With holiday music on the radio, decorations and lights everywhere you look and social media posts of family or friends gathering on your timeline every second, the holidays can feel impossible to escape for someone who doesn’t enjoy this time of year. On top of that, the past couple years we have had to be mindful and cautious of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which may prevent many people from gathering with loved ones altogether.
“The end of the year can be a busy time for some people and financial obligations / gift-giving often take the place of self-care,” Dr. Padma Aking, a psychiatrist at Trinity Integrated Medicine in Phoenix says.
She added that some adults may feel guilty about not being able to provide or meet expectations of the “perfect holiday.” These feelings can lead to increased eating or alcohol use, which in the end, may result in increased feelings of guilt.
Along with these feelings, some people may feel lonely, miss past relationships, or feel like someone else’s holiday celebrations look more joyful. If you’ve ever felt any of these emotions, you are not alone. Dr. Padma says it’s normal to have any of these feelings around the holiday season. Identifying your emotions and knowing what to do about them is key for getting through this season.
What is Seasonal Depression?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that occurs as a result of changing seasons. Seasonal depression may affect up to 10 million Americans – and another 10 to 20 percent may have mild SAD. There’s actually a medical reason for it.
“As the days get shorter in the fall and winter, your mood can often change as a result of the alteration in light, which affects the way serotonin and melatonin function in your brain,” Dr. Padma says.
Common symptoms of fall/winter seasonal depression include:
- Oversleeping/ greater need for sleep
- Increased desire to be alone
- Changes in appetite
- Weight gain
- Trouble concentrating
- Fatigue/ low energy
WebMD states if you feel depressed, fatigued, and irritable at the same time every year and these feelings seem to be seasonal, you may have a form of SAD.
What Can I Do About SAD?
Dr. Padma has two recommendations for people experiencing extreme sadness around the holidays:
- Communicate with a Doctor and Your Family
The more you bottle up your emotions, the harder it will be for you and your family to get through the holiday season. Dr. Padma said seasonal depression can affect your family and/or children in negative ways, especially if they don’t know what’s going on. It can also lead to greater alcohol consumption and create a ripple of negative effects on all aspects of your life.
Your doctor will ensure you are getting the treatment that is right for you. Early diagnosis and treatment can prevent complications. Treatments can range from light therapy to mind-body connection such as meditation or relaxation techniques.
- Be Mindful of Your Mood Changes
“Get help before more difficulties occur as a result of mental health symptoms,” Dr. Padma says.
Paying attention to your mood changes can be the first step to realizing that it may be time to seek help from a professional. Depression and anxiety symptoms should be taken very seriously, as both mental health illnesses can cause you to take your anger/ sadness out in unhealthy ways.
Dr. Padma says light therapy can help with serotonin/ melatonin function, and your doctor may recommend psychotherapy and/or medication as well.
Seasonal Depression vs. Chronic Depression
While seasonal depression is isolated to one season, Dr. Padma says it can still become chronic if it happens every year at the same time. Chronic depression is referred to as a persistent depressive disorder.
Common symptoms of chronic depression include:
- Sadness or depressed mood most of the day or almost every day
- Loss of enjoyment in things that were once pleasurable
- Major change in weight or appetite
- Insomnia or excessive sleep almost every day
- Being physically restless or rundown in a way that is noticeable by others
- Fatigue or loss of energy almost every day
- Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness / excessive guilt almost every day
- Problems with concentration or decision-making
- Recurring thoughts of death/ suicide, suicide plan, or suicide attempt
If you have been feeling depressed and have experienced some of the symptoms listed in the article above, schedule an appointment with your doctor, who can recommend the right lifestyle changes and treatment for you.