The holiday season is portrayed in books, on TV, and at the theater as a time for good cheer, warm family get-togethers, and a good feeling toward our fellow man. Our images of this season are full of families sitting by the fireplace, exchanging pleasantries and sipping delicious hot drinks. This is society's expectation of what the holiday season should be, but not everyone experiences this. Actually, it's likely that most people don't.
This period of the year can be full of stress caused by travel problems, buying gifts, strained budgets, and strained relations during family visits. This tension is often exacerbated by the expectation that you should be feeling good.
Does this disparity in our expectation and our experience precipitate clinical depression? Is the holiday season marked with a substantial increase in the amount of clinical depression in our communities? Perhaps surprisingly to some, in fact, there is not an increase in clinical depression over the holiday season. In fact the incidence of mental illness episodes seems to drop, at least to some degree, during this period.
Nonetheless, I'm sure that many people don't feel as good as they think they should, and consequently feel sad, disappointed, or resentful. If this is the situation for you, what should you do about it?
- First and foremost, do something. Doing nothing merely makes everything worse.
- Don't stay home and feel sorry for yourself. Try to spend some time with family and friends, or volunteer at a local shelter. Our family has helped serve dinner to the homeless, and it was an extremely rewarding experience.
- Exercise. Even modest exercise can do a marvelous job at releasing tensions and reducing stress. Furthermore, as we exercise more and we get better at it, a wonderful sense of mastery ensues that has a wonderful antidepressant effect.
- Eat healthy. During the holiday season, people often overeat all the wrong kinds of food and drink too much. The ensuing weight gain, hangovers, and physical malaise increases negative emotions. Exercising some restraint and focusing on moderation can help to improve spirits.
If low mood and apathy persist after the holiday season, along with low energy, loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed, difficulty concentrating, and problems with sleep, then you may in fact be suffering from a clinical depression. If this is the case, then a visit to your doctor or a mental health professional is in order.
At that point, you should consider that your persistently sad, low feelings are due to a major depressive episode. It is wise to consult with a mental health professional for a full workup and treatment plan. There are many ways to treat depression including talk therapy, antidepressant medication or both. Make sure the psychiatrist you see has a lot of experience with diagnosing and treating depressed patients. Call your nearest university hospital for a recommendation.