out, to calling your favorite cousin for a good long chat.
When it comes to anniversary or holiday-related grief, there is often plenty of anxiety as well. You might find that practicing meditation, deep breathing exercises, and massage help to keep you more in the present. Find the things in your life that help to bring you to a place of comfort and peace, whatever that might be for you.
In fact, finding that personal spot of peace and serenity might very well be the number one cure for any type of emotional or seasonal hangover that ails you.
If you find that you have thoughts about hurting yourself or if you are suicidal, please call the suicide hotline, your therapist, close friend, priest, or someone who can help you deal with these painful feelings.