(Not So) Happy Holidays


As our favorite winter holidays rapidly approach, the topic of mental health is oftentimes pushed aside and ignored. A generalized ‘holiday cheer’ is said to be present throughout communities, affecting students and faculty members alike. While this newfound sense of joy may bring smiles to our faces, it also makes us blind to those around us suffering from vast mental disorders, ranging from social anxiety to clinical depression.

Clinical depression is far different from the normal human emotion of sadness and is categorized by a persistent and seemingly perpetual state of melancholy. Depression is also followed by numerous side effects including insomnia or excessive sleeping, difficulty concentrating, weight gain or loss (due to overeating or malnutrition), irritability, withdrawal from social settings, and a loss of interest in previously favored activities. Other physical symptoms can also occur, and many depressed individuals are prone to head or stomach aches. An estimated 15% of teenagers suffer from depression, and with statistics that high, it is likely that you know at least one person currently dealing with the disorder. Considering that only 1 out of 3 depressed teens reach out for help, you may never even learn exactly who is suffering.

A lesser known mental disorder goes by the name of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), sometimes referred to as the “winter blues.” In the majority of SAD cases, symptoms of depression begin in the late fall or early winter, though in some rarer cases, the timing is reversed. The symptoms of SAD are almost identical to depression, with the discrepancy lying in the fact that depression is consistent and SAD is seasonal. For this reason, SAD is often confused with Bipolar disorder, with the spring and summer being the manic phases and the fall and winter being the depressive phases. SAD is caused by various factors, both genetic and environmental. While a specific cause has yet to be pinpointed, scientists have concluded that serotonin and melatonin levels, alongside circadian rhythm (biological clock) are influential in the onset of the disorder. Young females living far from the equator (because of decreased sunlight in the winter) are at the highest risk of developing the disorder. Additionally, individuals already suffering from clinical depression or bipolar disorder are likely to develop SAD, temporarily worsening their conditions .

Ask any parent or teacher about the holiday season, and a response detailing an increase in stress is probable. The stress on parents, and adults in general, rises dramatically immediately following Thanksgiving dinner. Whether the stress be centered around financial concerns, packed schedules divided between work and family time, or the need to impress family members, this can trigger feelings of anxiety in typical individuals and send those suffering with an anxiety disorder into a constant state of panic. As a result of being overloaded, seemingly drowning in a continuous list of things to do before the holidays, the quality and quantity of sleep may suffer, making matters worse. For this reason, anxious individuals may feel out of control during this time, so it is important to be there for them, regardless of their mental health status.

While the holidays prove to be a stressful and sometimes difficult time, there are numerous ways to cope with the stress. If you or someone you know is suffering from a mental disorder, encourage them (or yourself!) to get help. A mental disorder should be treated like any other illness or physical disorder in the sense that the feelings behind them are valid and we are oftentimes unable to fix them on our own. You wouldn’t rely on yourself, and only yourself, to mend a broken arm, so why do so with a mental disorder? In preventing holiday anxiety, it is important to have realistic standards to prevent disappointment or self-resentment in the future. You don’t have to impress everyone with the biggest or best gift, and spending time with loved ones is much more important in the long run. Furthermore, make sure you are getting enough sleep! Seriously. Many students and adults are busy with schoolwork or work in general, but getting a good night’s rest will help improve grades or performance and happiness. Finally, try and calm down to the best of your abilities. We oftentimes get swallowed up in work or responsibilities and are left sacrificing our mental health and general well-being. This is counterproductive and makes life much more difficult than it needs to be. The holidays may be stressful, but we only get so many in a lifetime. Try to enjoy the holidays and take care of yourself in the process.