Jefferson University Hospitals

Jefferson Psychiatrist Gives Coping Tools For Dealing With Holiday Blues And Knowing When To Seek Medical Help

12/06/11

The holidays are usually one of the most enjoyable times of the year. Time off from work, catching up with family and friends, and festive lights and decorations typically put people into the holiday spirit.

But for some, the holidays are a source of stress and sadness. And sometimes that sadness can be something more serious.

Rajnish Mago, M.D., a psychiatrist and director of the Mood Disorders Program at Thomas Jefferson University, says many factors can cause "holiday blues." This can go on in the weeks leading up to the holidays and well into the New Year.

Dr. Mago suggests these helpful tips:

What kind of sadness are you feeling?

Is it clinical depression? Signs that you may be suffering from a clinical depression instead of just holiday blues include the following examples. In any of these cases, seek an assessment by a mental health professional.

  • More pronounced sadness
  • Feeling sad every day and most of the time
  • Decreased interest in and enjoyment of activities previously enjoyed
  • Change in sleep and appetite
  • Decreased concentration
  • Feeling that life is no good
  • Impaired ability to function at home

Is it Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)? If you regularly feel sad throughout the winter, not just around the holidays, you may be suffering from SAD, a form of clinical depression related to the shorter days and decreased light in winter. Patients with SAD feel depressed and tired, sleep too much, and have increased appetite particularly with craving for carbohydrates, sweets, and other high calorie food. These patients may need an antidepressant but also often benefit from using a special light therapy lamp, though it has to be used in a very specific manner and should be done under medical guidance.

Is it "holiday blues?" For many people, the holidays bring up painful memories. This is especially true for those who are lonely, divorced, childless, older, or physically ill, but these blues can be experienced by anyone. Holiday blues can be a clue to unresolved grief and conflict from the past. You should consider consulting a psychologist or a psychiatrist to assess this further.

Is it stress? Stress can be caused by fatigue, unrealistic expectations, financial constraints, and the inability to be with one's family and friends. Know your limits. Try to think in advance about how you will deal with whatever is causing your stress, rather than falling into predictable traps.

Manage your stress

Maintain your daily routine. Doing so can help to stabilize your biorhythm and reduce stress and sadness. Don't let the time that you wake up, eat, and go to bed vary by more than an hour either way.

Exercise. Around the holidays, a combination of cold weather and being busy can lead people to stop exercising. Exercise is an important stress-buster and research has shown that aerobic exercise alone can reduce depression. Make sure you prioritize taking at least 30 minutes (preferably more) daily for exercise. However, if you are older or have health problems, check with your doctor before beginning an exercise regimen.

Diet. Does eating chocolate make you feel better? Research has shown that people who are depressed consume more chocolate than others. However, like alcohol, though eating chocolate can make us feel good temporarily, in the long run it may make us feel sadder. Try limiting the amount of chocolate you enjoy, especially in candy that has a lot of calories.

Shopping. Shopping for holiday gifts can be stressful. Overcrowded malls and stores, unduly high expectations, and perfectionism can make this process unnecessarily difficult. Try ordering online or by telephone when you can. If you find a gift that is nice and appropriately priced, buy more than one and give it to several people (who don't know each other) rather than make yourself overwhelmed by searching for a different and perfect gift for each person. To make it even simpler, try using gift cards or certificates when you can.

Media Only Contact:
Jennifer McGowan Smith
Jefferson University Hospitals
Phone: 215-955-6300