Tis the Season… for Depression?

Not everyone is excited about the upcoming holiday season.  Whether due to grief, the pandemic, loneliness, or family discord, there are many experiencing a sense of depression, gloom, uneasiness, or a lack of physical and emotional energy around this time.  Yes, tis the season for celebration, and tis also the season for Holiday Depression.

Holiday Depression, often called Seasonal Depression or SAD, is a type of mood change where people experience feelings of depression or sadness, anxiety, feeling overwhelmed or pressure to meet the expectations of others or themselves, and feelings of inadequacy or self-loathing during a select time of year.  The perception that “everyone seems so happy” yet feeling overwhelmed and unfulfilled only exacerbates these feelings.

Many factors contribute to holiday depression.  Most commonly is the decreased amount of sunlight in the Fall and Winter months.  Exposure to sunlight increases Serotonin levels in the brain, one of the most important neurochemicals affecting mood.  Sunlight is also shown to increase Vitamin D levels in the body.  Vitamin D helps reduce inflammation, as well as promote cell growth.  Strong statistical evidence suggests insufficient Vitamin D levels increases symptoms of depression and feelings of fatigue.

Another contributor to holiday depression is social isolation.  Holidays are a time for family and friends to come together, celebrating and enjoying each other’s company.  COVID-19 is going to put a strain on families, especially those with elderly relatives.  If family is too far away and coming together is not an option, being socially isolated may increase these feelings of depression and loneliness.

Grief and loss issues are also heightened during the holidays.  Remembering those lost this year or in years past, how they loved this time of year, and how we wish to have them with us for one more holiday celebration can increase feelings of depression and despair.  Hundreds of thousands of people have lost relatives this year, so mentally and emotionally preparing yourself for these feelings of bereavement is essential.

So how do we combat holiday depression?  First and foremost, do not give in to the pressures of expectation.  Know your limitations.  This is a season for coming together, not for trying to show love through materialistic means.  Showing appreciation does not mean becoming financially and emotionally bankrupt.  Start new traditions, for your family and yourself.  Think of something you can do that promotes feelings of gratitude.  Volunteer.  Send homemade holiday cards.  Make some cookies or bite sized cakes and give them to those you love.  Enjoy the crisp cool air and the warmth of the sun.  Express your appreciation to others, even if you do not appreciate yourself.

The holiday season is both a blessing and a curse for many.  Understanding some of the reasons for these feelings is key to addressing its symptoms.  Know that you are not alone, but more importantly, know that you do not have to be.

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