Seasonal Affective Disorder and Holiday Depression

For many people, we are about to enter “the most wonderful time of the year.” The holiday season stretching between Thanksgiving and New Years typically marks a period of gathering with friends and family, celebrating our various holidays, and reflecting on our blessings and things to come in the year ahead. However, this is not the case for everyone. 

For some people, the anticipation and excitement experienced during the holiday season are combined with a degree of disappointment, sadness, and/or loneliness. Not everyone has a family to celebrate with, and the holiday season can heighten feelings of isolation and loneliness. Not everyone has the financial means to purchase gifts for their friends and family. And for some, the holiday season brings up feelings of loss and grief for those no longer in their life. Throw in a global pandemic, and the additional stress of isolation and the holiday season can significantly impact mental health around the holidays.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder

Recognized as a Major Depressive Disorder, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) becomes apparent during the fall and winter months. During this time, the days become shorter, and colder temperatures can trigger low mood, fatigue, and lack of motivation. 

In particular, SAD impacts individuals suffering from anxiety and depression during the holiday season. SAD’s signs and symptoms can start as mild and, when left unmanaged, can become more severe as the season progresses.

Signs and symptoms of SAD may include:

  • Feeling depressed nearly every day
  • Loss of interest in activities that once brought joy
  • Decreased energy or fatigue
  • Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep 
  • An increase or decrease in weight or appetite 
  • Feeling agitated or irritable
  • Excessive drinking or self-medication
  • Difficulty concentrating or staying on task
  • Feelings of hopelessness, loneliness, worthlessness, or guilt
  • Frequent thoughts of death or suicide


Overcoming Seasonal Affective Disorder

If you struggle with seasonal depression, you are not alone. Seasonal Affective Disorder impacts approximately 10 million Americans every year. Additionally, an estimated 10 to 20 percent of recurrent depression cases follow a seasonal pattern. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to manage and mitigate your symptoms to help you navigate the dreary winter months.

  • Light therapy: The absence of light contributes to enhanced feelings of depression during the winter months. Light therapy helps treat SAD by creating exposure to sunlight or artificial light. Whether it’s taking a walk outside on a sunny day or using artificial lights that mimic natural daylight, light therapy ranging from 15-45 minutes a day can decrease SAD symptoms
  • Vitamin D: When vitamin D levels are depleted, we begin to feel tired and lethargic. When left untreated, this can lead to feelings of depression. Your doctor or psychiatrist can determine whether your vitamin D levels are low and studies have shown that vitamin D supplements can improve mood and reduce symptoms of seasonal affective disorder
  • Antidepressants: Depending on the severity of your symptoms and how they impact your daily life, your doctor may prescribe medications to help you manage your symptoms. Most commonly, antidepressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), can help manage SAD symptoms.
  • Psychotherapy: Discussing your feelings and symptoms with your therapist and planning active steps with your therapist to combat seasonal depression can help limit the impact of SAD.  This can be especially true around the holidays.  Research shows psychotherapy, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, is an effective treatment for SAD. 

Cypress Counseling Center

At Cypress, we understand how stressful and trying the holiday season can be. Managing the stress of the pandemic while determining how to navigate holiday traditions can feel overwhelming and hopeless.  Perhaps you are worried about your health or the health of a loved one? Perhaps you are struggling trying to decide how to proceed with your holiday traditions during the pandemic? Or maybe you’re feeling isolated and lonely this holiday season. We want you to know – you are not alone!

We are passionate about empowering you to experience more calm, satisfaction, and balance. We work with children, teens, adults, couples and families from all backgrounds and walks of life and want to help you live a life where happiness and fulfillment are the focus, not anxiety or seasonal depression. Using a combination of scientific techniques, creative solutions, and compassionate care, our team of clinicians and psychologists are committed to helping our clients find the solutions they need to identify, mitigate, and overpower the root causes of their Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Contact a member of our team to learn more about our depression counseling services.