Written by Anthony Inae, M.D.

They say that it is the most wonderful time of the year. But for many Americans, holiday season can be a time of regret, despair and sadness…holiday blues. I wasn’t able to find any evidence in scientific literature that supports the onset of depression caused by the holidays, although there is a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) which is a condition of depression that occurs in the fall, goes on through the winter months, and then usually resolves in the spring. SAD is depression that recurs every year. Some believe it is due to the way people react to colder temperatures and less sunlight. Symptoms of SAD are basically the symptoms that can occur with depression, such as, increased fatigue, insomnia, irritability, crying spells, poor sleep, weight loss or weight gain, and decreased energy. So, is SAD the holiday blues? There is no scientific evidence that supports this.The holiday blues are feelings of sadness, stress and irritability that tend to occur during the holiday season. These feelings can affect both men and women, old and young. According to statistics National Center for Health Statistics, there is a 15 percent increase in the number of individuals seeking help for emotional disorders in December. Symptoms are usually milder than SAD.

Causes of holiday blues

For many people, the festive season is the most wonderful and joyous time, a period when they can spend quality time with their loved ones, enjoy good food and exchange plenty of gifts. However, in some people, holidays can trigger symptoms of anxiety and depression to different degrees. There are several reasons people may experience symptoms of anxiety, stress or depression over the holidays. Some of the reasons of holiday blues include memories of holidays past, financial strain of gift-giving, unrealistic expectations, hectic schedule leading to fatigue, reaching for perfection picture-perfect holiday celebration and family misunderstandings and conflict. If someone important to you passed away or left you during a past holiday season, you may become depressed as the anniversary approaches. Also, we must not forget alcohol causes depression and often people drink too much during the holidays.

What to expect?

Some of the common reactions caused due to holiday blues include both physical as well as emotional symptoms. You may experience headaches, excessive eating or loss of appetite, difficulty in sleeping, feeling of fatigue, feeling lonely, sad, crying spells, excessive drinking and irritability.

How to cope with holiday blues?

While the holiday blues are usually temporary, the following ideas can help make this year’s holiday experience more pleasant and less stressful.

  • Be realistic – Do not make things harder by making unrealistic expectations. Acknowledge the fact that the big day does not have to be perfect. You make efforts and put in your best to make things as close to perfect as possible. But, do not be harsh on yourself if things are not falling in place as you want them to be.
  • Give yourself some space- Preparing for holiday celebrations can be stressful and hectic. Shopping, planning, decorating and purchasing gifts, all these are time consuming and can take a toll on your health. Therefore, it is important that you take out some time for yourself even in the midst of these busy activities. Carry out your routine activities as you were doing earlier. Take out some time for exercise or meditation, and take care of your diet. Make a to-do list and try to stick to it.
  • Drink less alcohol – Celebrating can be fun and drinking can get out of control in the spirit of celebrating. Just remember, alcohol is a depressant, too much of it can make you feel depressed.
  • Be honest – There is nothing wrong in accepting what you are feeling. Express your feelings to those around you in a honest and constructive way. Holding on to past memories is one of the biggest mistakes that we make. Do not dwell on past and let it go.

Don’t hesitate to seek help

Many times loved ones, family, co-workers, and friends can spot symptoms even before you do. You should seek help from your primary care physician, if you have symptoms, feelings of hopelessness,  have a lack of interest doing things you once found enjoyable, have trouble sleeping, have difficulty concentrating, have difficulty thinking clearly or have persistent thoughts of death or suicide. There are many ways to treat depression and seeking help from a physician or clinical specialist is the first step. This blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. This blog is for information purpose only.  As always, please consult your healthcare provider if you have any health concerns and certainly before starting a treatment program.