As joyous a time a year as it is meant to be, the holiday season can also be difficult. Sometimes, we are missing loved ones, or the holiday stress is overwhelming. For clinicians, a poor prognosis for a patient may weigh heavily on the mind.
C. Vaile Wright, PhD, director of research and special projects at the American Psychological Association (APA) has some advice for coping with the winter blues and when to recognize when the problem something more.
Holiday stress—a seasonal sadness
“Holidays are a time for coming together and spending time with those you care about,” says Wright. “For those experiencing seasonal affective disorder, there are several strategies to help manage these feelings. Spending time with family and friends is a great way to lift your spirits and to avoid isolating one’s self.”
And while we might be hesitant to share our feelings and bring those around us down, Wright says talking about it is more helpful than not.
“You can also talk to your loved ones about how the season may be affecting you, as to why you may be feeling sad during the holidays,” Wright says.
Why does winter get us down?
“With holidays being a time for family and friends coming together to celebrate, it can also mean a time where some may feel extreme stress or seasonal depression,” Wright says. “Also, some may find that large family gatherings or the stress of preparing large meals or gift giving can cause them to lose the enjoyment out of the holidays.”
Winter itself also plays a role, she adds.
“Not only is the weather changing, but it is also getting colder out, and the sun sets earlier. Changes in the weather, can contribute to feelings of seasonal depression during the holidays,” Wright says. “It’s helpful to keep active and participate in games or activities with them that will get you moving and not cooped up inside all winter.”
What’s normal and what’s too much?
While many of us may struggle with some sort of holiday stress and winter blues, for some, these feelings can become more overwhelming.
“During the winter months and around the holidays, some people may experience a type of sadness or winter blues. This type of sadness is referred to as seasonal affective disorder, also known as SAD,” Wright says. “SAD is a type of depression that lasts for a season, more commonly in winter months and goes away during the rest of the year.”
Symptoms of SAD and depression are very similar, she adds, and can include fatigue, difficulty sleeping, food cravings or feelings of persistent sadness.
“However, if someone continues to experience these symptoms through an extended period of time or become more withdrawn from daily activities, then it may be time to seek help from a mental health professional, who can help determine if someone has SAD or depression,” Wright says. “It’s important to remember that serious prolonged health issues can have serious consequences. If you find that you’re experiencing symptoms of seasonal affective disorder well beyond the winter months or that symptoms may be intensifying, then one should seek help from a mental health professional.”
Caring for the caregiver
Being a healthcare provider can be an emotionally challenging job throughout the year, but these emotions could become overwhelming when coupled with holiday obligations, stress, and winter weather.
“The holidays are a time where clinicians may experience seasonal affective disorder or winter blues. Some may find themselves working long hours during the holidays or unable to visit with family due to demands at work,” Wright says. “To combat these feelings, it’s important that clinicians practice self-care by taking time for themselves. Whether it be going for a quick walk in between patients or spending time with friends after work.”