With shorter days, changes in the weather and three major holidays on the way, it’s no wonder that the winter months are often high times for depression.
For sufferers of chronic pain, the likelihood of depression is already four times higher to begin with, making this time of year even more difficult.
To help people with frequent back pain and/or neck pain deal with the additional burdens that come with depression and stress around the holidays, Spine-health is proud to offer these tips.
Literally Lighten Up
Telling a depressed person dealing with chronic pain to look at the bright side of things is a bit naïve, and this point will not attempt to do so. Rather, this first tip details the importance of actually infusing more light in your life during these months when it is typically dark when you wake up and when you leave work, and often more difficult to keep a positive mind.
Consider buying something like a light alarm clock, which features a glowing globe that simulates a rising sun when going off in the morning. This unique invention for people with Seasonal Affective Disorder (also known as SAD, winter depression or winter blues) can kick start the day on a brighter note as opposed to waking up in darkness and feeling as if nothing has changed overnight.
If a light alarm clock sounds a bit too hokey, simply get outdoors. Sure, the winter months are often very cold in many parts of the country, but this does not mean that you should go into hibernation. Whether it’s walking around the block in the morning or going for a 10-15 minute drive, getting some sunlight can be a great source for Vitamin-D, which aids in calcium absorption and helps make the bones stronger.
Living in the Midwest, I know firsthand how easy it can feel to simply curl up in a pile of blankets and stay in bed to keep warm during the winter. Unfortunately, inactivity is not good for chronic pain, and it can take a toll on your mind, making you feel lethargic and leaving you too much time to think about your pain.
What is often surprising, exercise can actually do wonders for pain by nourishing and repairing spinal structures, keeping the anatomy healthy, flexible and strong, and stimulating the body’s natural healing processes. Whether it’s doing some simple stretching or aerobic exercises every day or even getting out of the house and going to a local community center to swim, activity can at least make the patient feel as if he or she has some control over their pain.
You also may not know that exercise benefits the vagus nerve, which has been recognized as an important pathway for depression. The only nerve to begin in the brainstem, the vagus nerve extends through the neck and into the abdomen. With stimulation, the vagus nerve is more likely to function correctly, minimizing depression.
For more information, see the following article: Aerobic Exercise for Relieving Chronic Back Pain.
Know That You’re Not Alone
The human mind can sometimes be your worst enemy, especially when bottling up how you’re feeling both physically and mentally. Consider joining a community who knows how you’re feeling, such as the dedicated Spine-health Depression forum, and speak with members who have first-hand experience with depression stemming from chronic pain.
For example, a simple troll through the Spine-health forums finds:
Simply letting others know that you’re having a bad day and then hearing them say how they understand what you’re going through can be therapeutic. Furthermore, talking with others who are dealing with the same pain can be a great way to learn about how they cope when feeling a bit down as a result of their symptoms (learn more about joining the Spine-health forums).
If you are really depressed, see a family doctor, psychiatrist or a mental health professional, who can explore your depression in greater detail and may prescribe antidepressants if necessary.
Furthermore, if you’re close to family, take comfort in their presence around the holidays, which often allow people to see faces that they haven’t seen in a long time.
Avoid Depressants Like Alcohol
Unfortunately, alcohol is viewed by some people as a means to escape their pain and depression. While alcohol may provide temporary relief, it is actually a depressant when the “buzz” wears off, often making it harder to exercise and be motivated to participate in other beneficial activities, and also affecting sleep in detrimental ways.
While the holidays may offer plenty of moments to indulge yourself with a glass of wine, remember to do so in moderation if you choose to drink. Don’t be embarrassed about passing on a drink and having something healthier, like a glass of orange juice or water.
Don’t Be Superman or Superwoman – Set Limitations
With all that the holidays require – buying gifts, running from one party to the next, preparing feasts, etc. – it is easy to feel uncertain about whether you’re coming or going. For chronic sufferers, don’t feel bad about setting limitations and realistic goals over the holidays.
For example, if you’re dealing with chronic pain, maybe it doesn’t make sense for you to be running around and taking care of all of the last-minute details that come with the holidays. Rather, speak with a loved one about what you can realistically do, and focus on activities that make you happy and take your mind off how you feel.
Perhaps this means that you will be responsible for stringing up the Christmas tree this season. The point is to focus on activities that excite you and indulge your mind, as opposed to ones that feel more like a chore and bring stress.
Dealing with depression and chronic pain is something that can not be achieved in one full swoop. However, by taking gradual steps each and every day, you may be better prepared to enjoy the holidays for what they should be: a special time to be with family and friends.