If you haven’t experienced it, seasonal depression may not be something everyone can fully comprehend. It may sound perplexing to some; why would the time of year impact our mental health so drastically? Sometimes called holiday depression, the balance of hormones and less available daylight during the winter months can impact our mental health on a large scale. As we head toward the holiday season, there are several factors that can impact how we feel physically and mentally. Commonly referred to as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), seasonal depression is a disorder many people experience starting in fall, worsening in the winter months, and for most, ending in spring.

There are quite a few factors associated with SAD. The anxiety and stress surrounding the holidays, the length of daylight, and the weather are all things to consider if you or someone you love are experiencing a decline in mental health around this time of year. Let’s look at why holiday depression occurs in so many individuals around the holidays, and ways to combat these feelings of loneliness and isolation as we head into the long winter months.

Tips to beat holiday depression from the Mayo Clinic

What is Holiday Depression? Getting to the Root of Seasonal Affective Disorder

Changes in mental health as we head towards shorter days and big holidays is probably more common than one might think. Experts agree that the biggest factor in holiday depression is the reduced amount of daylight we get every day as we move toward the end of year. Biochemical processes in the brain are affected by less daylight, which impacts our circadian rhythms. Interestingly, those who live farther from the equator tend to be impacted more commonly by seasonal depression.

The holidays also typically bring about holiday gatherings, family get-togethers, and other social events that don’t usually take place during the rest of the year. The holidays can be filled with anxiety and stress, which can take a heavy toll on individuals who may already be struggling with their mental health.

Due to less daylight, the impact on our natural cycles and sleep patterns means a fluctuation in the release of hormones that help keep our body and minds functioning and balanced. These drastic changes mean already compromised mental health can take a sharp turn towards depressive behaviors. Some experts believe that melatonin production plays an important role in seasonal depression effects. Melatonin production increases when the body gets less daylight. Melatonin is responsible for assisting in our ability to fall asleep, an important time when our bodies heal, regenerate and organize our cognitive processes and memories.

Fighting the Holiday Blues – Spotting the Signs and How to Treat it

Nostalgia, anxiety, less daylight, and the fear associated with social gatherings can compound into feelings of loss, sadness, and fatigue. Holiday depression can sneak up on anyone, especially those who may struggle with depressive disorders year-round. It’s important to note that depression at any time of year can claim anyone, and you’re not alone if you’re experiencing the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder.

Some symptoms associated with seasonal depression include the following:

  • Sadness
  • Irritability
  • Loss of interest in normal activities
  • Anxiety
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Food cravings or binge eating
  • Frequent desire for naps or excessive sleeping
  • Withdrawal from social engagements
  • Struggles to focus

Treating holiday depression can happen in a few different ways. Light therapy is one highly effective way medical professionals utilize to assist our biomechanical processes in overcoming the impact that less daylight may have on our mental wellness. Along with light therapy, prescribed medicines and talk therapy have also helped patients recover more effectively. A few other ways an individual can combat the symptoms of SAD include:

  • Preparing for the holidays – Keep your expectations of holiday events, nostalgic gatherings, and the holidays themselves realistic. For many, the holiday season is packed with many memories, several of which include lost loved ones and happier times. If the mere thought of attending a family event or social gathering gives you anxiety, it may be best to find alternatives or not attend.
  • Create new traditions – Especially during the pandemic, perhaps being unable to attend these events has impacted your mental health. You may be grieving the fact that you may not be able to attend. This is a great time to create new traditions that carry the memory of great times with your loved ones.
  • Get outdoors – More exposure to direct sunlight can help balance your hormones, elevate your vitamin D levels, and help improve your internal circadian rhythm.
  • Get enough quality sleep – Ensure your sleep routine is solid and that you’ve prepared yourself to get enough quality sleep every night. Sleep is when our bodies heal, repair, and recharge for the next day. Sleep deprivation can be detrimental to more than just your mental health.
  • Get interested in new hobbies – Finding activities that interest you, or keep you engaged can be pivotal in maintaining your mental health.

If you or someone you love is experiencing symptoms of depression, it’s important to know you aren’t alone. Help is out there, and if you’re experiencing challenges at taking back your mental health, please reach out. For a list of mental health resources, please see our blog here. Your mental health matters, and there are resources available to help you navigate these difficult times.

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