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 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 dreaded 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.
Limited data but clear evidence
The holiday blues are a real phenomenon likely to have different effects than you might think. While data is limited, there is some evidence about the causes and consequences of the issue. For starters, there is solid evidence that—despite long-held beliefs and often erroneous media coverage—the suicide rate in the United States does not spike around this time of year. The U.S. Center for Health Statistics reports that the suicide rate is highest between April and August. The months of November, December and January actually have the lowest daily suicide rates.
The low rate of suicides don’t necessarily mean that the holiday blues aren’t a real phenomenon. While there are no systematic reviews about the increase of mental health problems around the holidays there are findings from a variety surveys that suggest people feel more stress, anxiety and depression in the period between Thanksgiving Day and New Years Day.
For instance, the APA in 2017 conducted a wide-ranging survey and uncovered some interesting—and unexpected—facts about the holiday blues:
—While the majority of people in the survey reported feelings of happiness, love and high spirits during the holidays, those emotions were often accompanied by feelings of fatigue, stress, irritability, bloating and sadness;
—Thirty-eight percent of people surveyed said their stress level increased during the holiday season. Participants listed the top stressors (lack of time, lack of money, commercialism, the pressures of gift-giving, and family gatherings);
—Fifty-six percent of respondents reported they experienced the most amount of stress at work during the holidays. Only 29 percent said they experienced greater amounts of stress at home.
Financial stress can be a factor
Another poll from 2017, this one from Principal Financial Group and spanning more than 1,000 adults, found that 53 percent of people experience financial stress because of holiday spending, despite the fact that more than half of respondents had made it a point to set budgets for their shopping.
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 us 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:
—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
Be wary of extra demands of your time
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
—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 patters 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 remains 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 diagnosed more in younger adults
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.
Reach out to relatives and 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.
Your mental health, no matter what time of year, is vital to your well-being. If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms of the “holiday blues,” don’t dismiss them but rather speak about them with family and friends. Better yet, don’t hesitate to contact the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health at (800) 854-7771, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can also be connected with mental health professionals at Antelope Valley Hospital Mental Health Services at (661) 949-5250.