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Post New Year's Distress Syndrome

Well, there isn't such a diagnosis as Post New Year's Distress Syndrome (PNYDS or "peenids" phonetically) on the books so far, but there should be. The most similar thing that comes close to a Post New Years Distress Syndrome is a mood disorder called seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, which is a type of depression that requires treatment. The treatment for SAD is often a combined treatment of psychotherapy, photo-therapy (frequent exposure to a range of light spectrum, not looking at photographs) and medication. The combination of light, medications, and learning adaptational psychological responses through cognitive behavioral therapy to address thoughts, feelings, and behaviours help sufferers to elevate mood, energy and thinking. Light therapy has a marked physiological effect upon the person by compensating for lost exposure to daylight hours (a large contributing factor in SAD). I digress.

This past week, I spoke to a friend of mine regarding the changes and disappointment around this time of year. Stress of lost relationships, ending old relationships, beginning new ones. January has always been touted the most depressing month of the year. All one has to do is google "January"..."depressing"..."most difficult month” together as a search phrase, and you will come up with numerous hits. The reasons for the sadness range from post-Christmas bills, to failed new year's resolutions to amplified loneliness and isolation. These are all good reasons to feel a little depressed and anxious for sure. Especially if you overspent your budget or your resolutions are linked to real and necessary changes due to real and present health issues. Yes, in fact, January is known as the most depressing month to live through. Although, stats suggest spring and summer are the peak seasons for suicide.

The Christmas/New Year season is often a time where commercialism is amped up. People feel pressure to buy things for people who already have most of what they need. In addition to this there is an expectation to socialize with friends and family members that many have been out of touch with throughout the year. Additionally, for those who do not stay active during this time of the year through a gym membership or involvement in a winter sport such as cross country skiing, the resulting energy levels may leave one frozen in time!

As well, during this time people are encouraged to reflect on the year’s pasts victories, defeats and losses and to come up with new resolutions or commitments to change. The act itself can make one become a stoic gargoyle! Throw in the opportunities for copious of partying and alcohol consumption (a neuro-toxin and depressant) and socially acceptable binge eating and you have created a hothouse environment for depression, anxiety and negative ruminations. This overemphasis on one's past and future may contribute to growing fears about an uncertain future.

Also, due to spending more time indoors people are spending more time online to stay in touch with friends and loved ones which may cause their sleep hygiene to run amok. It's during this time we also become more aware of missing relationships and we may begin to incessantly worry about loved ones in other places. Little wonder January is a difficult month to live through. So, if isn't a more specific disorder related to January there should be.

Some of the recommendations put forward to deal with getting through January, and to which, I, myself will add, are: getting regular exercise, doing more activity outdoors, getting more light in your life through light therapy, cutting down on the booze, spending time with friends and family, and eating more healthily. Well of course that’s all stuff we should all do to combat the sadness of the season, but is there more to deal with PNYDS!?

Here are some additional ideas on how to bust Post New Years Distress Syndrome!

1. Take an additive approach to change and set realistic goals, and focus on what you're doing right.

You made it through January! What have you been doing right that makes you feel better. Whether it is small changes to routine such as adding an extra leg to your usual walk home by taking in a different site, or detour through a park! You don' t have to solve all of last year’s problems and those from the upcoming year in one day! Its easy to set up an ambitious and ominous schedule of improvement! This is may include but is not limited to losing one's hanging biceps, or not losing your temper more than once a day, or ensuring regular attendance at the gym, or even cutting out the extra coffee or Tostitos. But everything takes deliberation and a method. Being less extreme in your goal setting means being more realistic with setting up your goals and holding yourself to realistic and attainable ones. Pick a maximum of two goals this season. For example, if weight/health is an issue, make it about setting portion size, and adding a single strenuous activity to your day.

2. Take one day at time.

It's a cliché but we know London wasn't built in a day. It takes a change in thinking to understand that you are a work in progress. Your life will take a lifetime to master and acceptance of this is critical. Everyone has something in their lives that they are working on. This can range from weight-loss to personal effectiveness with people. Trust that the things that have happened to you, both the challenges and the failures, are purposed to help you gain insight, and wisdom. It can be daunting to plan if you begin by planning too far in advance. Most of us have difficulty doing so a week or so ahead. Start with focusing on one day at time and living each moment of each day to its full potential. Let go of anxiety-provoking thinking about things that you cannot influence next week. Mindfulness practice and meditation can help with this. The serenity prayer, authored by American Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr is a good daily practice to maintain a more present-focused lifestyle. It goes like this:

God, give me grace to accept with serenity

the things that cannot be changed, Courage to change the things

which should be changed,

and the Wisdom to distinguish

the one from the other.

Living one day at a time,

Enjoying one moment at a time,

Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace.

3. Relate authentically yourself to others through self-acceptance.

Leave any masks you may wear in the snow outside. Leave the past in the past and forgive yourself. Let bygones be bygones and forgive others as well. Forgiveness is a learned behaviour and it may take meeting with a professional helper to put past mistakes and regrettable choices into perspective and to see things within their appropriate context. None of us have it all together in every area of our lives...and that's alright. There is an illusion of perfection out there and often we buy into this thinking that others have their lives more together than our own. But truth is they may have it just as together as we do, and struggle with similar human conditions as we do ourselves. We all function at various levels with various skills and capacities, some more or less so than others. Relating to others authentically permits one to feel connection with others in our common humanity, even with those who persist with their masks.

Forgiveness also includes letting go of past hurts by learning how to forgive and move forward with relationships. Most things outside of random accidents occur from cause and effect relationships to our environment, personal histories, traumas, culture, and even genetic predisposition. Some of these are immutable in the present, none of them are mutable in the past. Our past mistakes are our opportunities for self-understanding and developing self-mastery, our personal resourcefulness, and our resiliency.

When we accept our imperfections, flaws and dysfunctions, it opens a way to understand the environment, the relationships, and gives us perspective on things that may have influenced our thoughts feelings and behaviors in the past. Remarkably, it also helps us open to the possibilities of forgiving others by recognizing other people have their own baggage to unpack. People who have hurt us in the past may have struggled with their own traumas or crisis. They may have been doing the best with what they had at the time. Learning forgiveness allows us to rejoin humanity recognizing that we all have things to work on but can feel a connection by our common desire to improve our lives and increase the rewards and connections to be had. By focusing on our authentic selves, we can lower the illusory walls that separate us and our experiences from others. Practice self-acceptance and forgiveness. This act permits us to connect effectively with others.

4. Get out there and connect with others however it is you do connect with others. Make a new friend

Staying connected with friends and family is important during the year. But it can still be challenging for the best of us. So, if your family lives on the other side of the country, make that phone call, or set some time to call them via videoconferencing to let them know you miss them and care about them. One Corporations- Bell has recognized communications role in maintaining mental health with their new annual- Let's Talk campaign. Letting others know you care about them and think and feel about them is contagious and its good for your emotional well-being. So, don't be afraid to reach out to others during these next few months. Even making new friend online is a way of staying in touch or an effective way to make a new connection.

5. Reach out to others despite differences.

Winter is a difficult season to begin with. The land outside is barren and often extreme. All signs of life are absent from the landscape. And there is little green but an abundance of drab greens and browns. However, if you look very carefully there is also a warm fire that is burning. This fire isn't in the environment. Instead, you will find it in people. Pulling up to the fire to get warm these next few months means connecting with others who are celebrating this season in creative ways. some may be exploring winter sports such as cross country skiing or horseshoeing, doing arts and crafts as a form of gift-giving; or joining others in groups activities, such as sleigh-riding, or skating at city square. I routinely take my son to feed the squirrels in Victoria park during this time.

There is still lots of life and abundance around us, and it is found within people that are with and around us, gaining a sense of common being weathering another Canadian winter together in our toques and mittens and odd colored scarves. We can all share our memories, experiences and stories around the fireplace, or around a table with a cup of tea or hot chocolate with a friend.

For many people this time may be spent visiting the losses that have been incurred over the past year, death, loss of loved ones, or even losses incurred from years past that become amplified during a time where everyone seems to be experiencing togetherness. That can make things especially challenging. But it is important to remember that we have connections to others and that we can reduce our sense of isolation to others by reaching out. This is essential. *If you are feeling isolated and distressed, or experiencing thoughts of suicide it is important to immediately contact emergency health care providers to get assessed.

6. Do something different this year.

We all need a little excitement in our lives. So, this year do something a little different. It can be one activity. And it doesn't have to include unconditional love or acts of generosity. Although that may help. I once signed up one year in Nanaimo, BC to be a community Christmas angel (self-dubbed) and gave away forty turkeys for those who would inbox me with their story on how getting a turkey would help them out that year. The act was life-changing for me and changed the way I view people.

Many people struggle this time of year, financially, emotionally, thinking and feeling that the world is cold and without compassion or people who care. It is a time of loneliness for many and those dealing with existential pain. Doing something new could also mean learning how others from different cultures and traditions cope with or celebrate the season. How about celebrating the season with a community group that celebrates Christmas or a similar season such as the Jewish Hanukah or Iroquoian Hoyan. (This may have passed for this year, but maybe next year.) Being with others who look at the season differently as a time of gathering, story-telling and togetherness may be illuminating -just what you may need to experience in your time of isolation. How do these groups manage through January, February and March? There are often historical events of significance to people’s cultures and spiritual traditions that provide us with a different and life-giving understanding which may assist one through dark seasons.

7. Volunteer

When in doubt, volunteer. When in doubt the best thing, I suggest one do to beat the blues is to find a community organization to volunteer at. This could be at one of local soup kitchens. There are many places to volunteer in London. The act of helping others as a group is one of the most beneficial things you can do for yourself in times of isolation. Spending time with the elderly in your community (a hidden treasure) and with people who don't get to see their loved ones often can be very rewarding. Such an honour and reward to hear about the unique lives and experiences of others.

8. Have activities to look forward to in the spring and share this with others.

We are though January already. Now, only two months left before the sun warms up the planet again. I look forward to a good riding season on my Harley Davidson, and fishing Ontario rivers and lakes. I want to explore Ontario in detail and visit places in the province which I have not experienced. In this way, too, think of things that you can do in the spring that you have not done before. Perhaps invest in a new hobby or reinvest in an old one this 2017.

So, although there is no such thing as Post New Years Distress Syndrome, there definitely should be. These suggestions are some small things one can do to reduce PNYDS’s grip on you. Also, if you have not been diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder it is not something to take lightly. SAD accounts for many seasonal visits to the doctors and should receive an immediate treatment with a multi-modal approach. If you suspect that you or someone you know may suffer from SAD or are experiencing symptoms of depression this season, or seasonally occurring depression, its vital you get connected with the appropriate medical assessment and treatment support.

This blog entry is not a therapeutic intervention, but may be utilized as a general discussion on seasonal isolation.

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