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Q: I get depressed around the holidays and I'm not really sure why. Can you explain?
A: Holiday "blues" is a somewhat vague clinical entity that has been described for many years initially to deal with some of the emotional trauma people experience at the holiday season.
Since World War II, when the holiday season from Thanksgiving to New Year became extremely commercialized with increasing demands for shopping, entertaining, large expenditures of money and increasing time demands, more and more individuals began responding with stress symptoms of anxiety, dysphoria, and insomnia.
We have also noted only perhaps in the last 20 years increasing moodiness and low energy in North America coinciding with the onset of winter, particularly the loss of daylight from approximately November to March. While this is not directly related to holiday "blues", it nonetheless does contribute to depressive symptoms at approximately the same season of the year. It is interesting that neither condition seems to be described so much in tropical climates or in the Southern Hemisphere.
In dealing with holiday "blues" we often recommend people try to maintain as much as possible their same schedule of living and avoid staying up too late frequently, avoid excessive alcohol or caffeine intake and in particular try to lessen some of the social demands of the season.
It is also important to reinforce that for large numbers of people the holiday season is not especially pleasant. We have the impression that it always entails large gatherings of extended families in great prosperity.
However, for many people it is a time of loneliness. This is especially true for the widowed and divorced or for those that do not have family connections.
It is also very stressful for children and teenagers who are from broken homes where there is a good deal of discord, animosity and strain over holiday visitation. For children we particularly recommend maintain a stable sleep schedule and avoid caffeine excess.
Increasing light exposure in winter if possible may be helpful. If the dysphoria, sadness and low energy seem to persist more than a few days or are accompanied by impairment of concentration, crying, or a sense of despair then professional help should be sought.
Frequently, these symptoms can be treated effectively with SSRI antidepressants or a combination of antidepressants and therapy.
FREE and Confidential Depression Screenings are available at the Alegent Health Psychiatric Associates. We have many convenient locations. Call 402-717-HOPE (4673) to schedule a screening.