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More than just a case of the holiday blues?

December 12, 2018

Throughout the holiday season, it’s normal for many of us to feel a bout of the “holiday blues,” commonly brought on by such things as stress, financial constraints, family conflict or tension and loneliness. But for others, the sadness and depression they feel around this time of year may actually be more than a mere case of the blues.

Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a type of depression typically related to changes in the seasons – most commonly occurring (and recurring) in the fall or winter months when the days and hours of sunlight grow shorter. During these months, those affected with SAD react adversely to the decreasing amount of light causing them to experience symptoms such as depression, fatigue, low energy, poor sleep, changes in appetite or weight, sadness, irritability, trouble concentrating and decreased activity levels. 

An estimated 2-3% of Canadians will experience SAD at one point in their life, with adults, women and those with a family history of depression at higher risk. Another 10-15% will experience a milder form of seasonal depression. There are a number of different treatment options for SAD depending on the severity of the symptoms, so check with your doctor or health care provider if you are concerned. As well, there are steps you can take to help prevent or combat the onset of symptoms: 

  • Spend time outside every day, even when it’s cloudy – the effects of daylight still help
  • Begin using a light box in early fall – studies show sitting in front of one (especially in the morning) for about 30 minutes is the “dose” of light that has been found optimal to trigger biochemical changes in your brain
  • Eat a well-balanced diet that includes sufficient amounts of vitamins and minerals
  • Exercise for at least 30 minutes a day, three times a week
  • Stay connected to friends and family – social support is very important

You can also complete the Patient Health Questionnaire-9, which consists of 9 questions asking about your experiences over the last two weeks. The answers are used by health care professionals to check for the presence and severity of depression, so it’s important to bring these results with you if making an appointment to see your doctor or health care provider (an online version can be found here).

So while it’s normal to experience some down days or bouts of the “holidays blues” during this time of year, if you experience these feelings at the same time every year or they persist for days at a time, don’t be too quick to brush it off as a mere case of the blues. Instead, see your doctor or health care provider.

For more information visit HealthLinkBC or the Canadian Mental Health Association.