Why is depression and, in severe cases suicide, more common during the holiday season? You would think that with all the celebration, a “blue mood” would be much less likely.
Mental health specialists speculate that there are a variety of factors that contribute to this phenomenon. People are expected to be happy, and many feel the tension between what’s expected of them and their true emotions. Family reunions bring back all the strained relationships that are often forgotten or suppressed during the calendar year. Sunlight is limited – which means less Vitamin D absorption – because the days are shorter, and the weather is generally cold, cooping people up inside and decreasing their options for exercise.
Then there is the economic pressure to purchase nice gifts. Once they are paid for, there is the tension over whether it was the perfect present and worry over whether they will like it. The list goes on, but suffice it to say, the holiday season is a real bummer for many people.
So what can you do to decrease your risk of seasonal depression? Although this list is not exhaustive, here are a few practical pointers:
- Rest: Get adequate rest, and try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. This is more difficult to do because of the shorter days and longer nights. Many people find benefit from a specially designed light box, which they use when they first get up. This simulates sunlight, and they go through their morning wake up routine with the aid of this therapeutic light source.
- Exercise: Get exercise in any way you can. Even a simple walk can stimulate endorphins which elevates mood.
- Watch the snacking: Holiday foods are often high in carbohydrates, which quickly elevates blood sugar. Insulin is then released by your body which brings the sugar level down, often dramatically, leading to fatigue.
- Limit or eliminate alcohol: While alcohol is a depressant, it is also pure sugar and can cause he response discussed in #3. Additionally, sleep cycle disruption is a classic effect of alcohol use.
- Supplements: Consider supplements such as St Johns Wort or SAM-E. Many people get a mild antidepressant effect from taking these as directed. Prescription anti-depressants are also helpful in many cases. Physician consultation is recommended in either case, however, as there are certain risks to these medications as well as benefits.
Should you need further coping strategies for this holiday season, give our office a call. North Idaho Direct Primary Care members have direct access to our on-staff counselor, Donna Samuel, LMSW. If you are not a member and would like more information on becoming one, you can click here to read more about our direct primary care practice model.