The holiday season is generally thought of as a time of joy, good cheer
and optimistic hopes for the coming year. Unfortunately, many
people do not enjoy an ideal holiday season but instead experience
symptoms of depression commonly referred to as the “holiday blues.”
The reasons why people sometimes become depressed during the holidays
are numerous. The most frequent contributors are self-imposed burdens
which may include the pressures of travel, entertaining houseguests and
finding extra money in budgets that are already strained. For others,
being separated from loved ones and the increasing commercialism of the
holidays are sources of depression and stress. In addition to these
typical stressors, active duty military members sometimes face the
additional stress of being stationed far from family and friends.
Another reason symptoms of depression arise is because of Seasonal
Affective Disorder, otherwise known as SAD. Because the days are
shorter during the fall and winter months, there is less daylight for
individuals to be exposed to.
These same people, who feel this way in fall and winter months, may
feel happier and more energetic in the spring and summer. The decrease
in sunlight and shorter days is believed to affect melatonin and
serotonin levels in individuals, which can cause mood and sleep changes
in the body.
The first step in doing something about SAD or holiday blues is
recognizing them. Though the signs may be different for everyone,
common symptoms include persistent sad or “empty” mood; feelings of
hopelessness, worthlessness, or guilt; increased and/or unsafe use of
alcohol; fatigue; altered eating or sleeping patterns; irritability,
crying, and anxiety; difficulty concentrating; social withdrawal; loss
of interest or apathy; physical symptoms such as headaches or stomach
aches; and thoughts of suicide.
Treatment for SAD doesn’t cure the seasonal depression, but it can help
relieve your symptoms. The most effective treatment for SAD is light
therapy, sometimes combined with antidepressant medication,
psychotherapy (talk therapy), or both. Light therapy can be used
in different ways and may employ different types of light boxes, light
visors, and lamps. All are designed to bring in extra light to the
eyes. It may take up to two weeks to respond to light therapy. SAD can
also be managed by taking walks during lunch breaks – especially if the
drive to work and back home is during hours of darkness.
Research has shown stepping out of work during lunch will not only
increase sunlight exposure, but increases efficiency for the rest of
the day. Exercise is also important, so gym time is important –
outdoor workouts are even better. Take any winter vacations in
places with longer days.
The best thing about the Holiday Blues is that they are time limited;
they’ll be over that first January morning, and it’s perfectly okay if
the end of the holidays is the only thing worth celebrating this
season! It’s not necessary to attend all of the family events or
participate in the same way every year. For instance: stay in a hotel
instead of a house full of babies. By avoiding some family events and
changing others, the chances of having fun are improved.
aA common situation faced by military members is being separated from
loved ones during the holidays. Find alternative ways to be involved
with distant loved ones like sending cards and letters, phone calls,
e-mail or dropping audio/video tapes in the mail.
Enjoy usual holiday traditions but make an effort to meet new friends
and discover new ways of celebrating. Social isolation only contributes
to feelings of unhappiness. Be sure to spend time with persons who are
supportive and care about you.
Seeking professional help for SAD depends on how much these symptoms
are limiting the ability to function at work or other settings. If it’s
simply a “feeling state” that reliably comes and goes, then
professional intervention is probably not needed. If it is associated
with significant impairment in one’s relations or in the workplace,
then of course it should be handled like any other depression.
The type and combination of treatment that will be effective should be
decided between a patient and a medical professional based on the
severity of symptoms. Consult your physician before starting any kind
Lastly, check up on those around you and your Wingman—it may be the
life you save. If you need help with SAD or holiday blues please
contact Life Skills Support Center at 479-2390.