By Barby Ingle, PNN Columnist
Do you celebrate the holidays or do you secretly dread them? For some of us, the period between Thanksgiving and St. Patrick’s Day can be the most depressing time of the year.
The first reason is that we are exposed to less sunlight during the winter. We need light to maintain our physical, mental and emotional health. There are also societal pressures that can weigh heavily on pain patients, such as not being able to participate in holiday activities. The holidays can make us depressed, financially strained, anxiety ridden, and harder to be around.
Here are some early warning signs of depression:
Difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions
Fatigue and decreased energy
Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, hopelessness and/or helplessness
Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
Overeating or appetite loss
Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems
Persistent sad, anxious or "empty" feelings
Thoughts of suicide or a suicide attempt
Take this seriously, as depression carries a high risk of suicide. Anybody who expresses suicidal thoughts or intentions should be taken very seriously. Do not hesitate to call your local suicide hotline immediately.
Depression can cause you to isolate yourself from others, decreasing your mobility and increasing drug dependence. A cycle begins where depression causes and intensifies the pain and stress on your body.
It can be hard to face the emotional aspects of pain, but it is important to look at the signs and be aware of them. Remember, pain causes depression, not the other way around!
Depression can keep you from taking care of yourself. You cannot afford to let yourself fall into dark dreary moods. Be sure, no matter how you are feeling, that you are following the goals set for your care, such as taking the correct dose of medication at the correct time of each day.
It may take a little effort to keep healthy habits when you are depressed. Here are a tips fellow pain patients, friends with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and I have used over the years.
Use artificial light sources. The body’s internal biological clock can get really out of sync during the winter season. Bright light therapy becomes an important tool.
Try something new, such as a craft or hobby.
Progressive muscle relaxation, hypnosis and meditation can reduce stress and pain levels
Stop doing things you don’t enjoy and do things you like, such as listening to music or aroma therapy.
Physical therapy and exercise can break the cycle of pain and help relieve depression
Make a list of life’s blessings, reminding yourself what you have accomplished in life. Even if you can’t do it now, you could once and no one can take that from you.
Cognitive and behavioral therapies teach pain patients how to avoid negative and discouraging thoughts.
Change everyday routines to ward off physical and emotional suffering
Clean out or organize an area of the house. It could be as simple as clearing a bedside table or filing your medical records. Getting organized in one area of your life can help you manage other areas more successfully.
Seek professional help if you start feeling overwhelmed. Dealing with chronic pain can slow recovery from depression. Specialists should treat both problems together.
Getting your depression under control will help you focus on managing your health. As you learn to let go of anxiety and stress, it will help lower pain levels and make the holidays more enjoyable.
Barby Ingle lives with reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), migralepsy and endometriosis. Barby is a chronic pain educator, patient advocate, and president of the International Pain Foundation. She is also a motivational speaker and best-selling author on pain topics. More information about Barby can be found at her website.
The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.