Let’s talk about holiday depression
By Patti Atkins, APR
Holidays are supposed to be a time of joy and celebration, but for some people they are anything but.
“Depression may occur at any time of the year,” said John Bischof, MD, medical director of behavioral health for Columbia Pacific CCO. “But the additional stress and anxiety during the months of November and December may cause even those who are usually content to experience loneliness and a lack of fulfillment.”
Social isolation is one of the biggest predictors of depression, especially during the holidays.
Some people may have a small social circle or lack opportunities for socialization. People who have feelings of disconnectedness often avoid social interactions at holiday time. Unfortunately, withdrawing often makes the feelings of loneliness and symptoms of depression worse.
These individuals may see other people spending time with friends and family, and ask themselves, "Why can't that be me?" or "Why is everyone else so much happier than I am?"
One of the best ways to deal with social isolation is to reach out to friends or family for support. You can also try talking to your health care provider. They can help you figure out where your feelings come from and develop solutions to overcome them.
Grieving during the holidays
Some people may be keenly aware of the loss of a loved one during the holiday season. Here are several ways to stave off the holiday blues that may descend at this time:
Begin a new tradition
Try planning a family outing or vacation, instead of spending the holidays at home.
Don't give in to holiday pressures
Feel free to leave an event if you aren't comfortable. Be willing to tell others, "I'm not up for this right now."
Helping others can also be very helpful for you, too. For example, you might try:
- working at a soup kitchen
- organizing a gift drive
- helping your neighbor with a yard or house task
Get back to nature
Going for a walk on the beach or in a park helps many people relax and feel better when they are feeling overwhelmed.
Seasonal affective disorder
Seasonal affective disorder is a seasonal pattern of recurrent depression that is caused by the seasons changing. Many people with this disorder develop depression symptoms during the fall and continue to feel sad throughout the winter. Most people stop having symptoms during the spring and summer. However, some people experience seasonal depression during the spring and summer.
Dealing with holiday depression
Talk to your primary care provider if you are feeling sad for long periods of time. They can refer you to a mental health specialist. If your feelings of sadness during the holidays are accompanied by suicidal thoughts, do one of the following immediately:
- Call 911.
- Go immediately to a hospital emergency room.
- Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
You can improve your mood by practicing self-care during the holidays. Eat a healthy diet, maintaining a regular sleep pattern and exercise program. As little as 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise can provide an immediate mood boost similar to the effects of an antidepressant medication. Joining a support group where you talk to people with similar experiences to yours can also help.
Everything in moderation
“Take care of yourself – don’t overeat or over drink,” Dr. Bischof said. “Do your regular routines of exercise and whatever keeps you together during the rest of the year.”
Alcohol is everywhere during the holidays, and if you’re struggling with feeling down, it may be wise to avoid drinking as much as possible – alcohol is known to worsen symptoms of anxiety and depression.
What We Know About the Holiday Blues – Psychology Today
National Alliance on Mental Illness