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Depression: A Difficult Time of the Year

separator Depression can strike anybody at any time, but the holiday season is one of the most common triggers for depression. This year, there may be even more cases of depression due to the effects of the attacks that occurred in September. This kind of trauma can cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The economic outlook is more uncertain now than it was last year, and that can trigger anxiety.

Causes of the "Holiday Blues"

Common reasons that people become depressed during the holidays include:

  • Stress
  • Fatigue
  • Financial concerns
  • Loneliness (for those unable to be with loved ones)

There can also be a post-holiday letdown, after you've eaten too much, stayed out too late, had too much to drink, etc. Disappointment about the holidays can also contribute. There's so much build-up to the holiday season that it's not uncommon for people to feel disillusioned afterwards.

It's ironic that a time that people want to feel joyful about can cause so much emotional turmoil. If you tend to feel down during the holidays, keep these things in mind:

  • Have realistic expectations. A brief holiday season can't make your life perfect, can't make difficult people act different, etc. The more you expect, the more you set yourself up for disappointment.
  • Don't over-commit yourself. Be sure to pace yourself, and attend only the parties and other gatherings that interest you.
  • Don't get yourself into financial trouble. If finances are tight, explain that to your friends and family. It's a safe bet that nobody wants you to get into serious debt by buying presents for them.
  • Be proactive about the holidays. If there are aspects of your annual celebration that you've always wanted to change, go ahead and change. Celebrate in ways that are meaningful to you.

If your holiday blues persist into the winter, it might be a good idea to talk with your primacy care doctor about how you're feeling. You may actually have a case of depression, which will need medical treatment.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

PTSD can develop after exposure to a terrifying event that caused or threatened serious physical harm. People who were directly involved in the events of September 11th are most likely to experience PTSD as a result. But even watching it on television over and over again may have been enough to cause PTSD in some people. There is some evidence that individuals who have witnessed other traumatic events earlier in their lives may be more susceptible to developing PTSD later on. And researchers now believe that people who respond to trauma by acting emotionally "numb" may be more prone to developing the condition.

Some symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Flashback episodes
  • Nightmares or other sleep disturbances
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach problems, dizziness, chest pain.

It's common for people with PTSD to visit their doctors because of physical symptoms. The doctors may often treat the symptoms but not realize that PTSD is the true cause of the problem.

Treatments for PTSD

There are many treatment options for PTSD. Talk therapy, either individually or in groups, can be helpful to many people. Hypnotherapy can be beneficial, as can exposure therapy, in which the person gradually relives the frightening experience-under well controlled conditions-in order to work through the trauma.

Several depression medications work well for PTSD too, particularly those in the class called SSRIs, or selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors.

National Institute of Mental Health; National Mental Health Association, 2001
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