by Sanaz Majd, MD
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The holidays aren’t a cheerful time for everyone. Believe it or not, more people suffer from depression this time of the year than any other. Whether it’s the cold, gloomy weather, the yearning for our passed loved ones, financial stress, or family discord, it’s not always “the most wonderful time of the year.”
How Do You Know If You Have the Holiday Blues?
Doctors in training use a mnemonic called “SIG E CAPS” to help them remember the signs and symptoms of depression and to determine if someone is clinically depressed. This doctor secret is a great way to determine if you suffer from any of the following symptoms of depression during the holidays:
S = Sleep
Do you find yourself needing to sleep more than usual during holiday time? Do you nap during the daytime when you didn’t before? Or, alternatively, do you find it difficult to fall asleep, or do you wake up during the night? Those with depression often suffer from sleeping difficulties, whether it’s more or less sleep.
I = Interest
Do you find yourself not enjoying activities you used to enjoy, like setting up the holiday decorations? Do you find pleasure in your usual hobbies? Do you lack the desire to be with others or to go out and do things (like shopping) the way you used to? People suffering from depression admit that they lack pleasure in previously enjoyable activities. The fancy doctor term for this is “anhedonia,” or the inability to feel pleasure
G = Guilt or Feelings of Worthlessness
Do you feel guilty or blame yourself for family discord arising during the holidays? Do you feel as though you have no hope? Do you feel worthless? It’s very common for those with depression to have these thoughts.
E = Energy
Are you fatigued or tired all the time? Do you have difficulty getting out of bed? Do simple activities, like baking your famous pumpkin pie wear you down (well, so baking is not so simple for all of us -- especially me -- but you get the idea)? Fatigue is so common in depression that every time I have a patient in my office with this complaint, one of the first questions I ask is whether they feel depressed. More often than not, this question quickly depletes the box of Kleenex I keep in the exam room.
C = Concentration
Are you finding it difficult to focus at work, especially with all the seemingly too-cheerful holiday decoration and spirit? Do you find your brain wandering while watching your previously favorite holiday show, A Charlie Brown Christmas? Those with depression often find themselves having difficulty concentrating.
A = Appetite
Do you overdo it on the turkey and pumpkin pie at dinner? Or do you find it difficult to even nibble on the stuffing? Some with depression find themselves eating too much and gaining weight (especially around the holidays), and others have no appetite at all and actually lose weight.
P = Psychomotor Changes
Do you feel that you are moving at a slower pace throughout the day than usual? Are you finding it difficult to stay at the mall long enough to do your holiday shopping? Or, alternatively, do you feel like you have to be the holiday energizer bunny and constantly be on the go to keep your mind busy and distracted? Depression can cause us to either be less active and slower than usual (“psychomotor retardation”) or more wound up (“psychomotor agitation”).
S = Suicidal Thoughts
Do you often wonder what it would be like if you were no longer living? How would people react? What would they say? This is the most important and urgent symptom of depression to discuss with your doctor. While it may be normal to think “what if,” it’s NOT normal to have a plan or the real desire to hurt yourself or anyone else in any way. If you are having ANY suicidal thoughts, please contact your doctor immediately, or call 911.
The above 8 symptoms, along with a depressed mood (the 9th symptom) help determine if you suffer from the holiday blues. However, to be diagnosed with clinical depression, patients typically suffer from at least 5 out of the 9.
How to Beat the Holiday Blues
Here are my 5 Quick and Dirty Tips to help combat the holiday blues:
1. Seek Your Doctor: If you have any of these 9 symptoms, please make sure you see your doctor right away. Your doctor will likely run a blood test to make sure it’s not something else that can mimic depression, like thyroid disease for instance. And they can help treat your depression, whether it’s with medication or not.
2. Support: Talk to your family and friends. Discuss what is going on in your mind, and how you are feeling this time of the year. They may be able to empathize. If you’ve lost a loved one, they likely share the same feelings. If you are having financial stress, they may be able empathize as well, especially during this economic crisis. Surround yourself with people who are supportive of you, and confide in them often.
3. Counseling: Counseling is very therapeutic. Talking to an unbiased third party that is not involved in your life can be quite helpful in placing your thoughts and feelings into perspective. I think this is especially important for those without good family/friend support. Ask your doctor for a referral.
4. Avoid Alcohol: It’s tempting to want to gulp down a few extra glasses of wine to wash away the sorrows. But instead of washing, it only masks them temporarily. Not to mention that drinking alcohol during the holidays is a great contributor to the weight gain many of us experience during the winter months. Try to limit your alcohol intake.
5. Find a Stress Outlet: Find a healthy way to relieve stress. Whether it’s reading a good book, an evening with your buddies, listening to classical music, meditating, yoga, or exercising, finding an outlet for your stress is crucial to dealing with depression. Keeping a journal can also be a good stress reliever – there’s something greatly therapeutic about transferring your thoughts through the pen and onto paper (or through the keyboard onto your laptop for you techies).
Again, I want to stress that if you have thoughts of hurting yourself or anyone else, please get help immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number is 800-273-8255 and their web site is www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
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Please note that all content here is strictly for informational purposes only. This content does not substitute any medical advice, and does not replace any medical judgment or reasoning by your own personal health provider. Please always seek a licensed physician in your area regarding all health related questions and issues.