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Ho, Ho, Ho-Hum: Holidays Not Always Filled With Joy


WebMD Health News

Dec. 26, 1999 (Atlanta) -- If blue is washing out the greens, reds, and golds this holiday season, take heart. This is, after all, a big one. As if the holidays aren't enough for some people, they now have the whole millennium to contemplate, too. The holidays, instead of bringing up feelings of a 'wonderful life,' can leave many people feeling sad or angry, and longing for the uneventfulness of January.

The holiday blues can have many reasons. The most serious one is a condition known as seasonal affective disorder, which is a clinical depression where the person feels 'down' all the time, has low energy, and experiences problems with eating and sleeping. Although the cause of the condition isn't known for certain, some experts believe it's a biological condition brought about by the lack of light in the winter months.

The holiday blues are much more a case of the 'blahs' -- Jingle Bells as sung by B.B. King. One feels overwhelmed by a sense of dread, even anger. When a person is told he or she should be feeling festive, giving, serene, and joyful, conflicting emotions are bound to arise when in fact the person feels quite the opposite.

Part of the reason may be the season -- the winter season, not the holiday season. Psychologist Morton G. Harmatz, PhD, and colleagues at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst did a study that followed over 600 adults for 15 months. They found a pattern of a seasonal change in mood. The feelings were well below clinical depression levels, and people with seasonal affective disorder were not included in the study.

Harmatz tells WebMD that what was found "is a kind of normative change in mood with season, depression that goes from feeling worse in winter to the best in summer. Other moods we looked at were anger and irritability, hostility, and those, too, tend to be highest in the winter, so I guess we could say negative moods are at their most extreme in the winter."

Diet, activity, and light all show seasonal variations, so they could be contributing factors, the researchers write, but additional study is needed to narrow down the causes. Harmatz made it clear these were all "normal folk." He tells WebMD, "The importance of our study ... is not that it establishes anything about pathology. It simply says if we take out those seasonal affective disorder people, the ones who we think are sort of biologically wired to mood, it turns out we all are [that way]; it's just not as noticeable because it's not extreme, it's not clinically important."

None of this is intended to mean there might not be some real issues brought on by the holidays. Information from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., puts the problems into three categories: psychological or emotional; physical; and financial.

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