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Holiday Stress and Sadness: 3 Winter Mental-Health FAQs

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by Andrea E. Gordon, M.D.

Q. Why do I feel sad this holiday season when everyone else seems happy?
A. The holidays can be a rough time because there seems to be a lot of pressure to be joyful. The reality is many others are also sad this time of year.

Some people have associations from their childhoods and expect every holiday season to live up to this impossible ideal. Others may feel that everyone else is having a picture-perfect holiday with loved ones, while they’re alone. Finally, the darkness and bad weather can dampen moods as well.

Try not to focus on what the holidays “should be,” but cultivate rituals that help you feel relaxed and happy.


Q. What are your tips for dealing with holiday stress?
A. First try to identify the biggest source of your stress. Is it the expectations of others? The shopping or parties? Most of us try to cram so much into our day-to-day lives that adding these extras can be overwhelming.

  1. Try to prioritize your time, and realize you don’t have to do everything offered.
  2. Choose the activities that bring you joy, and gently decline jobs or invitations that feel like duty.
  3. This is a great time to cultivate a practice like yoga or meditation that can help you stay centered in the midst of the craziness.

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newsletter-graphicQ. What is seasonal affective disorder?
A. SAD is a kind of depression brought on by lack of light. Many people occasionally feel more tired or eat more as the days get shorter, but a person with SAD may feel very sad, hopeless and even suicidal. Anyone feeling suicidal should be evaluated by a health-care professional as soon as possible.

The difference between SAD and other kinds of depression is that SAD seems to get better when the days are longer and there’s more light. One treatment for SAD is light—sitting in front of special bright lamps (2,500 to 10,000 luxe) for 30 to 90 minutes in the morning. If you’re sadder than usual in the fall and winter, discuss this possibility with your health-care provider.


ANDREA E. GORDON, M.D., is a board-certified family doctor practicing integrative medicine, and assistant professor of family medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine in Malden, Mass.



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Last updated and/or approved: November 2011.
Original article appeared in various issues of the former print magazine. Bio current as of that issue. This general health-care information is not meant as individual advice. Please see our disclaimer.

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