Holiday blues or something more serious?
As much as we’ve heard that the holidays can increase rates of depression and suicide, health experts say that’s not always true. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the suicide rate is actually lowest in December.
But mental health professionals warn that the notorious “holiday blues,” can be real and can also signal deeper problems and exacerbate symptoms in people with depression.
“People do tend to get more depressed during the winter months generally,” says Dr. Ryan Patel ,DO FAPA, a psychiatrist with Advocate Medical Group. “Limited sunlight and more sedentary routines may have something to do with it. Adding in holiday stress and financial pressures can also make symptoms of depression worse.”
But how do you know if your low mood is a seasonal problem or something more serious?
The American Psychological Association says there are some distinct signs to look for.
If the holidays have passed and you’re still having feelings of sadness and despair for at least two weeks after, it’s time to seek help, they say. If the feelings are interrupting your work, eating or sleeping patterns, it could be something more than just the Christmas blues.
Dr. Patel says there isn’t a magic bullet to ward off the holiday sadness but some things may help.
“It’s important not to consume excessive amounts of caffeine or alcohol at this time of the year,” he says. “Getting enough sleep and working in some regular exercise, with your doctor’s approval, will go a long way to having a better mindset.”
In the spirit of the season, Dr. Patel says doing unto others can help your mood. Focusing on the needs of others is good therapy.
“You can express the things that are important to you through religious activities or volunteer work,” he says. “Take this time to reach out to someone who might benefit from your friendship or even just a call to check in on them.”
Depression at this time of the year or any other can be serious. Dr. Patel says it’s critical to reach out to a physician if you’re feeling overwhelmed.
“Don’t isolate yourself,” he says. “If you’re feeling anxious, overly stressed or hopeless, seek professional help.”
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