Recognizing Holiday Blues, Seasonal Affective Disorder

HASTINGS, Neb. (KSNB) - Although we're suppose to be in the holiday spirit this time of year, the colder weather and less daylight can take a toll on people's mental health.

Eating fruits and vegetables, exercising, getting fresh air and sunlight and even opening up the curtains during daytime can be beneficial and improve symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder.

About ten million Americans suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder every year. Others might be affected by the "Holiday Blues," or anxiety. It can be an especially difficult time for people who are thousands of miles away from home.

Jenny Borge is a Norwegian exchange student at Hastings College. She works in the school's international office. She spent her first Christmas in the U.S. when she was in high school several years ago.

"I remember I was really homesick that Christmas," Borge said.

This year will be Borge's third Christmas in the U.S. Over time, she's found her own ways to get over the Holiday Blues.

"I've always had my parents send me Norwegian chocolate, and Norwegian Christmas food. So that helps me a lot. I just go outside and do things. I try to not spend as much time in my bed and at my place, but go out and hang out with friends," Borge said.

Borge said she's excited for Christmas this year, because she'll be spending it with a good friend and her family in Colorado.

Hastings College has resources to connect other international students with host families for the holidays, so they're not alone and can experience what holidays are like in America.

The Holiday Blues are often mistaken for Seasonal Affective Disorder, but the symptoms are pretty different: People experiencing the Holiday Blues may feel anxious, stressed and sad, but those feelings typically go away soon after the holiday ends.

People who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder experience symptoms associated with depression. They may have less energy, feel less ambitious, have feelings of loneliness and hopelessness, and won't enjoy doing things they normally do.

"You actually have to meet full criteria for major depressive disorder, and then after that time you need to experience that for at least two years consecutively before that diagnosis is made," said Cathy Phillips, a psychiatric nurse practitioner with Mary Lanning Healthcare.

For most people, SAD starts right before Thanksgiving and peaks in the winter, although some experience symptoms in the spring and summer.

Unlike the Holiday Blues, SAD isn't brought on by the holidays, but it can worsen symptoms.

"People that experience stressors over the holidays and seasonal Affective Disorder sort of get a double whammy of symptom clusters, and really feel at times physically exhausted, overwhelmed, feel inadequacy, 'why can't I pull myself out of this,'" Phillips said.

Phillips said natural remedies can help symptoms of SAD. She said eating fruits and vegetables, exercising, getting fresh air and sunlight and even opening up the curtains during daytime can be beneficial and improve symptoms.

She said some people might also need a combination of therapy and medications.

If you think you might have SAD, you should contact a medical professional.