Dec 142003
Authors: Christiana Nelson


Gifts tied up with ribbons, candles and trees glowing with light

and the sweet smells of seasonal dishes signal the holiday season,

but for some the holidays are neither filled with joy nor


Ali Flemate understands that feeling.

She has personally experienced depression associated with the

holiday season and has also witnessed her parents and her teachers

struggle with the problem.

“A lot of stress comes with the holidays. Finances can be tight

and there is a stigma that people should be happy and always be

cheerful,” said Flemate, a sophomore social work major.

Holiday depression, also called the “holiday blues,” is a common

problem for Americans and can occur for a variety of reasons, said

Dr. Jay Hessler, a psychiatric nurse practitioner for the Hartshorn

Health Service.

“It is a pretty significant problem and there are a lot of

causes that go along with the ‘holiday blues’ because it is a

stressful period of time,” Hessler said. “People have a fear of

disappointing others and they have unrealistic expectations of the


Flemate agreed that, in her experience, there are numerous

reasons for the onset of depression during the holiday season.

“There are finals and wanting to end the year on a good note.

Finances are stressful and you feel stress from other people;

everything is so busy,” Flemate said. “It is hard to keep up.”

Rebecca Quillen, a junior interior design major, comes from a

family of musicians and said her family members become overwhelmed

by the additional concerts required for the holiday season.

“The extra concerts, the extra work, create stress. There is so

much to do over the holidays; so much is going on,” Quillen said.

“People get down because they are stressed out and they are trying

to shop for everybody and go to different events.”

In addition to the stress that accompanies the holiday season,

people often become depressed when they “remember painful events in

their past or think of happier times,” Hessler said.

Shantel Ho, a junior zoology major, has never witnessed holiday

depression but believes dwelling on the past could be a significant

part of the seasonal blues.

“If someone is alone, with no friends or family, I would think

it would be a hard time of year because you’d think about the

past,” Ho said.

The various holiday pressures often induce stress responses in

individuals and symptoms of the holiday blues, which can include

headaches, drinking excessively, over-eating and difficulty

sleeping, according to the National Mental Health Association.

People withdrawing from their daily tasks can also characterize

holiday season depression, Hessler said.

“Their energy level decreases, they have a lack of motivation

and people tend to get down on themselves,” he said. “They

withdraw; they don’t want to be around others and have problems

making decisions.”

Women are twice as likely as men to develop holiday depression,

but the reason for the gender gap remains vague.

“There are too many theories to number,” Hessler said. “Hormones

probably come into play with females and the social stressors are

different for females than males.”

To avoid the holiday blues, Hessler recommends people put the

holidays in perspective.

“Be realistic and remember that the holidays don’t solve past

problems,” Hessler said. “Give yourself permission not to feel

cheerful all of the time and be honest about your needs and


Flemate said she deals with holiday season stress by trying to

take time for herself.

“It’s important to take a break, to go somewhere by yourself or

pamper yourself,” she said.

When the gifts are unwrapped, the holiday decorations are packed

away and the favorite holiday foods are simply leftovers, holiday

depression should also end.

However, if the holiday depression symptoms do not recede with

the season’s conclusion, the problem may be more serious than the

“holiday blues.”

“If the holiday blues don’t dissolve or dissipate after the

holidays there could be potential for a major problem like Seasonal

Affective Disorder or true Major Depressive Disorder,” Hessler


Martin Dangelmayr noticed his sister became depressed when

autumn turned into winter, but said he doesn’t believe that her

depression is a result of the holidays.

“Winter’s arriving and my sister gets depressed as soon as it

gets cold,” said Dangelmayr, a junior chemistry major.

The actual winter season, rather than the stressors that

accompany it, is the major reasons individuals develop SAD. MDD

occurs for a variety of reasons and is characterized as having more

depressive symptoms than other forms of depression.

These more serious forms of depression occur for different

reasons than holiday depression and the individuals who suffer from

SAD and MDD may exhibit further symptoms of depression, including

feelings of violence.

Although it is important to understand possible explanations for

depression that continues past the holiday season, it is also

important to realize that holiday depression commonly extends

slightly beyond the season’s end.

Post-holiday letdown is often more common than holiday

depression and occurs due to holiday season outcome disappointments

and the stress that accompanies the holidays, according to the


Hessler recommends visiting a medical professional if the

“holiday blues” do not disappear shortly after the holiday

stressors, but as for individuals who suffer from holiday

depression, he emphasized that the holidays do not have to lead to

stress and depression.

“Just slow down and enjoy,” he said. “Give yourself time to

relax and try to do things for yourself as well as others.”

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