The Holiday Blues

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The holiday season is meant to be a time for joy, but for some it can be a time of challenges for the mind and the spirit. Some call it the “holiday blues” or the “winter blues,” but it might be a symptom of seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. SAD is a disorder in which an individual experiences extended bouts of sadness or depression, often for days or weeks at a time, most likely spurred by the change in season.

In the fall, days become shorter and we get less sun light, causing a disruption in our body’s internal clock. Some experience a drop in serotonin as a result of reduced exposure to the sun. Serotonin is a brain chemical that affects mood and, when reduced, can lead to bouts of depression. In addition, sleeping habits might be affected by a decrease in melatonin, a brain chemical that plays a role in sleep and mood. Combined, these physical symptoms will often lead to unhealthy sleep cycles, reduced exercise or physical activity, and a change in eating habits, creating a toxic cycle of stressors for the human body and mind.

Aside from the change in environment, or the physical stressors, the holiday season undoubtedly spurs a change in our emotional stress levels as well. Culturally, the holiday season is meant for family traditions, celebration, and togetherness, all of which are supposed to inspire positive thoughts and emotions. However, some are faced with specific emotional challenges during this time, like the passing of a loved one, financial difficulties, major health concerns, or even isolation. Whatever the negative emotion may be, heavy hearts or feelings of depression and isolation can be signs of seasonal affective disorder, or even depression.

The good news is, planning for these days can help. Recognizing what factors make one sad and using specific practices can assist in dealing with holiday blues. Recognizing when to get clinical help and separating holiday blues from clinical depression is important and should be kept in mind when dealing with self or family and friends around us. Knowing the difference can help us intervene when needed for our own health and for the health of loved ones.

Some tips to help deal with holiday blues can include:

  • Volunteer: Helping others is a great mood lifter. Volunteering at local schools, neighborhood organizations, and clubs can create positive feelings of purpose and alleviate sadness.
  • Avoid idle time: If you know that idle time is difficult for you, plan ahead. Fill your calendar with events that are fun for you. Engage in activities that will help lessen sad feelings. Reach out to positive friends. Also, plan ahead to visit places of interest and relaxation for you.
  • Confide in someone: Talk about your feelings. It helps to understand why you feel the way you do.
  • Catch sun and exercise: Cold winter and limited sunlight can add to seasonal symptoms of depression. Exercise and catching sunlight can be helpful with depressed mood and low energy.

If a loved one has the blues or seems depressed, include them in your activities, invite them out, and encourage them to talk about their feelings and to seek help if they are having significant symptoms which concern you of their well-being.

Holiday blues are temporary and mild but can unleash symptoms of clinical depression. It is important to recognize the signs and symptoms of depression in yourself and loved ones as prompt help can be lifesaving. Individuals should be concerned and seek appropriate clinical help if they:

  • lose pleasure or interest in most activities
  • start to feel worthless
  • feel excessive guilt
  • notice significant changes in sleep or appetite
  • have suicidal feelings

It is important to take the signs and symptoms of seasonal affective disorder seriously. As with other types of depression, SAD can get worse and lead to problems if it’s not treated. If you think you or a loved one may be experiencing seasonal affective disorder, it’s important to reach out and get help through a doctor or therapist.

Hamilton Center, Inc. is a private, not-for-profit regional health system in central and west central Indiana. The Organization is building hope and changing lives through a broad array of health service for people during their entire lifecycle, birth through older adulthood. Services are individualized, trauma-informed, and evidence-based.

For more information contact 812-231-8323 or visit


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