According to the National Mental Health Association, reasons for feeling blue around the holidays are numerous. They range from fatigue -- a result of all of the increased holiday activity -- to financial limitations and family tensions.
World renowned medical oncologist and homeopathic physician, James W. Forsythe says unrealistic expectations are a major factor of holiday depression.
"People often can’t let go of what they remember as a perfect holiday from years gone by, and are unable to recreate it," said Forsythe.
Concurring with that belief, Jill RachBeisel, M.D., director of community psychiatry at the University of Maryland Medical Center weighs in, “There are also expectations around the holidays that 'everything must be perfect', and perfection is, of course, rarely obtainable."
"Set goals that are realistic. If your holiday plans require you to run around shopping and going to parties until you are exhausted, and staying up all night to wrap presents, your plans aren’t very realistic. You need to pace yourself and get enough rest so that you won’t be grouchy and testy."
According to the University of Maryland’s Medical Center, other factors that can contribute to feelings of sadness around the holidays are memories of deceased loved ones and strained family relationships.
The holidays are associated with family and togetherness. In today's world of high divorce rates and fragmented family units, stress is commonly experienced as family members attempt to find some compromise in defining shared time.
“Creating family traditions helps bring family members closer together,” said RachBeisel. These traditions don’t have to be formal or elaborate. For instance, he recommends visiting a nursing home to help serve holiday meals to some of the residents, or videotaping holiday celebrations and making an annual event of watching the previous year’s celebration.
Other contributing factors to the holiday blues are increased stress, change in diet, and a change in daily routines.
Don’t let all of the pressures of shopping, coordinating social functions, negotiating family issues and missing lost loved ones overwhelm you this holiday season. There are a number of things you can do to keep stress, anxiety and depression at bay.
"Volunteer your time this holiday season to help others who have less than you do. Taking the focus off of yourself and putting it on others can really make you feel much better. Not only can you help other people, but doing so will add a lot more meaning to your holiday season."
Additional tips to help you banish the holiday blues:
Delegate. Don’t try to do it all by yourself. People often want to help and to be involved. By breaking down tasks and doling them out to friends and family, everything becomes more manageable.
Spend Some Time Alone. Some people love the energy and exuberance of big holiday parties and activities. For others, all of it is very taxing. If you find yourself getting a little anxious, take a breather. Find a quiet spot to relax and recharge your batteries. Other people will be so caught up in what is going on that they probably won’t even miss you.
Let Go of the Past. Don’t be disappointed if your holidays aren’t like they used to be. Life brings changes. Embrace the future, and don’t dwell on the fact that the "good old days" are gone.
Don’t Drink Too Much. It is easy to overindulge around the holidays, but excessive drinking will only make you feel more depressed.
Give Yourself a Break. Don't think in absolute terms. You aren't the best cook in the world, or the worst. You aren’t super mom, or the most horrible mother in the world.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Holiday blues, although serious, should not be confused with another condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is a clinically diagnosed mood disorder that usually occurs during the winter months.
For some, cold and dark winter days can trigger fatigue, moodiness and other symptoms of depression, diagnosed as Seasonal Affective Disorder
Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is mood disorder characterized by mental depression related to a certain season of the year - especially winter. Onset usually occurs during adulthood, and it is four times more likely to happen to women than men. Approximately 11 million people are diagnosed with this disorder, which has been incorrectly referred to as "winter blues."
Symptoms of SAD are daytime drowsiness, fatigue or low energy level, decreased sex drive, diminished concentration, difficulty thinking clearly, and a tendency to overeat sweets and carbohydrates causing weight gain.
Decreased sunlight is thought to be part of the cause of SAD, and is under clinical investigation. One treatment for SAD, which seems to improve the symptoms, is exposure to bright light, especially in the morning.
The holidays cause many people to feel anxious and depressed in a general sense, but for some, holiday tensions can lead to full-blown clinical depression.
If despite your best efforts to remain upbeat this holiday season, you find yourself feeling down for a sustained period of time, get help. Don’t try to "tough it out" alone. There are treatment options available to you that could make a significant difference in your outlook.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 19 million American adults suffer from depressive illnesses every year. Unfortunately, many people with clinical depression don’t seek help, even though depression is a treatable condition.
"Some people still look at mental illness as a character flaw. The truth is that it is no different from any other kind of illness. If your body couldn’t produce enough insulin, no one would tell you to ‘get over it’. You’d need to go to the doctor and get treated for your insulin deficiency. It is the same with mental illness."
Below is a list of depressive symptoms compiled by the National Institute of Mental Health. NIMH experts suggest that you seek professional help if you experience five or more of these symptoms every day for two weeks. If you have recurring thoughts of death or suicide, you should get help immediately.
- Persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" mood
- Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness
- Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities that were once enjoyed, including sex
- Decreased energy, fatigue, being "slowed down"
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
- Insomnia, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
- Appetite and/or weight loss or overeating and weight gain
- Restlessness, irritability
- Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain
Natural Alternatives to Prozac
Dr. Forsythe recommends drinking lots of purified water and eating organic vegetables and fruits, whole grains, and lean protein. “Diets high in refined foods, sugars, and unhealthy fats can actually interfere with our natural brain chemistry,” says Forsythe.
Forsythe is still among a maverick few who focus primarily on nutritional interventions for mental health problems. Forsythe believes that nutrition can influence brain chemistry and that diet and supplements can make a big difference in treating depression, though not every type.
Michael Lesser, a psychiatrist in Berkeley, California concurs with Forsythe in that he bases his treatment on an evaluation of a patient’s diet and lifestyle. “Modern eating habits are part of what makes many people depressed. Ironically, though we live in a wealthy society, our diets are deficient in crucial nutrients,” says Lesser, author of The Brain Chemistry Plan.
Nutritional deficiencies can contribute to chemical imbalances, like anemia and hypothyroidism, which in turn can lead to anxiety, insomnia—and depression. People with depression are commonly diagnosed with low levels of zinc, magnesium, B vitamins, essential fatty acids, and amino acids. In fact, most cases of depression in this country are either caused or exacerbated by poor nutrition. There have been increasing numbers of studies finding that specific nutrients can help manage, and even reverse, depression, along with anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), schizophrenia, and even autism. One of the most compelling, a study from Harvard, found that omega-3 fatty acids in conjunction with medication worked so powerfully on manic depression that the study was halted so every subject could take them.
Depression might be the result of heart trouble that doesn’t allow enough oxygen to get to the brain, for instance, or an intestinal problem that prevents efficient absorption of vitamin B-12. When a person’s diet is deficient in some of these nutrients, neurotransmitters aren’t made correctly or don’t get what they need to function properly, and various emotional and mental disorders can result. For instance, low blood sugar can contribute to some forms of depression, and so can low levels of zinc in some people.
In fact, professional guidance can make any program more effective by making it more targeted, says Mark Hyman, editor-in-chief of Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine. Physicians can test patients first to diagnose chemical imbalances, and then take it from there. Working with a doctor also helps determine what does and doesn’t work. “We’re not the best judge of our own condition when it comes to depression,” says Kenneth Pelletier, clinical professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. “It’s something you shouldn’t tackle alone.”
• B Vitamins Many people, particularly women over 65, have B-12 deficiencies and respond dramatically to injections of the vitamin. But all B vitamins can boost mood; they work by facilitating neurotransmitter function. Other pluses: B vitamins are critical for preventing other maladies, including heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s. Dosage: Take at least 800 micrograms of folate, 1,000 mcg of B-12, and 25 to 50 milligrams of B-6. A B-complex vitamin should do the trick, says Hyman, and if you’re depressed, take more. Take them in combination because otherwise one can mask another B vitamin deficiency. Risks: None.
• Essential fatty acids Their benefits are among the best documented. The reason they’re so effective? Essential fatty acids are part of every cell membrane, and if those membranes aren’t functioning well, then neither is your brain.
Dosage: For depression, take at least 2,000 to 4,000 mg of fish oil a day. Should be purified or distilled so it’s free of heavy metals. Risks: Very safe, albeit unstable. Since it can oxidize in your body, take it along with other antioxidants, like vitamin E (400 IUs a day).
• Amino Acids The building blocks of neurotransmitters; 5-HTP is the most popular. Taking it can elevate mood in cases of depression, anxiety, and panic attacks, and relieve insomnia. Increases production of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Dosage: Start with a low dose, 50 mg two to three times a day; after two weeks, increase the dose to 100 mg three times a day. Risks: Mild nausea or diarrhea. Before starting, get off antidepressants (under a doctor’s supervision); the combination can produce an overload of serotonin.
• Saint-John’s-Wort One of the best-known remedies. Best for mild to moderate depression. Dosage: Start on a dose of 300 mg (standardized to 0.3 percent hypericin extract) two to three times a day, depending on severity of depression; it can take three weeks to show benefits. Risks: It may interfere with up to half of all drugs, prescription and over-the-counter.
• Sam-e An amino acid combination produced by humans, animals, and plants. Supplements come from a synthetic version produced in a lab that has shown a lot of promise in European studies. May affect the synthesis of neurotransmitters. It has fewer side effects than 5-HTP and fewer drug interactions than Saint-John’s-wort. Dosage: Can range from 400 to 1,200 mg a day, though high doses can cause jitteriness and insomnia. Risks: People with bipolar disorder shouldn’t use it without supervision because it can trigger mania.
• Rhodiola rosea Considered an adaptogen, which means it can increase your resistance to a variety of stressors. May be good for mild to moderately depressed patients. Dosage: Take 100 to 200 mg three times a day, standardized to 3 percent rosavin. Risks: More than 1,500 mg a day can cause irritability or insomnia.
• DHEA This hormone is marketed in Europe specifically for postmenopausal depression, though it may be helpful for other forms as well. Has been used in conjunction with estrogen to treat hot flashes. Not clear why it helps boost mood and energy. Dosage: 25 to 200 mg a day. Risks: Some believe hormonal supplements have the potential to increase cancer risk.
Finding professional help. At the Century Wellness Clinic (CWC), Dr. Forsythe’s medical team starts by evaluating the patient in a number of ways—emotionally, physically, and biochemically. Then they supply specific health prescriptions, which include supplements and food, often in tandem with exercise, natural hormones, and mind-body techniques. For more information, please call CWC during regular business hours toll-free at 1-877-789-0707 or visit the website at www.drforsythe.com.
The opinions expressed in the newsletter article belong to the original author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or policies of the Century Wellness Clinic and Cancer Screening & Treatment Center of Nevada. The information provided at this site and specifically newsletters are for informational purposes and are not intended for use as diagnosis or treatment of a health problem or as a substitute for consulting a licensed medical professional
The information contained in this Health Report is intended for education purposes only. It is intended to complement—not replace—the advice provided by healthcare providers.
Lisa Marie Wark is currently a free lance writer and is a business development consultant with a concentration in medical spas and alternative clinics. Currently she is President of MedSpas, a business development firm that provides physicians the necessary business tools to help them build or expand their practices into medical spa facilities. Wark was formerly an anchor and financial reporter for ON24 Financial News in San Francisco. In 2001, she was promoted to the main female anchor of three financial news broadcasts, covering a broad range of financial sectors and industries.