Holiday Blues

Feeling like Scrooge? You are not alone. Here is a practical guide to help you survive, and possibly enjoy this holiday season.

Multicolored lights twinkle across houses and reindeer pose in front yards. Parents and eager children form long lines to sit on a Santa's lap while sucking on candy canes. Decorations and sale signs adorn every store window. Jingle bells and Christmas carols fill the air. Chestnuts are roasting on an open fire. Holiday movies are in every theater, "Miracle on 34th Street" replays in many homes. Families and friends gather around a cozy hearth smiling and laughing. Couples romantically walk hand in hand. The holidays are bliss for many, but not all.

The holidays are upon us, and if you would rather deck the next guy you see in a red suit than the halls, you may be suffering from the "holiday blues." These blues have also been called SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), and affect more than one million people each year. It is a very common emotional experience.

Although holiday depression is a common and typical response to a stressful season, the symptoms of SAD can be severe enough to interfere with your daily functioning, as well as personal relationships. The symptoms are generally temporary, manageable, and usually pass with time. The feelings tend to be situational. The most common symptoms of SAD include:

  • Mood changes, notably sadness, hopelessness, worthlessness and grief. These feelings can lead to suicidal ideation.
  • Agitation, anxiety and/or irritability which can lead to violence--family violence escalates during the holidays.
  • A decrease in physical activity which leaves a person feeling sluggish and sedentary.
  • An increase in the craving for carbohydrates, including alcohol.
  • A need for increased sleep.
  • Withdrawal from activities.

Many factors can cause the "holiday blues," including: stress, fatigue, over-commercialization, financial constraints, inability to be with family and friends during the holidays (or the pressure to be with family and friends). A death, loss, separation or other change in lifestyle can also lead to the holiday blues. The holidays also tend to dredge up feelings of loss, loneliness, and unhappy memories. Unrealistically high expectations in contrast to what actually happens during the season can also trigger the blues. Family rivalry can flare. The demands of shopping, parties, family reunions, and house guests also contribute to feelings of tension.

Winter depression has been clinically proven to be related to the fewer hours of sunlight as the days grow shorter and daylight saving time ends during the winter. Research indicates that ten percent of the population is significantly affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder. Sufferers of SAD may experience chronic fatigue, difficulty in sleeping, irritability, and feelings of sadness, regardless of other factors related to the holidays.

Law enforcement officers are at an obvious increased risk for the holiday blues. If you work second or third watches, how much sunlight do you get? While other people are viewing the positive aspects of the season, you are called to death investigations, domestic violence and child abuse calls. Every other car is probably a DUI. Party/noise calls, drunk-in-public contacts, and petty theft calls all increase. You remember the officer who died in the line of duty this year. You worry about the isolated partner who drinks too much. You work as much overtime as you can to buy the best gifts, only to learn your significant other resents that you are not present for the season's activities. Chances are good you will be working one, if not all, of the holidays, and you realize you have never seen your kids open their gifts on Christmas morning. You are going to be alone for the holidays for the first time since your wife/husband and you divorced. Now, add the regular stress that an officer faces daily, compound that with a possible IA investigation, loss of promotion, department infighting, and all of his/her personal as well as holiday pressures together. If you are not singing the blues, someone close to you is. There are some proactive things that you can do to decrease depressive and anxious symptoms, and minimize holiday stress.

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