'Tis the Season to Battle the Holiday Blues

By , SparkPeople Blogger
The holiday season is in full swing now! Festive lights, the sounds of the season and holiday goodies are surrounding us on an almost daily basis. Just about everywhere you go you are reminded that it’s that time of the year. The message is loud and clear: We should be happy. We’re all happy! Right?
Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Depression is a medical condition that affects one in 10 Americans, which equates to approximately 31 million people. Depression doesn’t have a season, and the holidays can be particularly difficult for those with depression. The good news is that having an emotionally rough time in your life is not a medical condition in most cases. Consider the following criteria to determine whether your feelings of depression should include a visit to your physician or to a mental health professional. 
According to Mental Health America, the country’s leading nonprofit dedicated to helping all people live mentally healthier lives, this time of year can be as much about anxiety, depression and stress as it is about joy:

Many factors can cause the “holiday blues”: stress, fatigue, unrealistic expectations, over-commercialization, financial constraints and the inability to be with one’s family and friends. The demands of shopping, parties, family reunions and house guests also contribute to feelings of tension. People may also develop other stress responses such as headaches, excessive drinking, over-eating and difficulty sleeping. Even more people experience post-holiday let down after January 1. This can result from disappointments during the preceding months compounded by the excess fatigue and stress.
What are the symptoms of depression? According to the Centers for Disease Control, they are:
  • Little interest or pleasure in doing things
  • Feeling down, depressed or hopeless
  • Trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or sleeping too much
  • Feeling tired or having little energy
  • Poor appetite or overeating
  • Feeling bad about yourself or that you were a failure or let yourself or your family down
  • Trouble concentrating on things, such as reading the newspaper or watching television
  • Moving or speaking so slowly that other people could have noticed, or the opposite: being so fidgety or restless that you were moving around a lot more than usual
Depression is potentially disabling and can cause severe family and relationship problems and even loss of income. If these symptoms occur for two weeks or longer and they begin to interfere with managing everyday life, it may be more serious than just "feeling down."  

During the holiday season, feelings of depression may intensify.  Mingling at holiday parties, which may be important for work and family relationships, may feel like too much trouble. Family members may become concerned about the avoidant behavior and feel slighted by the depressed person, causing even more issues. Shopping for presents may seem like a monumental task for anyone, but the indecision that is common with depression can make the task impossible, further worsening feelings of inadequacy and guilt. Appetite changes and uncontrollable overeating can lead to increased holiday weight gain. Let us not forget that remembering lost loved ones can become almost overwhelming and the feeling of hopelessness can seem almost too much to bear. 
What does dealing with depression have to do with managing your weight? Why are we even discussing depression? 
Depression, just like excessive stress, must be managed in order for successful and long-term weight loss to occur because it can lead to overeating in those seeking to lose or maintain weight loss. Why? Likely because overeating can be used as a form of self-medication for depression, much like those who use and abuse drugs in an attempt to alter their mood. 

What do you do if you think you are depressed?

Seek help. See your primary care physician for treatment and/or a referral for help, or directly seek the counsel of a mental-health professional. Treating depression in many cases may be the missing ingredient for making your weight-loss plan stick.  Learning how to follow a diet and exercise program requires a healthy amount of mental energy. There are many new skills to master and it requires concentration and effort to make the new changes consistent and hopefully permanent. Depression is a distraction that saps your ability to reach your weight loss or maintenance goals. It also diminishes the quality of your life.    
Face depression. It is critical to your weight-loss success!