Ho, Ho, Ho-Hum: Holidays Not Always Filled With Joy
WebMD News Archive
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