GETTING TO THE ROOT OF THE HOLIDAY BLUES

 Is It The Holidays That Get Me Or Is It Just My Life?

 

Question: My wife thinks I am depressed because I have been tired and sleeping a lot. She wants me to go see our doctor so she can prescribe some medication for me. I have told her that I am fine and that she knows I always feel a bit down over Christmas and that once it is all over I will be back to my normal self. Isn’t it normal for some people to feel down over the holidays?

 

Answer: Any question that includes “isn’t it normal” is always a tricky one for me because the answer is “normally”, yes and no. I think what might be helpful is to give you a sense of what I would be looking for if you were seeing me in counselling and under what circumstances I would encourage you to go see your doctor.

 

The first thing I look for is whether there is a connection between the change in mood to any life events in the present or in the past. For instance, individuals who lost a loved one or who had significant family conflicts during the holidays may become depressed because they are in some sense “reliving” the events of the past and their mood is impacted by it. The decision to see a doctor and perhaps try medication (antidepressants) would depend on the severity of the symptoms and/or whether counselling could provide enough support to get an individual through this time. Severe symptoms would include suicidal ideation, excessive crying, significant increase or decrease in sleep, appetite, weight gain, and a general inability to participate in activities like work, parenting and other events.

 

If there is no indication that there is a connection between mood and life events, then I would begin to look at whether an individual might be suffering from some type of mood disorder. This would include Major Depressive Disorder, Dysthymia, or perhaps even Bi-Polar Disorder. If I suspected that an individual met the criteria for one of these diagnoses, and I observed that the individual had significant difficulty in managing basic life activities, then I would encourage that person to see their doctor and continue with counselling. It is important to note that individuals with a mood disorder may have a decrease in mood due to life events and stressors, but we would expect the decrease in mood to be of a more pervasive nature.

 

So, I don’t think that the holidays in themselves cause a decrease in mood, but do recognize that there are a lot of other factors such as family relationships, financial stress, lack of exercise due to weather, and other situational factors do impact our lives during this time. I would encourage you and/or your wife to think about coming in for counselling at this time to work with a professional to get to the bottom of what is causing your decrease in mood during this time. Sometimes just talking about how one is feeling can help reduce symptoms and there may be no need for you to have to feel badly over the holidays.