The holidays can be a stressful time. The festivities can lead to anxiety over shopping for friends and family, finding time for social obligations, worrying about holiday debt, and trying to do too much. You can detour from your everyday routine, neglecting proper nutrition and regular exercise. These pressures can lead to the phenomenon known as holiday depression or the holiday blues.
According to the National Mental Health Association (NMHA), depression peaks over the holidays. The unrealistic expectations of the season, time and financial pressures, missing loved ones, and reflecting on past events as the year comes to an end all contribute.
During the holidays, a person can experience depression, loneliness, sadness, isolation, anger, and abnormal sleep. Those who don't experience depression can experience other symptoms such as headaches, tension, fatigue, excessive drinking, and over-eating.
It also is common to feel a holiday let down after the holidays are over. The hectic holiday period and the feeling of being physically and emotionally drained can leave you with the sense of loss or frustration, and then that can turn into the blues.
The holiday blues can range from mild sadness during the holidays to severe depression, and they are often a normal reaction to life situations.
The holiday blues are not a diagnosable clinical disorder. In fact, there is no agreement among mental health experts as to whether the phenomenon actually exists, because there is no increase in the number of people who seek mental health services in November and December.
Holiday blues should not be confused with clinical depression. Clinical depression is a disorder that may need to be relieved with medication, while the holiday blues could require something as simple as a good listener. Clinical depression, however, can be triggered in a number of ways at or just after the holidays.
There is also a tendency to link the holiday blues with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD, however, is a diagnosable disorder that is associated with fewer hours of sunlight during the winter. Although people with the holiday blues also can be afflicted with SAD, the two are not directly related. People with SAD have symptoms of major depression not only throughout the holiday season, but also throughout the autumn and winter seasons.
The holiday blues may be alleviated with something as simple as getting enough rest. People actually lose sleep during the holidays and end up shortchanging themselves. Consequences of not getting enough sleep might be cloudy thinking, irritability and inability to deal with everyday stress.
Other ways to help ease the blues are to eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and to start exercising. Also, make an effort to be more positive.
If you are experiencing holiday blues, try to decrease or alleviate them by doing these things:
Talk honestly to someone.
Limit alcohol intake.
Stick within your normal life routine as much as possible.
Set a realistic budget and then stick to it.
Establish realistic goals and expectations.
Do not label the season as a time to cure past problems.
Don’t be afraid to say no. That means don’t attend parties when you don’t really have time, don’t take on obligations that will crowd your time and, don’t overextend yourself.
Find time for yourself.
Enjoy free holiday activities.
Try to celebrate the holidays in a different way.
The holiday blues can be quite common, but if you are feeling especially down—for example, your sleep or your appetite is affected—contact your health care provider or visit the National Mental Health Association online at http://www.nmha.org for help and guidance. If you are thinking about suicide, call your health care provider immediately.
© 2014 Main Line Health