The Holiday Blues: Recognizing Seasonal Affective Disorder

The holidays are here, and it’s a joyous time with family, shopping, and baking. But you’re not feeling so joyful, and you can’t figure out why. You’re tired, but you can’t sleep. You want to prepare a lovely holiday for your family, but you have no ideas. And sugar is calling your name incessantly, and you fall into its comforting arms. The holidays are not supposed to be like this.

There are significant stressors that come with holidays, family expectations, the prospect of debt, the pressure to provide for everyone’s needs, and doing all of that on top of the regular things you normally do – your job, kids, house, cooking, and carpools. You may have The Holiday Blues, or you might suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, known as SAD.

The Holiday Blues and Seasonal Affective Disorder are two different things.

The Holiday Blues start around Thanksgiving and go away soon after Christmas. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) starts before Thanksgiving and lasts until spring and is related to the amount of sunlight you’re exposed to in a day.

The Holiday Blues

This is a temporary yet anxious condition that applies to many people during the holiday season. It can mimic SAD, but the condition is temporary. There are several reasons you might suffer during the holidays.

  • The holidays might be the anniversary of the death of a loved one or a divorce
  • Troubled relationships can get worse, and that knowledge increases anxiety
  • You don’t have the money you want, to give the gifts you wanted to give
  • You live far away from family and loved ones, with no way to get home for Christmas/li>

These situations, and more, cause sadness, loneliness, and even anger or irritability. These reactions to the holidays, in turn, cause additional situations such as –

  • Having a hard time concentrating
  • Can’t make decisions
  • Can’t sleep, or sleep more than normal
  • Withdrawing from your family and friends who are available

And all those supposedly wonderful holiday events like parties, gifts and yummy cookie packages don’t cheer you up, instead, they just make you more anxious. So, what to do?

Talk to your doctor or therapist. Your doctor can run some tests and see if there is a physical reason for your feelings. Your therapist can work with you on lifestyle changes.

  • Don’t rely on substances to make yourself feel better. Avoid alcohol
  • Don’t isolate yourself. Sometimes it helps to make yourself go outside or spend time with a few people you genuinely like
  • Reach out to someone else who might be lonely. Doing things for others makes us feel better

Seasonal Affective Disorder

This is a recognized type of depression springing from physical sources — namely, a lack of Vitamin D due to decreased amounts of sunlight in the winter months. Women are four times more likely than men to suffer from SAD, and it usually coincides with the winter months, although there are some spring/summer symptoms as well. The difference between the holiday blues and SAD is the time frame. SAD lasts longer and doesn’t change, even if your circumstances change. Some symptoms of SAD include –

  • Low energy levels
  • Overeating, especially of carbohydrates
  • Gaining weight
  • Withdrawing, or hibernating

There are four main treatments for SAD – light therapy, Vitamin D, medication, or psychotherapy. Always seek the advice of your doctor before trying or starting any treatment options.

Light therapy might be the most common way of treating SAD, and it involves sitting in front of a lightbox for twenty to sixty minutes a day. Lightboxes provide 10,000 lux of light (twenty times higher than your everyday light bulb), while filtering out the harmful U.V. rays.

Medications used to treat SAD are called Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, or antidepressants. This is a conversation to have with your doctor.

Vitamin D might be helpful in treating your SAD symptoms; it is something only your doctor can assess after doing some blood tests. Don’t just start taking Vitamin D supplements without checking in with him or her. If you want to add some Vitamin D-rich foods to your diet, add the following foods to your menu –

  • Salmon, swordfish, canned tuna or cod liver oil
  • Mushrooms
  • Beef liver
  • Egg yolks

Psychotherapy uses cognitive behavioral therapy, which is recognizing your negative thoughts and learning to replace them with positive ones. Along with engaging in pleasurable activities, this therapy can sometimes help the SAD sufferer.

It’s always a good idea to practice healthy habits during the holidays. Eat plenty of fresh foods, and drink enough water. Spend time exercising and getting enough fresh air. Open the curtains during the day to enjoy the view. If you’re still suffering, make an appointment with your doctor. They have treatments that can help.

Occasionally you might experience holiday blues and SAD symptoms at the same time. Be sure to recognize your symptoms and seek help right away. There are effective treatments available; you do not have to suffer.

When you have low energy, little motivation, and no sleep, it can be difficult to go through the process of calling to make a doctor’s appointment, and then going to it. But it can make the difference between finally enjoying the holidays with your friends or family, and feeling useful again, or spending another holiday season crying and feeling horrible about life.

Treatment options are available, and usually very affordable. Give yourself a gift this year and make positive changes in your life by seeking treatment for SAD … you don’t have to be sad.