'Tis the season to be jolly? Not necessarily. For many people the holiday season, which kicks off with Thanksgiving and spans through New Year's, is anything but blissful. In fact, this time of year may trigger a bout of the blues or perhaps ignite a depression that has been smoldering under the surface for months.
"Holiday blues are a pretty common problem despite the fact that as a society, we see the holidays as a joyous time," says Rakesh Jain, MD, director of psychiatric drug research at the R/D Clinical Research Center in Lake Jackson, Texas. "Many people feel depressed, which can be due to the increased stress that comes with the need to shop and the decreased time to exercise which gets put on the back burner during the holidays."
Stress is good for you. It keeps you alert, motivated and primed to respond to danger. As anyone who has faced a work deadline or competed in a sport knows, stress mobilizes the body to respond, improving performance. Yet too much stress, or chronic stress may lead to major depression in susceptible people.
"Like email and email spam, a little stress is good but too much is bad; you'll need to shut down and reboot," says Esther Sternberg, MD, a leading stress researcher and the chief of neuroendocrine...
While people with clinical depression should seek professional help, those with a touch of the holiday blues can try these strategies recommended by experts to assure a jolly Christmas and a happy new year.
Visiting Ghosts of Christmas Past
"See what it was in the past that led to trouble, whether drinking too much alcohol or not exercising enough or the decreased social contact that comes from going to parties with relative strangers, but forgetting to connect with friends and family," Jain suggests. "Every time depression visits, it leaves a fingerprint. Look for what in the past has been a repeat source of trouble and find ways to avoid it. If you plan, it's very likely that you won't be singing the blues this holiday season."
Sending a Holiday Card -- to Yourself
"Writing about your holiday blues can actually change them," says Darlene Mininni, PhD, MPH, author of The Emotional Toolkit. "People who write about their deepest feelings when they're upset are less depressed, less anxious, and more positive about life than people who write about mundane things," she tells WebMD. She suggests writing for 15 minutes a day for three or four days in a row and answering such questions as "Why does this upset me so much?" Or "What would I like to see happen?"
Laying off the Eggnog
Alcohol and holidays often go hand in hand; imbibing may seem especially tempting at the annual office holiday party. But don't give into temptation if you are in a negative state of mind, Mininni says. "If you are depressed, alcohol will make you more depressed because it is a depressant."
Speaking of holiday fetes, "a lot of people dread the holidays because they are not looking forward to the parties," says David Baron, DO, chairman of psychiatry and behavioral health sciences at Temple University School of Medicine and Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia. "If you feel politically obligated to go to an office party, go for a few minutes and make sure the boss sees you. Wish your colleagues a happy holiday and say you have another commitment," he says.