Depression: Beating the Holiday Blues (cont.)
I find that during the holidays the littlest things can set me off crying. I don't even know why. It's like I'm missing something, but I don't know what. I have a wonderful family and friends and yet I tear up over songs, or commercials, or those "Hi to my family back in America" clips from soldiers stationed overseas that they show on TV. Yesterday I was in the car, switching stations and this song came on about a little boy wanting to buy Christmas shoes for his momma who was dying. I burst into tears. Not a good way to drive -- and I don't even like country music! Why am I so weepy during the holidays?
Country music is famous for its capacity to evoke these feelings. There is a very strong connection between the processing of emotional information and the processing of music.
You might look at areas of loss in your life to look for unfinished business that might explain your sensitivity. It is also true there are important and desirable individual differences in sensitivity that are part of the human condition. Some of us, by nature, are better at experiencing and expressing these feelings than others.
If your sensitivity does not cause you impairment or too much suffering, you might keep in mind that you help balance the world against one similarly insensitive person.
It's not really the holidays that cause the blues for me; it's the postholidays. The fun is over, the bills are due, and the real winter yuck sets in. Does that sound like SAD, or just a delayed case of holiday blues? I do feel sluggish and irritable when the weather is gray and cold, that's for sure.
Join the club. As I mentioned a little bit ago, about one in seven of us reliably feel worse when there is little sunshine and the days are short. Perhaps the holidays are positive enough for you that they postpone your slump until January.
You might find that bright light therapy has mood lifting effects. If you would like, simply type in seasonal affective disorder or light therapy into a search and you will receive mountains of information about seasonal affective disorder and light therapy.
Does that bright light therapy require a special lamp, or does just opening all the shades and turning on all the lights in the house help?
Interestingly, people who live in the southern United States suffer less from seasonal mood disorder than people in the northern United States or Canada. So getting outside first thing in the morning and having your curtains open and your shades up probably can help, even in a northern climate.
But if that is not enough, generally an extra 30 to 60 minutes of bright light exposure using a "sun box" may be necessary. These do provide a special kind of light (similar to the light you might use to grow plants from seeds), and a "sun box" has a diffusion screen that helps to protect you from glare and heat. Please don't make your own "sun box" with a bunch of regular light bulbs.
Is it a myth that suicides increase over the holidays?
Generally yes, it is a myth. There are some fluctuations in suicide rates, but they are actually higher in April than they are in December.
We are almost out of time. Before we wrap things up for today, do you have any final words for us, Dr. Thase?
One good thing about the holiday blues is they reliably pass within six weeks of their onset. I hope the comments I have made today help you manage or, at the least, help you consider if professional assistance might make a difference in your enjoyment of this special time of year.
If you are interested in broader approaches to depression, you might consider taking a look at the book that Susan Lang and I wrote, called Beating the Blues . It is a self-help book, not just about holiday depression, but also about a variety of the milder forms of mood disorder that can plague your everyday existence.
Thank you for the opportunity to be with you today.
Our thanks to Michael Thase, MD, for joining us. For more reading on this, pick up his book, Beating the Blues: New Approaches to Overcoming Dysthymia and Chronic Mild Depression .
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