Christmas is my favorite holiday.
I just love it. I love Christmas carols, drinking hot chocolate, the anticipation of a white Christmas (which hardly ever happens here), the giving and receiving of presents, Christmas cookies, all of it. I love the holiday season. But, despite all of this, I still find myself feeling considerably less mentally healthy during the holiday season, and I’m not alone.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also known as seasonal depression, is depression that occurs mainly during one season, usually winter. SAD affects approximately 10 million Americans, with 10-20% more having mild SAD, more commonly known as the ‘winter blues’. Others, like me, have depression year round but it increases in severity during the winter.
Why does such a thing occur, you might be wondering? Christmas and the winter season in general are known for family, friends, joy, and the spirit of giving. There are a lot of reasons, though. For people without familial or friend support, the holiday season can be a lonely time. Spending an important holiday without a lost loved one can also bring up old feelings of grief. More biological reasons include a lack of sunlight during the winter, leading to decreased levels of sunlight, and changing melatonin levels due to the seasonal change.
What can you do, then, if you’re feeling this way during the winter to a point that it interferes with your daily life? Treatments are similar to that of major depressive disorder. They include psychotherapy and medication. However, there are also SAD-specific treatments, such as exposure to brighter light and getting outside for fresh air and sunlight, despite the biting cold.
If you suspect one of your friends or family members may be dealing with seasonal affective disorder, try to encourage them to get some sort of help. However, you can also offer your own personal support, especially if they’re feeling lonely around the holiday season, and encourage them to get outside by going on a walk with them or heading to the park.
The holidays can be great, as I said before, but it’s important to recognize that they can be a time of hurting for some people and embrace those who need our help during the holidays. I hope this can be just one way of breaking that stigma around mental illness, mental health, and even just the blues.