About holiday depression, anxiety, and stress

What is holiday depression, anxiety, and stress?

A number of factors, including unrealistic expectations, financial pressures, and too many commitments can cause stress and anxiety at holiday time.

  • Certain people may feel anxious or depressed around the winter holidays due to seasonal affective disorder (SAD), sometimes referred to as seasonal depression.
  • Headaches, excessive drinking, overeating, and insomnia are some of the possible consequences of poorly managed holiday stress.
  • Those suffering from any type of holiday anxiety, depression, or stress can benefit from increased social support during this time of year. Counseling or support groups can also be beneficial.
  • In addition to being an important step in preventing the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, regular exposure to light that is bright, particularly fluorescent lights, significantly improves depression in people with SAD during the fall and winter.
  • Setting realistic goals and expectations, reaching out to friends, sharing tasks with family members, finding inexpensive ways to enjoy yourself, and helping others are all ways to help beat holiday stress.

The winter holiday season, including Christmas, Hanukkah, and Thanksgiving, for most people is a fun time of the year filled with parties, celebrations, and social gatherings with family and friends. But for many people, it is a time filled with sadness, self-reflection, loneliness, and anxiety.



What are the symptoms for holiday depression, anxiety, and stress?

Insomnea symptom was found in the holiday depression, anxiety, and stress condition

Balancing the demands of shopping, parties, family obligations, and house guests may contribute to feelings of being overwhelmed and increased tension. People who do not view themselves as depressed may develop stress responses and may experience a number of physical and emotional symptoms including

  • headaches,
  • excessive drinking,
  • overeating,
  • insomnia.

Others may experience post-holiday sadness after New Year's/Jan. 1. This can result from built-up expectations and disappointments from the previous year, coupled with stress and fatigue.

In the case of seasonal affective disorder or a true depressive disorder, symptoms may persist beyond the holidays or may be more severe. The symptoms of seasonal affective disorder include tiredness, fatigue, depression, crying spells and mood swings, irritability, trouble concentrating, body aches, loss of sex drive, insomnia, decreased activity level, and Overeating (especially of carbohydrates) with associated weight gain.



What are the causes for holiday depression, anxiety, and stress?

Sadness is a truly personal feeling. What makes one person feel sad may not affect another person. Typical sources of holiday sadness include

  • stress,
  • fatigue,
  • unrealistic expectations,
  • overcommercialization,
  • financial stress,
  • the inability to be with one's family and friends, and
  • in addition to sadness, many people feel holiday anxiety or stress, particularly when they feel unable to cope with the demands upon them.

 



What are the treatments for holiday depression, anxiety, and stress?

Those suffering from any type of holiday depression or stress may benefit from increased social support during this time of year. For uncomplicated holiday blues, improvement may be found by finding ways to reduce the stresses associated with the holiday, either by limiting commitments and outside activities, making arrangements to share family responsibilities such as gift shopping and meal preparation, agreeing upon financial limits for purchases, or taking extra time to rest and rejuvenate.

Counseling or support groups are another way to relieve some of the burdens of holiday stress or sadness. Knowing that others feel the same way and sharing your thoughts and experiences can help you manage your troubling feelings. Support groups also provide a further layer of social support during this vulnerable time period.

In addition to being an important step in preventing the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, regular exposure to light that is bright, particularly fluorescent lights, significantly improves depression in people with SAD during the fall and winter. Phototherapy is commercially available in the form of light boxes, which are used for approximately 30 minutes daily. The light required must be of sufficient brightness, approximately 25 times as bright as a normal living room light. The light treatment is used daily in the morning and evening for best results.

Visiting other areas of the world that are characterized by more bright light (such as the Caribbean) can also improve the symptoms of SAD.

Antidepressant medications, particularly serotonin selective reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) medications, can be an effective treatment for seasonal affective disorder. Examples of SSRIs include fluoxetine (Prozac), sertraline (Zoloft), paroxetine (Paxil), and citalopram (Celexa).



What are the risk factors for holiday depression, anxiety, and stress?

Risk factors for depression, anxiety, and stress during the holidays include having a mood disorder or experiencing depression at other times during the year and a lack of adequate social support systems. Other risk factors can include recent trauma, life changes, excessive alcohol intake, or concurrent illness. Having financial troubles may increase one's susceptibility to anxiety or stress during the holidays. Stressful family situations and illness in the family are also predisposing factors. Essentially, any factor that can cause depression, stress, or anxiety in an individual can worsen these conditions at holiday time.

 



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