Holiday Depression

Holiday Depression

Author: GIA Miami
Published: November 8, 2022

Holiday depression is the phenomenon of feeling depressed around the holidays. This is due to a combination of stress, anxiety, and loneliness about the holiday season. This can also be a manifestation of seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

For some people, mental health often declines around the holidays due to unrealistic expectations about how they are supposed to feel and behave. Placing a lot of emphasis on just one day can cause the "holiday blues" which manifests as depression symptoms. Fortunately, there are a number of things you can do to overcome these feelings and get the most out of the festive season.

Symptoms of Holiday Depression

The holiday blues can differ from person to person, ranging from bouts of negative feelings to clinical depression and even suicidal thoughts. Other symptoms of holiday depression may include:

  • Altered circadian rhythm - eating or sleeping at different times
  • Lethargy
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Low mood
  • Attention deficit
  • Social isolation
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Decreased sex drive

Many of these symptoms are in line with those of major depressive disorder (MDD), also known as clinical depression. A diagnosis for this mental illness typically involves five or more of these symptoms being present for two weeks or more while causing demonstrable impairment or distress.

What Causes Holiday Depression?

What Causes Holiday Depression?

During the holiday season, daylight hours are low and weather conditions are usually worse than in warmer months. This is also often a stressful season in which most people suffer some financial pressure due to societal expectations to buy gifts for friends and family.

Furthermore, seasonal pattern depression negatively impacts people's motivation. This makes it more difficult to maintain interpersonal relations, which can lead to social isolation. This in turn contributes to feelings of loneliness which can exacerbate the stress and sadness they may already be experiencing.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Although the exact cause of seasonal affective disorder is unknown, this seasonal pattern of depression is thought to be caused by several overlapping factors:

  • Overproduction of melatonin; a hormone responsible for sleep. It is often found in abundance in people with SAD.
  • Altered circadian rhythm- this is a person's "body clock". It is affected by sunlight. During winter, a person's circadian rhythm may be "off-kilter" due to the lower levels of sunlight. A disrupted rest cycle can impact mood and contribute to SAD.
  • Lack of serotonin - a lack of sunlight may negatively impact serotonin levels. This in turn affects mood, appetite, and sleep which can exacerbate SAD.

Misconceptions About SAD

SAD is a well-established subtype of major depressive disorder. Diagnosis for this condition depends on repeated depressed episodes occurring during the same period, with the symptoms typically receding during the rest of the year. Although most episodes come on during late fall, this is not always the case.

  • SAD does not exclusively happen in the colder months, "Summer SAD" occurs in excessive heat and humid conditions. However, the symptoms may differ for example a person may exhibit anxiety and a lack of appetite rather than low energy and overeating
  • SAD is not a trivial matter, it can negatively impact a person's quality of life on a daily basis
  • SAD does not "get better on its own", although its symptoms lessen seasonally, proper management is key to combating negative feelings

This combination of factors can lead to major depressive disorder (MDD) for some people. SAD is an onset subtype of this condition expressed in a seasonal pattern, so some people with MDD may struggle more in winter.

How to Cope with Depression during the Holiday Season

How to Cope with Depression during the Holiday Season

There are steps you can take to manage depression. Wellness looks different from person to person. Trying a variety of healthy coping mechanisms can be a fruitful endeavor in finding elements of self-care which are useful to you.

You may find one or more of the following self-care methods useful for coping with SAD:

  • Try to get as much natural sunlight as possible to regulate your circadian rhythm - spend time near windows when indoors
  • Get plenty of fresh air
  • Keep work and living spaces well-lit
  • Set realistic expectations for the holidays

Of course, general self-care tips are also useful for managing SAD such as:

  • Surrounding yourself with supportive and caring people
  • Making new friends
  • Spending time with loved ones in order to maintain a strong support system
  • Stay in the present - appreciate the here and now
  • Keep track of your mood and identify triggers for your sadness
  • Appreciate your friends and family
  • Start a gratitude journal
  • Ensure you are getting enough sleep
  • Keep stress levels low

Getting professional help and maintaining a healthy support system are important coping tools for all mental health conditions. Lifestyle changes such as improving your diet and exercising regularly can improve help wellness.

Certain foods such as yogurt, salmon, and nuts may help in the production and absorption of serotonin. Combining these items with simple carbohydrates like white bread can boost their effect further. Serotonin is one of the neurotransmitters responsible for mood and sleep regulation. Most of the body's serotonin is produced in the gut, so a few changes to your diet could yield significant results.

Some studies have also shown that exercise can increase serotonin levels and help reduce the effects of depression. Aerobic exercises such as walking, swimming, and cycling may also be particularly effective in helping to boost serotonin levels.

Not all coping mechanisms are healthy, however. For some people, excessive drinking and social isolation may feel like good short-term solutions when feeling sad, but in the long run, they can make holiday depression worse.

Tips for Coping With Holiday Stress

During the holiday season, stress levels can be higher than normal. Feeling like you have to buy expensive gifts, display holiday decorations, and schedule important activities can contribute to holiday sadness. Try to treat the holidays as a collective rather than just one day- this puts less pressure on yourself and your loved ones and makes it easier to set realistic goals.

Joy is different for every person. Comparing your holiday cheer to other people's can be counterproductive. Remember, what you see of another person's life is only a snapshot, not a full picture. Using social media during the holidays can also feel like window shopping. If you find other people's holiday photos give you more stress, perhaps unplug during that time. Instead, focus on celebrating and communicating with your support system rather than distant connections.

Capturing the essence of your holiday can improve your mood immensely. What is it you appreciate around you? Who has made your holiday special? Staying positive, especially during a holiday which can risk feeling materialistic, can help combat the symptoms of SAD.

Treatment for Holiday Depression at GIA Miami

Treatment for Holiday Depression at GIA Miami

At GIA Miami, we provide a variety of treatments for depression-related conditions. Our team is diverse and science-led, we seek to help our clients live their best lives and manage the symptoms of their mental health conditions.

Our experts tailor their care to each individual, ensuring the most suitable treatment option is made available. Some treatment options include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Talk Therapy- harmful or unhelpful thoughts are identified by a mental health professional, and this thought process is taught, adopted, and then internalized by the patient.
  • Group Talk Therapy
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy
  • Telehealth
  • Psychotherapeutic Intervention
  • Intensive Treatment Program

Our team also provides state-of-the-art Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Therapy (TMS). TMS is a non-invasive procedure that works by sending magnetic waves through the scalp, stimulating brain cells to heighten or lower brain activity depending on the nature of the mental health condition. By targeting the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for mood regulation, TMS is able to relieve the symptoms of depression even when other treatments have not been effective or practical.

We can empower you with an individualized support plan which targets the most challenging symptoms. Our compassionate team strives to provide excellent tailored care in a safe space where you can challenge negative thoughts. If you or your loved one are interested in starting your healing journey, please contact us today!

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