Combat holiday stress and seasonal affective disorder

December 19, 2019

By Dr. Nick Harper, Clark Primary Care

Most of us would consider the holiday season to be one of the best times of the year with all the time spent with family and friends, the excitement of gift giving and receiving, and the wonderful meals that tend to be the focal point of gatherings. At the same time, the holidays can be very stressful and even have the effect of bringing down mood rather than boosting it for some people.

It is important to take note of your own feelings and stressors so as to find healthy and productive ways of addressing them. It is equally important to pay attention to those around you who may be struggling, whether a family member, friend or acquaintance, to identify the signs that someone may need help.

Some stress around the holidays is expected, of course. Finding ways of coping with stress is part of being human, but the holidays tend to put people on edge, and there are lots of opportunities to take out stress on the ones we love without intending to do so. Sometimes, implementing simple mindful meditation techniques, breathing exercises, and open conversations about issues as they arise can help make your holiday gathering joyful and pleasant rather than hostile and resentful.

If you are not the primary host of a gathering, then try to be aware of how and where you can be of assistance to keep everything running smoothly. Delegating responsibilities and assigning roles in a structured and agreed-upon manner holds everyone accountable. Not everyone will always do their part. Try constructive criticism over chastising whenever possible. I think keeping these tips in mind will reduce your stress level and make for a more laid-back and fun holiday gathering.

Although holiday stress is something almost all of us will have to deal with to varying degrees on an annual basis, some of us struggle with much more serious and consequential mood issues around the holidays. Seasonal affective disorder is a condition in which an individual develops depressed mood with low interest and/or low energy as well as potential sleep, diet, and productivity changes directly related to the changing of the seasons with shorter days, longer nights, and less ability to spend time outdoors due to the weather. It tends to last from the late fall until the spring or early summer each year. Severity can vary to a significant degree with little impact on a person’s function or social life to severe incapacitation and suicidality.

If you or someone you know exhibits these types of symptoms or feelings, it’s important to find help from a medical professional, even calling 911 if you feel that the person is a risk to him- or herself or others.

Although seasonal affective disorder is cyclic and tends to be discussed in great deal around the holidays, those struggling with depression chronically can often have a worsening of symptoms around the holidays for a variety of reasons. Again, it is important to recognize if you are having depressive symptoms because there are individuals in your family, friend circle, or community who are willing to help you. If you notice someone struggling, please be the helping hand to get him or her the help needed. You may be the only one who recognizes or is able to help and potentially save that person’s life.


If you are struggling with depression or thoughts of hurting yourself and do not know where to go, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or go to