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Are You Impacted by Seasonal Depression?

The winter holiday season, with celebrations such as Christmas, Hanukkah, and Thanksgiving, is a fun time of the year for many people filled with parties and social gatherings with family and friends. But for many, it is a time filled with sadness, self-reflection, loneliness, and anxiety. And with this year’s impact of COVID-19, the holiday blues could be wider spread than typical.

“Sadness or depression at the holiday season can be a reaction to the stresses and demands of the holidays,” says Core Recovery CEO Jillian Vanselow. “But others may feel depressed around the winter holidays due to a condition known as seasonal affective disorder.”

Seasonal affective disorder, aptly known as SAD and sometimes referred to as seasonal depression, is a type of depression that occurs as the seasons change. With the approaching holiday season, let’s first focus on the causes, symptoms, and ways to combat holiday blues.

What Triggers Holiday Depression?

While sadness is an individual and personal feeling, we can point to some “typical” triggers or sources of holiday sadness:
  • Stress and financial stress
  • Fatigue
  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Over-commercialization
  • Financial stress
  • The inability to be with one’s family and friends
  • Balancing the demands of shopping, parties, family obligations, and house guests may contribute to feelings of being overwhelmed and increased tension.
It will be difficult to know how the pandemic and limited gatherings and celebrations will impact our mental health this year. Some could feel less stress and some relief not hosting huge gatherings. But some may feel increased sadness and loneliness not being able to be with family and friends like a typical holiday, especially since many are already feeling isolated and depressed as a result of the pandemic. “This year, more than ever, be aware of the signs of depression in yourself, your friends, and your loved ones,” says Jillian. Here are some typical signs of seasonal or holiday depression.
  • Headaches
  • Excessive drinking
  • Over-eating
  • Insomnia
  • Sadness
Some experience post-holiday sadness after New Year’s. This can result from unmet expectations and disappointments from the holidays or the previous year. Those feelings can be compounded by added stress and fatigue from the holidays. In the case of seasonal affective disorder, a true depressive disorder, symptoms may last beyond the holidays or may be more severe. The symptoms of SAD include:
  • Fatigue
  • Crying spells
  • Mood swings
  • Irritability
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Body aches
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Insomnia
  • Decreased activity level
  • Overeating with associated weight gain
  • Sometimes anger (especially in men)

19 Tips for Coping with Holiday Stress

These tips can help prevent stress, anxiety, and mild depression associated with the holiday season:

  1. Make realistic expectations.
  2. Do not take on more responsibilities than you can handle.
  3. Make a list and prioritize the important activities.
  4. Live and enjoy the present. Look to the future with optimism.
  5. Don’t set yourself be up for disappointment and sadness by comparing today with the good old days of the past.
  6. If you are lonely, try volunteering some time to help others. Kindness is a great way to combat depression.
  7. Find holiday activities that are free, and safe such as looking at holiday decorations or going window-shopping.
  8. Limit your drinking. Excessive drinking can increase your feelings of depression.
  9. Try something new. Celebrate the holidays in a new, safe way this year.
  10. Spend time virtually with supportive and caring people.
  11. Make time to contact a long-lost friend or relative and spread some holiday cheer.
  12. Make time for yourself!
  13. Keep track of your holiday spending. Overspending can lead to depression when the bills arrive after the holidays are over.
  14. Find a new hobby.
  15. Embrace the new season by decorating your home.
  16. Consider therapy and medication management for longer durations of irritation, tiredness, and loss of interest.
  17. Journal your feelings.

When Should You Seek Help?

If you feel depressed, fatigued, and irritable the same time each year, and these feelings seem to be seasonal, you may have a form of SAD. Talk to your doctor and follow his or her recommendations for lifestyle changes and treatment.

If your seasonal or holiday depression symptoms become unmanageable and impact your daily routines, relationships, or employment, it may be time to seek help. You can also take our Depression Assessment to determine your level of depression. Core Recovery is here to help.

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