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  • Writer's pictureGlenn Sevier

Holiday Blues or Clinical Depression: How to Tell the Difference





As a clinician who works with individuals, couples, and families, I’m well aware of how easy it is for someone to get a case of the holiday blues. These feelings usually surface around Thanksgiving and can linger through the holidays, often easing up after Valentine’s Day.


These holiday blues are often perpetuated by the unrealistic way the holidays are depicted in film and on social media: happy couples and happy families having a perfectly happy holiday experience. The constant barrage of this media can amplify feelings of the blues, much like the Grinch struggled to see others delighting in the holiday spirit. 


 I’ve had some clients try to cope by reminding themselves that other people may have it worse than them, but this perspective does not always cure the blues. 


Clients report that the holiday blues can feel intense and unsettling. You may not want to get out of bed, answer phone calls, or leave the house Generally, these feelings are short-lived and will last for a few days or weeks in the days leading up to, during, and after the holiday season. 


If these feelings don’t subside, though, they could become clinical depression. It’s important to know the difference between the holiday blues and clinical depression, and to know what to do if you’re experiencing symptoms of depression. 


HOLIDAY BLUES vs. CLINICAL DEPRESSION



The holiday blues may ease once the season is over, but if feelings of boredom, sadness, and apathy persist, it may be time to seek professional help or get treatment. Below, you’ll find a quick summary of the distinguishing characteristics of the holiday blues and depression. 


It is important to distinguish between the blues, which often subsides after the holidays, and clinical depression, which often requires professional help and/or treatment. We often use the term "depression" to describe feelings of: sadness, unhappiness, stress, fatigue, or a generalized sense of despair, but it does not meet the definition of Clinical Depression. 

The major differences between holiday blues and clinical depression are summarized below:


A. HOLIDAY BLUES

  • Feelings may be intense and unsettling, especially if the feelings arise around significant times of your life. In this case, around holiday season.

  • Short-lived. Feelings last only a few days to a few weeks around the holiday season (prior to or just after).

  • Emotions usually subside after the holiday season and a daily routine is resumed.


It should be a cause for concern if the blues linger for more than two weeks. In this case, the emotions may signal something deeper. If left untreated, these feelings can become a serious condition. If you are feeling depressed, contact your physician and/or call 911 if you are having suicidal thoughts.  


FACTORS THAT CONTRIBUTE TO THE HOLIDAY BLUES:

The factors that can contribute to the holiday blues can be grouped into three major categories:

Psychological Effects

  • This may be the first holiday season without a family member, loved one, spouse or a beloved family pet. Whether it is the first or the umpteenth season without a loved one, these feelings of loneliness and sadness can be considerable. 

  • Recalling difficult events that took place during holidays past

  • Family dynamics can exacerbate conflicts during the holidays.

  • Problems can arise from being unable to be with one's family members due to conflicting plans or limitations related to time and money

  • Revisiting strained relationships between family members that resurface when everyone gets together, especially if there is unresolved conflict. 

  • Trying to create the picture-perfect, Norman Rockwell-like  holiday celebration. This could be the one you longed for as a child or the one you hope to create for your children

  • Disappointment may arise when you do not hear from friends and family, or have seasonal expectations that don’t come true

Financial Stressors

  • Extra cost of gifts, holiday clothes, social functions, and holiday parties taking place in a short span of time. 

  • Financial pressures from friends, family, and children to keep up with everyone else, to have the latest toys or games, the most lights on your house, or the best party. 

  • Commercialization of the holidays adds to this pressure, as we are bombarded with Christmas music/ images and games, starting before Thanksgiving.

  • Media trying to 'guilt' us into believing we need the latest 'hot item' toy for our children.


Physical Effects

The pressures of the holiday season can be physically taxing, particularly for those whose health is already strained.  


Examples of physical stress individuals may experience are:

  • Body fatigue is common from the added demands of shopping, cooking, baking, cleaning, socializing, entertaining house guests, making presents, and sending Christmas cards. It is no wonder people get tired!

  • Too much food and drink during the holidays can also cause weight gain. There is pressure to eat more than you need, in particular sweet and fattening foods. This can be particularly frustrating if you are trying to lose weight.

  • Change in diet, increasing sugar and sweets can lead to fatigue.

  • Change in daily routines (increasing the normal activity level) can increase stress and lead to fatigue.

  • Decreased interest in food, sex, work, socializing, and other activities that usually bring pleasure

How To Cope with the Holiday Blues 


There are a variety of different coping strategies for dealing with the holiday blues. If you are feeling grief or loss, acknowledge these feelings. Recognize and accept that both positive and negative feelings may be experienced during the holidays, and that this is NORMAL.


Pace yourself. Do not take on more activities, make more commitments, or try and do more than you can reasonably handle. Plan ahead by setting priorities and making budgets before the holidays. Outline a schedule for shopping, baking, visiting, and other events. Create a "To-Do List" if things get overwhelming.


Other strategies:

  • Prioritize gifts that can't be bought, such as time, support, making memories 

  • Recognize and reframe unrealistic expectations.

  • Set limits to maintain a balanced diet, eating and drinking in moderation.

  • Get plenty of rest

  • Exercise regularly

B. CLINICAL DEPRESSION

  • Duration - symptoms are present nearly every day and persist for most of the day for at least 2 weeks or more

  • Pattern - the symptoms occur together during the same time frame

  • Impairment - the symptoms cause a level of distress or impairment that interferes with important parts of daily functioning, including:

  • Work – missing work, struggling to focus, performing poorly at work

  • Self-care – difficulty maintaining personal hygiene and there are often changes in appetite  

  • Social activities – isolation from friends and family,


In more mild cases, the level of functioning may appear to be normal, but it requires markedly increased effort to just maintain the normal level of activity. With a bit of time, and following some suggestions, the symptoms of the blues can often improve, but clinical depression can be a slippery slope. 



Finding Help for Depression

If you suspect you may be depressed or know someone who may be depressed, contact your health care provider or family physician. They may be able to help sort out whether what you are experiencing is a transient case of the holiday blues or a more serious case of depression. You may also want to contact a counselor, social worker, or clergy member to help get the resources you need.


If you are feeling depressed, CALL SOMEONE, whether it’s a friend, or family member, your clergy person or physician. Look up counselors, psychologists, social workers, and psychiatrists if you feel you need immediate professional help. 


Anyone having suicidal thoughts should seek immediate care, either through their own doctor or through the nearest hospital emergency department. Call 911, your local suicide hot-line or a Crisis Intervention Line. 


About Walk-N-Talk™ Therapy


Walking can be therapeutic, but walking with a trained professional—can be life

changing!


I have been the trailblazer of walk and talk therapy since I founded Walk-N-Talk™ Therapy in 2003 as an innovative way to help my high school students to engage in their counseling sessions. 


After seeing the positive effects this method had, I created and incorporated the Walk-N-Talk™Therapy modality into my private practice as an effective method that was welcomed by clients. Since then, the initiative and similar movements have grown to be embraced around the world, offering a promising new way for people to traverse the twists and turns of their mental wellness journey.


For clients, this style of therapy has several benefits. It puts physical and mental distance between them and their stress-causing environment, and it inspires self-awareness, physically and creatively. The nature component is conducive to the client’s lifestyle and opens the senses to their natural surroundings, be it a lakefront path or a forest preserve or city parks and streets. Clients have reported experiencing a sense of calm, clarity, focus and energy following these sessions.


To learn more about Walk-N-Talk™ Therapy and how it can benefit you, contact me at 773-512-8813 or send an email at [email protected]. You can also check out my website (www.AdvancePotential.com) for more details about the physical, emotional and mental effectiveness of this innovative approach.




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