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Well and Good: Holiday Depression

The holidays are supposed to be a time of family, friends and fun. But for many people who struggle with depression, this is a particularly tough time of year.

There are many reasons depression seems to strike right before and after Christmas and other winter holidays: Stress and fatigue from trying to “do it all.” High expectations that set you up for disappointment.  Financial worries. Even the lack of sunshine in a typical winter may contribute – some people suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, brought on by the lack of exposure to sunlight during colder months.

If you find yourself struggling with overwhelming sadness, always consult your doctor. If you know you’re already pre-disposed to depression, keep these thoughts in mind during this season:

Stay the course on anti-depressants: if you regularly take an anti-depressant, do not allow a disrupted schedule to interfere with your medication schedule. Do not skip doses; if you forget one or more, follow your doctor’s advice on catching up. Likewise, do not take more than the recommended dosage if you’re feeling especially blue or feel the medications are not having the usual effect. Consult your doctor instead. Finally, monitor your prescription so you don’t run out while pharmacies are closed for the holiday break, or while you are traveling and can’t get a refill easily.

Watch alcohol consumption:  If you are taking an anti-depressant, your physician has probably set strict guidelines around alcohol. Don’t be tempted by frequent parties to break the rules. But even if you aren’t currently on medication, limiting alcohol is probably a good idea. Alcohol is a depressant, and even though a few extra drinks here or there may seem like no big deal, or a fun way to celebrate, over-imbibing can quickly send depression symptoms spiraling. Too much alcohol consumption, especially if you rarely drink, can also interfere with sleep, which can again contribute to depression.

Get some exercise: Get out and take a walk or run, take a spin class, do some yoga. There’s a growing body of evidence that exercise can help alleviate depression, apparently by releasing endorphins that produce positive, happy feelings. Especially if you rely on exercise to lift your mood, make sure you make time for it, even in the busy holiday season. If you can’t get to the gym or fit in your 90-minute run, just do whatever you can find time for, even if it’s just a few trips around the block with your dog.

Sleep, eat, pray: Again, keeping to as normal routine as possible may help stave off feelings of depression. Fatigue and poor nutrition will only heighten symptoms. Do not skimp on sleep, or skip meals because you ate too many Christmas cookies; if church services give you peace, make time to attend them, or to find quiet time for reflection and prayer.