Winter, the holidays and depression

Posted by Rosean Bishop, Ph.D., L.P.
November 27, 2013

Rosean Bishop PhDLPFor many people, the winter holiday season is a joyous time filled with family, friends and great food. But for some people, it can be quite the opposite, causing stress, sadness and even depression. Let’s discuss some common questions about what causes seasonal depression and what you can do to prevent it.

Q. What is it about winter that can cause depression?

A. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that typically occurs during the fall and winter months. The common symptoms are mood swings, lack of energy and other signs of depression.

According to Mental Health America, melatonin – a hormone produced in the brain that helps regulate other hormones – may also be linked to symptoms of SAD. Changes in the season can disrupt the balance of melatonin levels, which affects both sleep and mood.

When it’s cold and dark, people tend to stay indoors more often. This can increase isolation and decrease the opportunity to share enjoyable activities with others, further contributing to sadness and depression.

Q. The holidays are supposed to be a happy time. Why do some people get depressed?

A. Stress during the holidays can contribute to depression. When you feel pressure from others, yourself or your bank account, it can trigger an emotional roller coaster. These situations are all too common during the holiday season as we buy expensive gifts, plan holiday events and spend time with our extended family.

Additionally, the holidays can be trying times for people who are separated from their loved ones by distance or death. Dealing with the absence of loved ones during the holidays – especially if they have passed away – can elicit strong emotions and episodes of depression.

Q. What are some ways to cope with or prevent depression?

A. Some of the best ways to prevent or improve a depressed mood are simple – and ones you can start today.

  • Eat a well-balanced diet. If you are not eating a nutritious diet, you are missing out on nutrients that promote a positive state of being. Specifically, consume foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts.
  • Exercise moderately on a regular basis to improve your mood and energy levels.
  • Get enough sleep. When you don’t sleep enough, it affects how you think, your mood and your overall cognitive function. Sleep needs vary from person to person, but the National Sleep Foundation recommends between seven and nine hours for adults. Also, try to keep as consistent of a sleep schedule as possible.
  • Make time to interact with friends and loved ones. They supply a strong support system, which can help you deal with emotional difficulties. If a friend or family member is exhibiting symptoms of depression, reaching out to them can be very helpful.
  • Do something nice for someone else. Volunteering, donating to charity and performing random acts of kindness can be very rewarding. This is an effective way to add a spark back into your life.

Q. How do I know if I should see a doctor?

A. Feeling sad or down every now and then is a normal part of lifeespecially during difficult times or when mourning the loss of someone close to you. However, persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness may be signs of depression.

It’s time to contact your health care provider if these feelings interfere with your everyday life, you don’t enjoy activities that you once did or you are having thoughts about suicide.

When the winter seems dark and cold, remember that your friends and family are there to support you. A happier, healthier holiday season will be yours when you are alert for signs of seasonal depression.

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