As the days get shorter and the temperatures continue to drop during winter, some
people experience depression-like symptoms brought on by seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. SAD is a type of depression that can affect anyone but is most common in people who live in areas where winter days are short and there is a limited supply of sunlight.
Robert Farra, Ph.D., Director of the Adult Mood and Anxiety Disorders Program, Department of Psychiatry, answers questions on SAD,
from symptoms to treatment options:
Q: What are the symptoms of SAD?
Q: How many people are affected?
Q: Why do many people experience
depression before the holidays?
Q: How can people combat seasonal depression? Any concrete tips?
Are you affected by the change of the season? What do you do to stay active even with less sunshine?
Stress is our body’s reaction to something which upsets the normal balance of life, something more than our
usual day-to-day duties and obligations. Stress often triggers a “fight or flight” response. During stressful events, the adrenal glands release adrenalin, a hormone that activates the body’s defense mechanisms, causing the heart rate and blood pressure to
increase, muscles to tense, digestion to slow and pupils to dilate. These physiological responses give us the strength and focus to escape or to fight when faced with an acute threat. This once ensured the survival of our species when predators were a true
Today, when many think of “stress,” they think of something negative. Stress is not a pure evil though. The world we live in now may be filled with less literal predators, yes, but the “fight or flight” response to stress can still be useful. It can help
us make good, productive decisions when faced with a deadline at work or school, and we often experience cognitive and emotional growth as a result of some stressful experiences as well.
Some are better equipped to handle stress though. Temperament plays a role in how susceptible people are to stress. Most parents have probably observed that one child might be especially fussy by nature and need extra soothing, compared to another who is
calmer and can more easily accept and feel comfort. If one does not handle stress well, it can manifest in a variety of ways physically, including headaches, stomach pain, sleep issues, regular illnesses, anxiety and depression. Chronic stress can trigger
a secretion of cortisol, a stress hormone, which can cause heart disease, obesity and the suppression of one’s immune system. That’s why it’s imperative to find ways to both harness the power of stress and find ways to cope with and reduce stress levels when
they become too high.
The holidays can be an especially stressful time for many people, from holiday shopping that becomes too much to handle, to travel that makes the holidays feel far from festive.
Zahava Davidson, Head of the Division of Individual and Relational Psychotherapy at NorthShore, shares some ways to manage your
stress levels during the holidays and beyond:
Regular exercise. Often the holidays become an excuse for letting a regular exercise routine fall by the wayside. Don’t do that again this year. You might have less time during the holidays, but make time for exercise. It’s a great stress-reducer
and even a short walk each day can do wonders.
Make a list. Finding a better way to manage your time could help you avoid those skyrocketing stress levels altogether. Prioritize your schedule. Chances are, the big things are stressing you out. Which are most important? Which will take
the most time? Acknowledge they need to be done, get them out of the way and then enjoy the holidays with your family.
Eat a balanced diet. It’s all about taking care of yourself both mentally and physically. If your stress levels are high, you are more susceptible to illnesses, so you need to keep your body healthy too. Try to eat a balanced diet. Yes,
this is important even during the holidays. Also consider limiting alcohol and caffeine consumption.
Sleep! Start each day off right. Getting enough sleep each night makes handling stress much easier. When you’re tired, you are more likely to lose your temper or become easily agitated. When you’re well rested, you can better handle whatever
the holidays might throw at you, and maybe even enjoy it.
Ask for help. You don’t have to do everything on your own. You might be hosting the big meal or you might be hosting family at your house for the week, but that doesn’t mean you have to do all the work. Those who have a strong network of
family and friends are better able to handle stress. Let your family and friends take some of the weight off your shoulders.
Try meditation and mindfulness. The holidays can leave some with the feeling that they don’t even have time to think. You do. Or you should make time for it. Find time to be alone with your thoughts. For an extra boost of stress relief,
consider combining this time with a massage, aromatherapy, yoga or acupuncture to relax your body as well.
Acknowledge that holidays can trigger depression. If your family has recently lost a loved one, or certain relatives and friends will be out-of-town, realize that it’s normal to feel grief during the holidays. Allow yourself to feel those
emotions, and seek support from community, religious or healthcare resources.
Stick to your budget. The cost of food, gifts, travel and entertaining during the holidays can create a financial burden that greatly adds to stress. Plan in advance how much money you can afford to spend, then stay committed to your budget.
If your budget is small, create more affordable ways to celebrate such as exchanging homemade gifts or asking guests to bring a potluck dish.
How do you cope with the stress of the holidays?
According to the Centers for Disease Control, suicide was the 10th leading cause of the death in the U.S. in 2009. That
year there were 37,000 suicides, with one million reported attempted suicides. In the same year, suicide was the third leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 15 and 24.
Suicide is a major health issue but it’s also a potentially preventable one. While there are several risk factors for suicide, any person who expresses suicidal thoughts or the intent to commit suicide should be taken seriously. Risk factors for suicide
Knowing and acting on the signs of suicide exhibited by others could save thousands of lives each year. If someone appears depressed and/or expresses suicidal thoughts, it's important to listen closely and take that person seriously. It's especially important
to be concerned if someone exhibits any of these signs and has also attempted suicide in the past, as most successful suicides were preceded by one or more attempts.
Benjamin Shain, MD, PhD, Psychiatry at NorthShore, shares some of the warning signs of suicide and discusses what you can do to help a person
who might be contemplating suicide:
What should you do if you notice these behaviors in a friend or family member?
First, discuss your observations or concerns with the person and/or other friends or family members. Make sure to listen to the person’s concerns and what might be stressful for them. It's essential to urge the person to speak to their primary care physician
and/or a mental health professional. If you believe they are an immediate risk to themselves, call 911.
It’s one thing to occasionally feel down, unenergetic and tired out, especially given the busy lives
so many of us lead. However, consistently experiencing feelings of sadness, exhaustion and anxiety to a point where it affects the rest of your life can be cause for concern.
Depression is a very common mental illness and impacts people in various ways. It is estimated that one in ten adults suffers from depression at some point during their lifetime.
Frederick Miller, MD, PhD, Psychiatrist at NorthShore, recognizes that living with depression can be a challenge. He offers the following tips for managing and coping
What makes you happy? How to you manage feelings of sadness and/or depression?
No matter what your sex, our lives are often stressful. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and anxious between balancing
work, societal pressures and our personal lives.
When it comes to talking with others about these pressures and the emotional impact they may have, men typically tend to keep to themselves. While many men may open up to close friends and family members, mental health issues and concerns frequently aren’t
addressed during a visit to the doctor.
Robert Farra, PhD, gives the following recommendations to men about how to maintain good mental health:
Some of the most common mental health conditions suffered by men include:
What do you do to help reduce stress and anxiety? Would you be comfortable talking to your physician about mental health issues?
As the days get shorter and the temperatures continue to drop during winter, some people experience depression-like symptoms. Dr. Robert Farra, Director of Solutions for Depression and Anxiety at NorthShore, shines some light on commonly
asked questions relating to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
Q: What is seasonal affective disorder?
Q: Why do many people experience depression before the holidays?
Q: How can people combat seasonal depression? Any concrete tips?