Shining a light on holiday blues

Everyone’s heard that the holiday season brings out the blues. It makes sense – we all know how stressful Christmas shopping, family get-togethers and failed New Year goals can be. First the good news: that’s an old chestnut. The pressures of work tend to lift around now, family and friends are more likely to reach out, and social organisations like the Salvation Army have outreach programmes that offer help during the holidays. But what if you’re still feeling ho-ho-hum?

The reasons for holiday blues probably have a lot to do with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which hits the northern hemisphere when their daylight hours shorten at the end of the year. In New Zealand, that period shifts to around June.

There is such a thing as summertime *, however, which is estimated to affect around .5 per cent of the population in the US, but is far more common than the wintertime version in countries near the equator such as India. Experts aren’t sure why, but excessive heat, long hours of daylight and humidity are all likely to be a factor. Body image in skimpier summer clothes and disrupted schedules over the holidays may also play a role in summertime .

to look out for are mostly the same as standard depression – sufferers experience a prolonged drop in mood, the usual pastimes no longer appeal, everything seems much harder than usual and instead of socialising they want to lock out the world until May. Where summertime SAD differs from the winter version is that light therapy may only make things worse, and instead of bingeing on carbohydrates, sufferers often lose their appetites.

So how do you cope if you’re dreading the festive season? 

  • Be kind to yourself. It’s okay if you don’t feel like celebrating.
  • Take time out in a cool, dark room if things are getting too much.
  • Go to a movie –  it’s air-conditioned and all you need to do is sit and be entertained.
  • Set aside small amounts of time just to be with friends or family, even if it’s only to talk. It’s best not to hide yourself away completely.
  • Try to go with the flow. Accept that sometimes changes to traditional routines can bring even better things.
  • If you can’t manage the gym, don’t worry. Go for a walk at dusk, when it’s cooler.
  • Make a list of obligations – then delete all but the most important.
  • Limit your alcohol intake –  it won’t help your mood in the long run.
  • If your low mood lasts a long time, or is getting in the way of your life, seek help from your doctor.