Feeling blue during the holidays is at odds with what is supposed to be the “happiest season of all.” Unfortunately, it’s common for many of us to question our mental wellness during this time of you, especially when feel lonely, sad, or depressed in what should be a joyous time of year.
Experts estimate that 6% of the U.S. population suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD, while 14% have a lesser form of seasonal mood change known as “the winter blues.” Millions more are combatting depression because of changes in their life circumstances, such as loss of loved one, divorce, financial hardship, or health problems, which can make getting through the holidays especially difficult.
Why the Holidays Trigger Depression
To overcome the holiday blues, you first must understand what is causing your depression. Certainly being away from loved ones could be a major factor. Christmas carols and movies idealize the holidays as a time for being with family and friends. Those who cannot meet that ideal may find themselves in a heightened state of depression, particularly when missing loved ones because of death, divorce, or distance.
TV commercials promoting cars, diamond necklaces, and gaming systems as holiday gifts may also trigger depression. Being unable to afford high-priced presents can be especially upsetting to parents, who may face a tough choice between going into debt or disappointing their kids. Even those who are in good shape financially might be stressed because of all the shopping, gift-wrapping, cooking, cleaning, and entertaining they feel obligated to do.
People suffering from SAD have a clinical cause for their depression. SAD is a major depressive disorder associated with the shorter, darker days of winter. Sufferers have decreased energy levels, making it difficult for some to even get out of bed in the morning. Many lose interest in activities they previously enjoyed, including social gatherings.
Ways to Brighten Your Mood
If you’re feeling depressed because of your current life circumstances rather than a clinical disorder for which you should seek mental health treatment, there are steps you can take to brighten your mood:
- Change your scenery. If staying at home intensifies your depression, plan a holiday getaway. Visit family or friends you haven’t seen in a while, or take a trip to a part of the country or world you’ve always wanted to see.
- Stay within your gift-giving budget. Your kids may not even remember what they got for Christmas a few months from now. Instead, focus on creating memorable experiences like making a gingerbread house, playing board games, or taking a walk through a light display at the local zoo or botanical garden.
- Adjust plans to eliminate stress. Instead of hosting a huge holiday feast, have a potluck dinner or (if you can afford it) a catered meal. Instead of giving gifts to your extended family, suggest drawing names or doing a “White Elephant” gift exchange (that’s where you give one gift and get one gift, oftentimes with funny themes). And if you’re still feeling overwhelmed, don’t be shy about asking family members for help.
- Volunteer in your community. Whether it’s delivering toys to needy children or helping out at a holiday food bank, there’s no better way to take your mind of your own troubles than turning your attention toward others.
- Head outdoors. Bundle up and go for a brisk walk. Or if it’s within your physical ability, perhaps try a winter sport like ice skating or skiing. The exercise and outdoor air will do you good.
Sufferers of SAD or other mental health conditions may need to seek medical treatment or counseling to improve their condition. Among the most effective treatments are:
- Light therapy. Those with SAD may improve simply by taking a walk in the sunshine or opening up their window blinds. Others may require use of special artificial lights in their homes.
- Good lifestyle habits. Regular exercise, a healthy diet, little to no alcohol consumption, and maintaining a consistent sleep schedule have proven effective in alleviating the symptoms associated with SAD.
- Staying connected socially. Being around other people, even if merely through phone conversations and Zoom calls, will help SAD sufferers avoid the isolation that exacerbates their condition.
- Vitamin D. A vitamin D deficiency, sometimes caused by lack of sunshine, may be a contributing factor to SAD. A vitamin D supplement could mitigate the problem.
- Antidepressant medications. In severe cases of SAD, doctors may prescribe selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. SSRIs have been shown to prevent seasonal depressive episodes when taken daily during the winter.
When to Seek Help
If you’ve tried unsuccessfully to overcome the holiday blues or seasonal affective disorder, seek help from a mental health professional. They can provide you with strategies to deal with grief, loss, depression, stress, and anxiety and to rediscover your joy for the holiday season.
Beachside Rehab offers a full range of mental health services. Contact our trained admissions counselors at 866-349-1770 to learn more.
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash