The holidays can be some of the most heart-felt, memorable times of the year, when we gather with family, celebrate our faith, eat great food and cozy up by the fire. However, for some, the mere approach of the season ushers in profound sadness. This is the case with both adults and youth.
For those who dread December, counselor Jenny Reimann encourages people to first identify what bothers them. “Is it the people, the financial expectations, the memory of a loved one? After you identify it, it is easier to know how to manage it and take charge,” she says. If the issue is with people or money, Reimann suggests considering a change of pace: intentionally making different plans than the usual, spending less money or taking a vacation, for instance.
While these examples apply mostly to adults, children may also discover a creeping sadness overtake them due to loss. In this case, Reimann suggests finding ways to remember the loved one without making the focus of the month about grieving.
Yet another reason for depression during December (and beyond) is a very tangible syndrome linked to long days without sunshine. Less light exposure means the body produces less vitamin D which is essential to the body’s ability to fight disease, repair cells, establish sleep patterns, retain mental acuity and absorb calcium. Colder climates also tend to cause a decrease in physical activities—a self-perpetuating cycle that leaves mind and body even more unhealthy.
As a counselor in Minnesota, Reimann encounters a substantial number of people with Season Blues, often referred to as SAD (seasonal affective disorder). “More often than not, as parents we assume that our kids are just being kids, and possibly not recognizing that they too, are experiencing SAD,” she says.
Depressive symptoms can be caused by a variety of things, so a good first step is for parents and teens to talk about it. Is there something more going on than teenage angst? Have patterns in mood changes followed weather issues? It helps to document changes on a calendar so that answers to these questions are in black and white. “Often, teens and adults are intrigued by the correlation and are willing to look into it further,” Reimann says.
There are many reasons why our mood during the holiday season can emerge in sharp contrast to those around us. And, there are some concrete actions you can take to combat this “creep of the blues.” Increase exposure to light by spending time outside and sit near sunny windows, talk with a doctor or therapist about exposure to specially designed lamps (light therapy), talk to a doctor about a high-dose vitamin D prescription. Talk therapy is also an effective way to help a teen process their experience and come up with solutions.
Signs of SAD
- Increased irritability
- Increased sleep
- Loss of interest
- Low motivation
- Increased appetite
- Increase in argumentative behaviors
- “Not caring” attitude
What I hope will be true in 2025...“On a global level, I hope for greater understanding and appreciation of all people.”–Jenny Reimann
Reimann holds a monthly Facebook chat called “Ask My Shrink” for young people who want to get anonymous feedback. Try it out Tuesday, December 1, 6-9 p.m. and Tuesday, January 5, 6-9 p.m. by following the link here.