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Recognizing Signs of Depression and Stress During the Holiday Season

Recognizing Signs of Depression and Stress During the Holiday Season

Recognizing signs of depression and stress during the holiday season is key and might possibly save someone's life. Possible triggers include relationship problems, financial concerns, and unrealistic portrayals in the media.

The holidays are frequently associated with mental distress, hence the popular terms “holiday blues” and “holiday depression.”  Some people find themselves feeling mildly low or experiencing mood disorders during the holiday season, usually recovering when the festivities are over. The holiday season usually refers to Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year, however, there are other winter festivals that likely cause distress.

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Holiday Blues or Depression?

Mild mental distress is usually manageable without treatment. However, when someone feels their life is being markedly diminished by low mood, it is advisable they seek medical advice. They may be experiencing a depressive illness such as SAD, which affects people between Autumn and Spring. There are also physical illnesses that present with depression, which should be ruled out.

Symptoms of depression include, but are not limited to:

  • Persistent feelings of low mood
  • Lack of enjoyment or interest in activities
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Tiredness
  • Sleeping problems
  • Changes in appetite
  • Loss of interest in normal activities

Recognizing Signs of Depression and Stress During the Holiday Season

Possible Triggers of Holiday Blues / Depression

  • Existing life stressors and commitments – seasonal stressors will occur in addition to ongoing life issues. Although the holidays are hyped up as a time of joy, this isn’t always the case. The holiday season cannot magically erase responsibilities and/or problems.
  • Relationship problems – relationships can become intense, particularly when everyone involved is feeling pressured. For example, some may be concerned about spending time with relatives they have conflicts with.
  • Financial concerns – some people will feel pressured to spend a lot of money at Christmas, not just on gifts, but on food, travel, entertainment, and decorations.
  • Physical concerns – socializing, preparing food, and traveling can all be exhausting. Overindulging in junk food and alcohol results in feelings of fatigue, sluggishness, and low mood, and excessive intake can seriously compromise health.
  • Previous holiday experiences – people may reflect on past celebrations that invoked strong emotions, both positive and negative. A good example is of those spending a holiday season without a loved one, perhaps due to a bereavement or divorce.
  • Media images of the holidays – the media often focus on ideal images, resulting in people feeling pressured to conform to those ideals. This is especially difficult for those whose personal experiences differ greatly from the images portrayed.
  • Lack of sunlight – evidence from light therapy trials suggests strong links between mood and sunlight. People will likely experience low mood due to lack of sunlight even if they do not meet the full criteria for SAD.
  • A combination of factors – people may experience some or all of the above during the holiday season. While low mood due to lack of sunlight alone may not always cause significant distress, relationship problems, physical concerns, and lack of sunlight may be harmful in combination.

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Resources to Treat Depression and Stress:

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Recognizing Signs of Depression and Stress During the Holiday Season” post.

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