It’s the most wonderful time of the year! For most of us, anyway. Some people see only the crowds instead of the festivities. Preparing for family get-togethers is an exercise set in frustration and worry, and the only things they’re capable of reminiscing about are regrets and missed opportunities. These are people who recluse into a corner or their rooms during a holiday party, who avoid others, who seem incapable of enjoying even the simple things.
There’s a difference between sad and SAD
Chances are this isn’t a bad attitude, or a simple bad mood. Frequently, the holiday blues are a bigger problem. Seasonal Affective Disorder, SAD, is a real disorder every bit as serious as other depressive disorders. The medical world is still trying to understand what causes this disorder; the National Institute on Mental Health first chalked it up as a response to decreased light in the winter, leading to the light therapies often used to treat the disorder. More recently, the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology found people who deal with SAD experience a significant loss of serotonin during the winter months.
It can be tempting to write SAD off – the acronym does it no favors – but it’s a problem often requiring therapy to overcome. Fortunately, there’s simple, effective ways to beat SAD and holiday depression:
- Get as much light as possible. Columbia University psychology professor Ani Kalayjian, Ph.D., told the Daily Beast that SAD’s effects are the worst in the mornings when people are first getting out of bed. Kalayjian recommends patients open their curtains or shutters as much as possible to get the most exposure to natural light as the body wakes up. Additionally, light box therapy has been shown to be effective in treating SAD. Light boxes mimic outdoor light, which some researchers think causes chemical changes in the brain which can lift mood
- Stay active. Feeling depressed drives many people toward carbs, which causes weight gain, which makes them feel even worse. A review published in the “American College of Sports Medicine Journal” suggested exercise could work as well as therapy or anti-depressants for some patients
- Go outside. Some studies have shown that something as simple as going outside can reduce stress
- Cut down on the sugar. It’s the season of sweet stuff, but there might be a link between depression and sugar. Other studies have investigated sugar’s role in anxiety. Sugar is also potentially addictive – consuming it can cause the same dopamine release as drugs do, albeit to a lesser extent
- Even if you’re not battling SAD, it’s a season which can cause a tremendous amount of anxiety as we juggle deadlines and obligations, or perhaps project those same worries and stresses onto others. Yoga has been shown to be a very good tool against anxiety and depression
The holiday season is a break we’ve earned. We work hard all year, and we ought to end it happy, not stressed, miserable and defeated. If these techniques against SAD don’t work, don’t worry: like all depressive disorders, SAD responds well to treatment and therapy. Don’t be afraid to seek professional help – depression is a disease like any other.
White River Academy offers residential treatment to adolescent boys aged 12 to 17. Our facility is staffed with experts in psychology, education and behavioral treatment. We treat your son’s difficulties with kindness, knowledge and care, offering numerous therapies to keep your son on the right path. Please call our 24/7 helpline for more information.