“Holiday Blues” are Real, but can be Overcome

December 8, 2017 (Jackson, Miss.) – Thanksgiving has already come and gone, Christmas and more holidays are right around the corner, and for many people, it’s the most wonderful time of the year.

But not for everyone. The holiday season brings happiness and cheer for many, but for others, the shorter, darker days of the year bring something else – a seasonal depression that can last weeks or months.

Sometimes known just as the “holiday blues,” this effect is real. Some people have a clinical diagnosis known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a major form of depression that can come and go with seasons. Others may not have a diagnosis but nevertheless feel the effects. Tt can happen during the summer months, but most people who are affected feel its effects in late fall and early winter. It is a very real problem that can manifest as depression, irritability, fatigue, excessive sleeping, and difficulty concentrating, among other symptoms.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness has reported that in a survey on the holiday blues, 64 percent of people said they were affected. Fortunately, there are also ways that people can work to avoid this phenomenon or mitigate its effects. Several of these are also good tips to keep in mind year-round, such as sticking to your usual routines and getting a healthy amount of sleep every day. You also want to try to get as much exercise as you can, even if that means something as simple as taking a short walk, maybe on your lunch break at work.

The holiday blues and Seasonal Affective Disorder are influenced by the amount of the light a person gets during the day, which is why they’re triggered during the short, darker days of the year. The decreased exposure to sunlight we get affects the levels of melatonin and serotonin in the brain, affecting sleep cycles and mood.

That’s why some other good tips for combating this issue revolve around simply getting plenty of sunlight during the day. Try to open window blinds during the day, sit close to windows, and take opportunities to eat lunch outside when possible. Even being outside on cloudy days can help.

Another way to treat the holiday blues is through what’s called light therapy, which uses specially designed lamps or light boxes that simulate natural daylight. People using this method may use their light boxes while reading the morning news or drinking coffee before they get ready for the day.

While getting sleep, exercise, and exposure to sunlight may help combat seasonal depression, what you don’t do can be just as important.

Be sensible in your expectations for gatherings, meals, and other holiday activities, and don’t overextend yourself. That goes for both time and resources – don’t commit yourself to more time than you can reasonably give, and don’t overspend on food and gift shopping. Both can add to stress.

At the same time, if you are already feeling depressed or stressed then don’t isolate yourself; social activities and interaction with others can provide valuable support networks.

One other thing not to do is to drink excessively. The temptation may be there at holiday parties and family gatherings, but excessive alcohol can affect the mood and boost negative feelings, so use it in moderation.

It is important to note that everyone feels stress, anxiety, or depression at different points in their lives. There can be stress associated with the holidays as families make trips, receive visitors, and prepare large holiday meals, but those feelings should not be overwhelming.

For more information, contact the Department of Mental Health’s toll-free, 24-hour help line at 1-877-210-8513. Anyone who believes they or a loved one is in need of help is encouraged to call.