Most of us look forward to the year-end holidays. It is an opportunity to create lasting
memories with family and friends. However, some people experience feelings of isolation and sadness during the holidays. Often, they are unsure how to address these negative feelings, because many people are confused about the difference in feeling sad and being depressed. This can result in the individual either underreacting or overreacting to their feelings. On the one hand, a person experiencing sadness might seek treatment unnecessarily. On the other hand, a depressed person might not seek treatment. For this reason, it is important to understand the difference between feeling sad and clinical depression.
Everyone feels sad sometimes. This is perfectly normal. We have evolved psychologically to deal with hurtful or disappointing events, experiences, and situations in an efficient, beneficial and healthy way – feeling sad. Sadness encourages self-reflection and helps us find meaning in painful and difficult times. Most importantly, when events, experiences, and situations that have made us sad change or time passes, we gain objectivity and our sadness goes away.

In contrast, depression is never beneficial or healthy. Rather, it is a mental illness that alters our thinking, emotions, perceptions, and behaviors in a serious and persistent way. As opposed to sadness, which is caused by specific events, experiences, and situations, depression can occur absent any trigger, due to biological factors such as faulty mood regulation by the brain and genetic vulnerability. When we are depressed, our energy, motivation, and ability to experience joy, pleasure, excitement, anticipation, satisfaction, connection, and meaning is negatively affected.

Finally, depression is often not relieved by the passage of time. Thankfully, most people who are blue during the holidays are experiencing sadness, not depression. A typical cause of the holiday blues is comparing one’s holiday experience with unrealistic media depictions of perfect holidays, wherein two hours’ time the protagonist’s problems are solved
and everyone gathers around a Norman Rockwell inspired Christmas dinner. However, the truth is that few people have the time or money to create the picture-perfect Christmases we see in made for TV movies. Instead, the joy of family and friends exchanging gifts and sharing dinner is often balanced by financial challenges, family discord, and too few hours in a day that for many includes a full-time job, school-age children, and providing care to older family members. Dealing with these challenges during the holidays can create stress, anxiety and eventually sadness. If you find yourself succumbing to the Holiday Blues, you can take several practical steps. First, accept that your life and schedule may not allow you to do everything you would like. Decide what parts of the holiday mean the most to you and focus on those. Make an active effort not to compare your holiday with what you see on TV – or what you see next door. Remember that every family is different. Also, try concentrating on others. Volunteering offers vital help to people in need but the benefits can be even greater for you. Helping others reduces stress and anxiety and provides a sense of purpose. Here in St. Clair County there are dozens of opportunities to volunteer time, for example working with the elderly through the St. Clair County Council on Aging or working at a food bank like Mid-City Nutrition. You can obtain a full list of local organizations in need of volunteers by visiting the
website of the St. Clair County United Way. However, helping others doesn’t have to mean working through organizations. You can visit an old friend, call and chat with an aunt or uncle or cousin you haven’t spoken to for a long time, or offer to help a neighbor. It can also be as simple as expressing your appreciation for the people around you by sharing their joys, supporting their hopes and dreams, and offering encouragement to them when they need it.

Best wishes for a very happy and healthy holiday season!

About St. Clair County Community Mental Health
St. Clair County Community Mental Health provides public services and supports to adults with mental illnesses, children with serious emotional disturbances, individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities and persons with co-occurring substance use disorders. For more information, crisis intervention or to find out if you qualify for public services, please call the Access Center at 1-888-225-4447. Support is available 24 hours-a-day, 7 days a week. General information is also available at the St. Clair County Community Mental Health
website, or on the Agency’s Facebook page, .