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‘Holiday blues’ is real disorder and not a myth


Whether you call them the “holiday blues,” “Christmas blues” or the more clinical term “Seasonal Affective Disorder” (SAD), onset depression and anxiety this time of year is a very real thing that strikes your loved ones, friends, coworkers…and maybe yourself.

There are many factors that can cause the depressed, stressed, fatigued, down-and-out bad feelings that many people experience over the holidays. In order to effectively resolve yourself to overcome the holiday blues, the American Psychological Association (APA) attests that you need to know how this unwanted feeling affects you.

While there is no one universal solution—since what is depressing or stressful for one person may not be for someone else—you should know that the individual person may have deep-seated feelings that they’ve been carrying around for many, many years. First of all, pay attention to your specific issues and situation. The holiday blues are so obvious that people tend to either focus on “how bad” they are feeling or place the focus on avoiding the “bad feelings.” Unfortunately, neither tactic is usually helpful in resolving the issues, and could make things worse.

The holidays are supposed to be a time of happiness, good cheer, joy and fellowship with loved ones and friends. It’s usually a time of optimistic hopes for the coming new year. During the holiday season, we are bombarded and often inundated with reminders of the holidays. These “reminders,” according to the APA, can be a trigger for several unresolved issues such as:

—Past losses

—Unresolved grief

—Anticipating a significant loss

—Contrast between “then and now”

–Disappointment about “now”

—Contrast between an “image” of holiday joy and the reality of one’s life

—A sense of increased isolation and loneliness

The holiday season is also a busier and more stressful time. People usually have more things to do, more stuff to buy, more traffic, parking is difficult to find, stores are crowded and, consequently, we have to wait longer. The extra demands of your time, attention, energy and—most certainly—finances can be very stressful, all of which can be a precursor to the holiday blues.

Experts suggest that if your holiday blues are a manifestation of the stress from all of the extra demands of the season, you should do something to reduce the demands on your time. Rethink how you view and approach the holidays. Review your beliefs about what is expected of you. Of course, your older family relatives and in-laws may expect a little something from you (particularly if it is generally recognized as a tradition), but do you really have to buy gifts for all of those people?

Try to find a more meaningful way of giving that is less demanding of you. The APA suggests you keep in mind your ability to satisfy all of your family and friends, without over-stressing neither your piece of mind nor your pocketbook.

The latest statistics from the APA indicate that about 14 percent of Americans experience some form of holiday blues. The most common form of this malady, based on APA findings, is called “amplified depression.” Among the symptoms are:

—Feeling more tired than usual

—Losing interest in things that once brought you joy

—Having trouble concentrating

—Not getting a good night’s sleep

The Mayo Clinic has studied SAD for several decades. They found that when persons experience changes in sleep patterns and appetite, they tend to “self medicate” to make themselves feel better. That doesn’t work. Soon these individuals return to feeling hopeless, and some may contemplate suicide. While the specific causes of SAD remain unknown, some factors that may come into play include:

—Your biological clock or “circadian rhythm.” The reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter may cause winter-onset SAD. The decrease in sunlight may disrupt the body’s internal clock, and lead to feelings of depression;

—Serotonin levels may drop. This brain chemical (neurotransmitter) affects mood, and may play a role in SAD. Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin that may trigger depression;

—Melatonin levels can change. The change in season can disrupt the balance of the body’s level of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.

SAD is diagnosed more often in women than in men, and it occurs more frequently in younger adults than in older persons. The Mayo Clinic also found that people with SAD may be more likely to have blood relatives with the condition or another form of depression. Also, persons with major depression or bipolar disorder may find their condition worsening as the seasons change. Finally, those who live far from the equator are more susceptible to SAD because of decreased sunlight during the winter, and longer days during the summer months.

There are many ways, however, to counter the holiday blues. While the holiday season often features more alcohol use than during most other times of the year, limit your alcohol intake. If you’re attending a party and know that alcohol will be accessible, try to limit yourself to just one or two light cocktails. Drinking to excess can affect your mood and any negative feelings that you may be experiencing.

Get enough sleep. Being well rested can help to improve your mood and help you feel ready to take on the day.

Learn to say “no.” Most of us want to appear festive and gregarious during the holidays, but over-scheduling and not making time for yourself can lead to emotional breakdowns.

Be open to new traditions. We tend to do the same things—and visit the same people—each holiday season, so why not allow a new tradition to unfold? You’ll learn something new, and also make new friends.

If you’re getting over a breakup, do something fun to take your mind off the bad times. Yes, it can be difficult to be alone when you’re nursing an aching heart, so instead of sitting at home, fill up your calendar with activities. Remember, you’re not running from your sorrow but, instead, you are getting in some “me” time that can go a long way to rebound from lost love.

Don’t overeat. Holiday outings can often lead to overeating—especially for those trying to watch their weight while maintaining a “chipper” mood—and this can affect your mood and overall well-being.

You can learn more about SAD and other forms of mental illness by contacting the Coalition of Mental Health Professions, 9219 S. Broadway, in Los Angeles. Call them at (323) 777-3120 or visit